Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Spare Set

Yes, yes, my friends, this blog has been a ghost town for quite a while now. I made a few steps forward but they were countered by steps back. On the technical side, my text editor's search-and-replace function stopped behaving reliably, which was a critical failure for my peculiar habit of hand-seeding hundreds of hyperlinks into existing texts. (Speaking of which, a recent chat with a friend who thinks this CYOA hobby of mine is cool but doesn't really understand it led to an idea of building bridges between texts describing the same historical situations but from different perspectives -- taking eg. A Tale Of Two Cities, Les Miserables, and Marat / Sade, and inserting choices within them allowing readers to continue their French Revolutionary reading from a related but totally removed new perspective. Very postmodern. I proposed a similar "megamix" approach to literature years earlier to a different friend, mashing up eg. The Last Temptation of Christ with the Biblical parts of the Master and Margarita, or making the WWII epic to end all epics by interlinking Gravity's Rainbow, Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse 5. But I digress.) New text editor, Notepad++, is now working much better than Editpad Lite did. The main problem is just one of free time: now that I'm working full-time in the daytime rather than part-time over graveyard shift, I'm spending both more hours at the worksite and a higher proportion of those hours engaged in ... work. (There's not always a full shift of tasks for overnighters, but think of late-night emergency workers as one would firemen hanging out near the pole in the firehall: they're not necessarily there to stop fires so much as to be available to stop whatever fires may arise on their watch. They are there to safeguard against a potentiality that periodically manifests and realises itself. But I digress.)

Then there are my toddler's molars. There are only so many minutes in the day and the number remaining after we take the necessary deductions from the time bank for work and handling a curious and energetic tot are slim and meagre -- and much still remains to be done in the sliver of daily time available. Cooking, cleaning, laundering, dog-walking. (And if you ask my partner, she will concede that sometimes I even do some of it!) I am my own worst enemy here, however, since I keep the burner on beneath several concurrent projects, consigning them all to a glacial pace. There's my video game ad blog, my band, and right now I'm grappling with a twofold challenge to assemble a 20th anniversary artpack release from members of my circa 1994 BBS-scene computer art group -- and to mount a retrospective exhibition of electronic art from that period in a gallery context. There are hundreds of sub-tasks with deadlines associated for any one of those distractions, but instead I find myself here at my hyperfiction blog. Why? I found a winner I need to share.

Interactive fiction to me were always text adventure games, >GET LAMP style with the parser. I knew for years I wanted to make them (actually in my teens, with help from said computer art compatriots, I did release two of them), and recently I brought about a much more modern effort into the world, a one-move text parser game with many endings, made for the song-themed ShuffleComp. I announced it and it sank like a rock: this is the oldest and most primeval of IF styles, but in this cultural ecosphere they're a bit like frogs: keeping on, but consigned to a niche of a niche. But when I crow about Choice of Games MCGs (multiple choice games, though they have moved past that descriptor), the signal gets amplified. When I found this Twine hyperfiction piece and Tweeted about it, numerous folks picked up the torch and carried it.

It's called The Spare Set, produced by a homelessness charity in the UK called "Shelter" and based on interviews with their clients. The gameplay premise is ingenious, returning the player to a particularly memorable moment in time where they were looking all over their house, alone, for some missing goods. What the player uncovers is, of course, a lifetime of memories and anecdotes, plus ominous foreshadowing (in the form of a letter from the bank announcing the increase of the mortgage rate by 2%). It's, in my estimation, a hugely successful portrayal of a middle-class family, spouse and kids, in their gradual descent from mortgage-paying homeowners into car-dwelling indigents. It helps to put a face on the homeless, and what that face shows is that these people are just like us, but for circumstance. It's hardly "fun", but it's important, and in my estimation it's quite effective, thus I recommend everyone try it out.

For reasons that are difficult to explain, portrayal of homelessness in video games is an old preoccupation of mine from way back, and this is a nice jewel in that dubious crown.