IFComp 2015: In the Friend Zone   1 comment

By Brendan Vance. Played with Firefox to completion.

If there is an overall theme I’ve seen so far in the competition (as far as a random collection of work by entirely different authors of different backgrounds can have a theme) it would be “subversion of expectations”.

In the case of In the Friend Zone, I expected from the slightly jokey title and initial quote referencing the “friend zone” (the place “nice guys” get banished to when they get rejected from a more serious relationship) that this game would be an over-the-top metaphor for bad dating. Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus in Twine form, perhaps.

While I suppose the metaphor idea isn’t 100% false, it’s delivered in such a surreal fashion it’s more reminiscent of The Prisoner:

“Was the preacher not persuasive? Will you not wait in the pews for their master’s return? Heh. Trust me, Pilgrim: Priapus ain’t coming back.”

The bouncer peers close at you. “Now, hold up a second. Where’s your number? You just gonna show up at The Eye without a number?”

The bouncer wears a shocked expression, yet their eyes flash with mirth. “Is that wise?”

“Tell you what, Pilgrim. Let’s trade faces. You give me your name, I give you lucky number seven. Then you can jump the line.”

After a sustained time of trying and failing to understand what was going on, I entered what I call “zen clicking mode” — randomly picking whatever choices came up and reading the text in random excerpts rather than trying to make sense of it all.

“But then, one day, awaken: realize your dreams were all the same one. The people you desired were all the same person. The appendages you coveted were all the same appendage. The images that filled your blood were all the same image. Recognize the same fragmented mask peering back at you from everywhere; the same howling want you sought to fill with each acquaintance. Feel the shroud of Doom chewing at your guts.”

After getting to the end, I then replayed to try to get a better sense of what happened. It only marginally made more sense.

I’d like to ask some questions about specifics of the story, but a few words on the interactivity first: this is another map with keys-applied-to-locks structure, where the keys are “questions” the player accumulates. There are hence no puzzles, just obstacles and exploration. I found it less problematic than the similar structure of To Burn in Memory because of the simpler geography and the fact the questions aren’t matched to specific locks. Still, it made me wistful: is there a better way to allow geography in a puzzleless game that still requires some measure of exploration to complete the story?

Spoilers — really, more like questions for discussion after playing — begin after the mask:


[Image by gira Park. Creative Commons attribution license.]


So the protagonist is searching for “{player’s choice of name}” (I’ll refer to them as Bob) but in the first scene they enter a church to Priapus (who “built the walls” of the area of the story) where it seems _everyone_ is searching for Bob. So is this some sort of metaphor where Bob isn’t even a person, but some generalized idea of perfection? If so, what does being a “friend” mean? If not, does this imply there’s an actual person with many suitors, or are all the people in the protagonist’s head and they simply represent different variants of desire?

Trading your name for a “number” in the excerpt above changes your face to a “Nice Guy”. What is the difference between a Nice Guy and any of the other characters searching for Bob? What purpose do the numbers serve? None of the Nice Guys of any of the numbers actually seem to be able to see Bob.

Why are questions necessary to get closer to Bob?

At the ending, the guard says “We didn’t build the walls. They’ve only ever been yours.” implying the protagonist is somehow acting as Priapus, but then says “You’ve come as far as anyone, Pilgrim. Far as Priapus himself, I’d say.” which implies the opposite. What’s going on here?

Posted October 29, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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One response to “IFComp 2015: In the Friend Zone

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  1. Pingback: IFComp 2015 Summary | Renga in Blue

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