Kotodama

By Aidan Doyle. (Twine; IFDB; play here)

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Cover art: the kanji characters for ‘kotodama’

Tokyo has been hit by a poetry outbreak. You, a robot, have been sent to deal with it.

Kotodama is set in a world in which poetry is akin to a contagious disease, and that shapes much of the world-building. This much is evident from the first line:

The lobby of the Tokyo Skypoem is filled with panicked humans, their faces scarred by unbridled metaphor. Paramedics carry stretchers bearing limerick-riddled corpses and haiku-exposed skeletons.

The writing sparkles with wit, and the game’s use of metaphor (that is, making it have literal consequences) called to mind Patanoir. Kotodama also gives a welcome depth to the world-building by giving a nod to familiar narratives such as racism or the role of immigrants. This seems to have some link to the title: according to the Oxford Dictionaries blog, which the game quotes, the concept of ‘kotodama’ applies especially to Japanese in its ‘purest’ form – that is, the language without any loan words – yet, definitions of what counted as ‘pure’ varied over the years.

Kotodama is relatively short, but is highly polished (I found the Poetry Dojo to be a stroke of genius) and very cleverly written. Highly recommended.

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Reset

By Autumn Nicole Bradley (Twine; IFDB; play here; play time: ~20 minutes)

In a cyberpunk world where you are inextricably linked to implants, where your memories aren’t just in your brain, someone’s meddled with your implanted hardware, and the doctors had to do a soft reset. In the process, they damaged quite a lot of hardware and took away a big part of your ‘dry’ memory. You are a blank slate now.

[This game is about a D/S relationship.]

I’m not entirely sure what to say about this. Reset is an exploration of relationships in a world where you can surrender all control, physically and mentally. Underlining the inseparability of the PC’s implants and the PC, Reset uses the second person cleverly – there is a ‘metal-you’, a ‘you-you’ and a ‘body-you’ – bringing into question what identity means, in this universe. What does it mean when ‘body-you’, your physical self, remembers things which ‘you-you’ doesn’t? Are your feelings just as valid when only one aspect of your identity derives pleasure from them?

Bradley delivers the story brilliantly. One bit which was particularly excellent was the description of the PC surrendering their control to Alison – the author brought out the interactions between the different aspects of the PC’s personality very well. The story was also extraordinarily well-constructed. Recommended.

 

Tailypo

By Chandler Groover (Twine; IFDB; play here)

It’s winter, and he’s run out of food. He’s hungry, he’s cold, and if he doesn’t go hunting, he’ll freeze soon. But something wanders into his house. If he doesn’t eat it, he will starve.

[This game contains sound effects.]

Tailypo belongs solidly in the desperation-horror genre: the horror that comes from doing something loathsome, even though it is a choice between that and dying. Groover makes judicious use of timed effects in Twine and repetition, building tension as creak, creak did.

Like Taghairm, Tailypo derives its premise from a creature from Appalachian folklore. While it might be easily repurposed as a story for campfires, or otherwise sanitised, I think Groover’s take on this creature captures some of the desperation and terror – a terror from knowing that you are the only human in a mile’s radius, and that no matter what, you have to do something  – that probably inspired the original folk tale.

A short-ish Twine, published on Sub-Q, well worth playing.

The Fixer

by Chikodili Emelumadu (play here)

Women come to her when their husbands stray. She accepts not crude cash, but things of beauty. She will fix them- for as long as they live.

Content warning: this game has sexual themes – it’s not erotic, but it’s not wholly implicit either.

The Fixer is linear, but I really enjoyed playing through it – it reminded me of Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, in its portrayal of everyday mysticism. The beginning scene is reminiscent of noir mysteries – clients come to visit the jaded detective with an intractable problem and offer payment – and indeed the rough outline of the story follows that of a detective story, with the ‘detective’ main character formulating a plan, meeting the perpetrator, and finally fulfilling the contract made with the client. How she does it, though, is vastly, vastly different.

Emelumadu paints a city where spirits and humans mingle; where believing in mysticism is common sense and practicality. She merges the absurd with the filthy; the beautiful with the pragmatic. This quote for example:

A toothpick bobs about in his mouth. His lips are as thick and dark as a roll of roasted tripe.

Emelumadu’s writing is rich with local flavour, from the descriptions of food to the terms of address for different characters to each other, and beautifully detailed, even when she goes into sordid detail of a certain character. Her writing moves from being initially subtle – hinting at the narrator’s identity – to exulting in the narrator’s strange abilities.

The Fixer also uses graphics throughout the story, though I didn’t listen to the audio, and the story art is gorgeous and unobtrusive. A delight to read.