IFComp 2015: Switcheroo

by the Marino Family (Undum; play here)

Switcheroo is part 3 in a series of ‘living books’ meant for children. In this one, you play Derik, who wakes up one morning… as a girl*.

Switcheroo does have the look and feel of a storybook, and it jumps straight into the whole ‘living book’ business, with plenty of alliteration and the narrator getting all chummy with me – one of those things which I tend to label as ‘things which adults think children like’. It strikes one as being very much the work of a well-meaning, though slightly condescending adult. There are some issues with inconsistent use of pronouns and perspectives (switching between second- and third-person narrative doesn’t leave a very good impression).

* This is not a progressive game. The author(s) invoke every possible cheap stereotype about small girls. Pink? Yeah! Of course a girl can’t possibly ever like sports, they must like ponies and boy bands! It’s the law! What was the point of that? It just gets… well, I hesitate to say better, but you choose an outfit, like the dozens of ‘girls’ computer games’ in which you play dress-up. Worse still, the game tracks how ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ you’re behaving by comparing you to fictional characters. Seriously.

The discussion continues below with spoilers.

spoilers ahead:

… Oh wait. There’s racial stereotypes too! What kind of children are expected to read this?! What’s this card game doing in the middle of nowhere?

It’s a pity about all these details, because it detracts from what it could have shown about foster care. IF, by making the player assume the role of a character, can be a powerful tool to foster empathy and/or understanding, and this is something which, I think, Switcheroo didn’t quite capitalise on. While I don’t know how accurate the depiction in Switcheroo is, there are some details – the Almosts, for example- which, if accurate, could have been revealing. 

The game is also technically sound, with mini-games embedded in the game proper. There’s a card game, for instance, with its own mechanic. There are woodcut-like illustrations. There are, however, variables which don’t seem to get used (Poem Powers? The heck are those?) – a vestige from earlier drafts? A miscommunication? Who knows?

Also, I still don’t get the point of comparing the PC to a character. The narrative character, Derik/Denise, already seems to have a fairly lengthy backstory and inner landscape, so what does the player have to do with this?

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