Posted by: Ben | October 13, 2010

if: Gigantomania

This is a review of Gigantomania, a Glulx game in the 2010 Interactive Fiction competition, by Michelle Tirto. The term “gigantomania,” which literally means the excessive desire for the very large, is frequently used to refer to Joseph Stalin’s enthusiasm for very large industrial projects, massive agricultural collectivization, enormous statues, and of course killing people on a Biblical scale.

And lo and behold, Gigantomania’s tagline is “Living under the Stalin era, in four parts” and it opens with a suitably unpleasant quote from the man himself, so this is unlikely to be a festival of laughter.

The grunts and sighs of dozens of men plowing or extracting potatoes and grain with roots firmly in the ground fills up the silence of the sky, the silence of repression. The barren soil matches the thin arms and haggard faces further raping it. I haven’t slept for ages either, but the pain of avoiding hunger for even longer and the slight rumble of land constantly being upturned keeps me awake.

I’m a mess, Sergei’s a mess, our families are a mess and there’s nothing to do in this place except farm. Ok, I’ve seen this part of the Stalin era. Can we move on to the next one please? Or do I have to be denounced as a kulak and killed first? Oh, I see. It’s either me or some other poor bastard.

Wait a minute, I’m depressed now. Excuse me a moment.

That’s better. Where was I?

There follows a whistle stop tour of the USSR under Stalin. Queue for bread, attempt to hide your contraband, and finally, journey to the centre of Uncle Joe’s brain, where he swears and calls people “retards”. Random numbers are starting to appear. Is this some postmodern thing?

Oh, they’re chess moves. I need a board, right? Playing chess with Stalin turns out to be disappointingly linear, but I suppose full chess AI would be too much to expect, even from a Glulx game.

While the game is very much in the tradition of linear, story-based IF like Photopia and Deadline Enchanter, it tantalizes us with settings that seem to have been imagined more than they have been implemented. In the first section in particular I got the impression that there might be a more optimal solution if I only had time to find it (but maybe that was the intention). I’ll probably never know if those rings had any reason to be there. The problem is, after the element of choice had been introduced in the first section, it was hard not to feel nostalgic for it later, even if all that choice had ever amounted to was whether to eat grain or potatoes today.

So, what have we learned? Stalin, despite his continuing popularity in Russia, was not a nice man, and life in Soviet Russia was dangerous. Rather unsubtly presented and not exactly challenging our Western assumptions, but well-written enough to let the player into the heads of the characters (except Stalin, who we can only observe at arm’s length and through a rather bemusing filter) and a good starting point for those who want to know more about the subject.


  1. More videos, please.

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