IFComp 2008: Freedom

(This is another Interactive Fiction Competition review .)

Freedom is not about freedom. You probably won’t have the slightest idea what it’s about until you read the ABOUT text. Which is sort of the problem.

Freedom, says the author, “is intended to create the experience of suffering from social anxiety disorder.” Unfortunately it’s too slight to create the experience of anything.

I can’t claim to have social anxiety disorder because I’ve never been diagnosed with it. I am, however, severely shy. When talking to people I often freeze up and trip over my words. Occasionally employees in stores and restaurants talk to me in that voice people use with children, senior citizens, and the mentally challenged. Social anxiety disorder is, I guess, even worse, but I think I have some handle on what it must be like. It doesn’t look like Freedom.

Freedom is so uninhabited it could be a social anxiety sufferer’s dream world. It’s like a post-apocalyptic game set after half the human race died off, or left to colonize Mars, or something. At one point you wander into an empty bookstore, discover the book you ordered hasn’t arrived, and leave. What does this mean? That it take longer for socially anxious people to receive books?

The grocery store gets closer to the point, but it’s also distractingly buggy. No matter which checkout line you pick the game assumes you’re in the automated line. This might have worked if your character explicitly refused to enter the other lines; as it is, it’s just confusing.

The last scene is some kind of meeting—maybe a support group for social anxiety sufferers. The game mentions other attendees but they don’t actually exist in the game-world and might as well not be there. Your character has no particular reaction to the crowd beyond the observation that there are fewer people at the other end of the room. You walk over not because you feel compelled, but because there’s nothing else to do. So you find a young woman, a complete stranger, and… hmm, let me check the walkthrough… oh, yeah. You… um, spontaneously hug her.

So far in this competition I’ve dealt with magic soul fish, dudes in spaceship factories turning into robots, lazy thumb-wrestling wizard’s apprentices, and a naked grad student with gum in his ears and an electronic platypus on his head. This is the point where my suspension of disbelief went out the window.

This isn’t just the last thing a shy person would do. It’s the most insensitive thing some strange clod could do to a shy person. Hell, if I were suddenly hugged by a complete stranger—even a complete stranger who looked like Grace Kelly—I’d jump out of my skin.

I can only make sense of Freedom by assuming the author can’t even tell what will create the experience of social anxiety disorder in others… because they’re so deep inside the problem that everything makes them anxious, including being alone.

2 thoughts on “IFComp 2008: Freedom

  1. I thought the point of the bookshop scene was that the PC doesn’t ask a person whether his book’s arrived, but is described as hunting through all the books to see whether it’s there. If that’s correct, though, it would have been more effective for the game to implement an assistant NPC and have the PC refuse to talk to them.

    The game definitely would have benefited from some tougher situations. For example, the PC could have been unable to leave his apartment because other residents of the building were hanging out in the lobby (or been unable to return for the same reason). That might have conveyed more starkly how disabling social phobia can be.

  2. If that’s correct, though, it would have been more effective for the game to implement an assistant NPC and have the PC refuse to talk to them.

    Yeah, the fact that the PC doesn’t talk to anybody is meaningless when there’s nobody in the store to talk to in the first place.

    I have to admit that the problem I have in stores, as a very shy person, isn’t that people refuse to talk to me. It’s that they keep walking up and asking if I need help when I just want to be left alone to browse.

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