Friday, October 04, 2013

[IF Comp 2013] "Machine of Death" by Hulk Handsome

The Interactive Fiction Competition is back! Spoilers behind the break.


Machine of Death is a CYOA-style game with an interesting premise. (I gather from the documentation that it is based on this book, but as far as I can see the fictional content of the game is original.) In the beginning of the game, you walk up to a machine that tests your blood and then spits out a card describing, in very vague terms, the way you will die. The rest of the game consists of a scenario where you have to confront your death -- or rather, your fear of it, and your rational and irrational attempts to avoid it.

Apart from an introductory section, Machine of Death consists of three such tales, ranging from "OLD AGE" to "SHOT THROUGH THE HEART BY BON JOVI". They are quite varied; though in the end, all of them ask the same question: can you avoid having your life be determined, and possibly ruined, by your fear of death?

The answer, in each case, turns out to be "yes," at least if you make the appropriate choices. This is too easy. Since we can survive in all of the scenarios, our death is never inevitable; and that means that we cannot fully experience the force of the premise. The game's message and advice seems to be "just stop worrying about death and you'll enjoy life more, and probably live longer too". That might be true in some cases; but it isn't always true; and that is precisely why the advice isn't persuasive. Exploring fear without taking into account that fear has both an irrational and a rational component, means that one is not exploring it well enough.

Don't get me wrong: I'm very pleased to play a game that is exploring such issues at all.

Several sections of the game work well as CYOA, with the high point here being the race-to-get-to-work scene. However, other sections feel like they should have been implemented as parser-based IF. Exploring a location while examining and interacting with objects is not what CYOA is good at, and it did feel awkward at times.

Some objections, but still a worthy game. I'm giving it a 7 out of 10 for now, but might adjust that when I've played more.

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