Posted by: Ben | October 11, 2014

if: Origins

This is a review of Origins, a hypertext-based game in the 2014 Interactive Fiction Competition, by Vincent Zeng and Chris Martens.  My standard disclaimers:

  1. Even if I hate your game, I love you.  But not in a creepy way.

  2. Your game is better than mine, since I haven’t written anything capable of being shown to another human being. But criticism is a skill too!

  3. Ratings are on a three-point scale of Great, Good and Grim, which will be finessed into a rating out of ten in time for the competition voting deadline.

  4. This review may contain (a) spoilers right to the end of the game in question, (b) adult themes and (c) material that some people may find offensive.

Origins is the second web-based game I’ve run into so far, and the second that describes itself as “experimental” in its blurb. This is a good thing. Experiment. Deconstruct your own assumptions.  This is how progress happens.

In the sciences an experiment is generally carried out to test a hypothesis.  Conversely in the context of the arts, an experiment ought to generate an unpredictable result, and its success or failure will not necessarily translate to performance on any kind of 1-10 scale.

In this case the result is a vignette of urban life that didn’t really make me feel anything or give me any particular insight into the human condition, but which left me searching for an underlying justification for why the game exists.  And I’m struggling.


The potential exists for a highly replayable portrayal of random events produced by the interactions of multiple agents, but such a thing would appear to benfit from a more emergent system than the one that seems to be at work here.  So are we looking at a fable about entanglement, where one person’s choices affect another’s?  Spooky action at a distance?  Is this a parable about class conflict, in which a stressed proletarian courier and a privileged bourgeoise runner subliminally direct one another’s actions?  (And given that it’s set in America, must we consider the possibility that it could be alluding to racial conflict as well?)

Or is it merely what it appears to be, a minimal narrative framework hanging on a coding exercise?  After all, as a well-known writer once said, “If I had wanted to write a message I would have written a message.”

Perhaps we should count our blessings that a tour of the streets of Pittsburgh at least feels more alive than another recreation of someone’s apartment.

Rating: Grim

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