Monday, February 16, 2015

ParserComp 2014 - Sunburn by Caelyn Sandel

Caelyn Sandel gives us a quick, tightly implemented escape the room game.   I found no technical issues with the actual game at all, and there's a nicely implemented hint system.  It begins with the impressive banner that it is a "Social Justice Horror Story." Okay.  That's timely, and a great foundation to base a horror game on.

I certainly have read plenty about real-life horror stories experienced by undeserving women terrorized cyber-wise and in real-life by hordes of anonymous internet trolls who are horrible and employ pack-mentality to energize their harassment.  Many of them are people who wouldn't venture out of their parents' basement, but law of averages means at some point you're going to get one serious brave kook who pushes it too far, and that's all it takes to get someone seriously hurt or dead.

I'm expecting that I'm going to have my personal life increasingly infiltrated and invated by an group of people who don't appreciate my opinions merely because I'm female.  I'm going to have to decide whether to drop out of social society or defend my honor and find out who my true allies are.  I'm going to have to convince a possibly unsympathetic police force about my plight, and lie awake at night wondering if that car outside my window is slowing down to throw something at my window (a brick?  a molotov cocktail?  my murdered dog??).  I'm going to have to negotiate crowds of people every day, wondering if each random passer-by might be "one of them" and ready with a scalpel up his sleeve. My information will be stolen, my personal life will be ravaged and put on public display.  All because I'm just a woman, and I dared to express an opinion in public.  That is terrifying.

In this game you are a cute vampire in jeans and a tube top (that "pinches your boobs.") You've had a date with a guy you met and politely declined further contact with.  So of course he drugs you and locks you in his office with full floor to ceiling windows and an eastern sky view.  He records a tape for you muhahahaing over his master plan:  You rejected him, so you must remain in his not over-implemented office until the sun rises and you turn to dust.  Your goal is to escape this location and the hallway outside which has some sort of magic fireball thingy blocking the exit door...to...I guess somewhere that's not outside. I guess we can assume the PC is smart enough to stay out of the sun as long as she's not trapped.

Where's the social justice angle?  The author calls the antagonist a mysogynist in the death messages. OK.  The protagonist dated a psycho who set her up in a death trap which is easily overcome by quick adventure puzzling!  This is an episode of True Blood, not a heady Social Justice drama!

I don't at all mean to make light of the cause.  This is a very skillfully implemented escape the room game with a neat protagonist that relies on vampire and stalker horror tropes. It taught me nothing about Social Justice. It would be just as superficial if the PC were a minority and this were touted as a "Civil Rights" game.  Making the PC a vampire (which is an excellent if predictable use of the ParserComp "sunrise" theme) kind of takes the knees out of any social justice content, because as a stock True Blood type vamp whose remains are a powerful addictive drug, you already have a whole list of enemies with a trope specific reason to want you dead, social justice or not. Remember when vampires used to be the enemy? They are already a reliable stand-in for the oppressed and misunderstood.

A joke that is told with the preamble "Hey, here's a real funny joke!" loses every bit of effectiveness because it puts the listener's guard up. I really love the game that is here.  I just wish it hadn't been pushed so hard as a "social justice horror story" which made me envision something more reality-based and complicated than we're given.  I think Caelyn Sandel is talented enough to write a real game about the faceless, legion horror the Internet can bring down upon unsuspecting victims, and I'd love to play it.

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My Interactive Fiction is described at http://hanonondricek.wix.com/pyramidif and on IFDB.

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