Creatures Such as We is a web-based choose-your-own-adventure style piece by Lynnea Glasser. You can play it online here.
As in previous years, I won’t put any but the most bare-bones information before the cut. I’m assuming that many of my potential readers will be other judges, skimming through my entries to find reviews of the games they’ve played, while studiously avoiding spoilers for games they haven’t gotten to yet. In my opinion, it is a Terrible Thing To Do to put multiple reviews together right out in the open!
Behind the cut, there are very minor spoilers.
First, I have to say that I got excited as soon as I saw the name “Lynnea Glasser” on my randomly-chosen first game of the comp. Her Coloratura won last year, and I also enjoyed her terrifying Divis Mortis in 2010. I tried to set that aside, however, and deal with this game on its own merits.
Creatures Such as We describes itself as “A dating sim about how humanity connects through art, even out in the vastness of space.” I laughed aloud at art mirroring life in the very opening of the game. Minutes after blogging about how I had impatiently finished up the responsibilities of the day and was looking forward to sitting down to play a computer game, I found myself taking on a character who was excited to wrap up work duties so she* could play a computer game called Creatures Such as We.
Fortunately, my character’s** life makes for a more thrilling game than my actual life; this was a far cry from the deadly dull I-wrote-about-my-own-everyday-life-because-it’s-familiar genre that sometimes turns up in comp games. Unlike me, she plays her computer games in a space hotel on the moon, where she works as a tour guide/guest services person for the wealthy tourists who come to stay. The narrative shifted back and forth between the game-within-a-game and events happening on the moon base, where, coincidentally, the creators of the game-within-a-game are having a business vacation. The threads of both stories wove together thematically with a heavy dose of philosophical pondering about art in general and games in particular. Does the meaning of a piece of art come from the creator, or the audience? What role should art play in people’s lives? How should stories end?
Ultimately, I don’t think the piece gave answers to any of those questions, unless perhaps it gave an answer by leaving the interpretation up to me. Which, now that I think about it, may indeed be the point Glasser was going for. I’m not certain. If that is the case, I’m not certain I agree – while I think the art consumer can certainly add layers to interpretations of artwork, and I love when people contemplate questions like whether Gatsby was black, I don’t think that’s giving the author enough credit. I can argue about whether The Great Gatsby was feminist, or a commentary on being Jewish, or narrated by a gay man, but it would be unreasonable of me to argue that it’s actually all about Genghis Khan’s military strategy. A good work of art is like a park: you can wander around in it, explore it as you will, but you can’t force it to be a different park altogether.
Philosophy aside, Creatures Such as We gave me really happy feelings about CYOA as a platform. I’ve written before about how I’m a bit lukewarm on the medium, and would much rather play a mediocrely-written parser-based game than a mediocrely-written CYOA. This was absolutely not a mediocrely-written anything. Glasser’s prose drew me into the setting, making me feel as much inside my character as I do when I’m typing commands. The choices offered to me always included several that felt right for my character – important, because nothing pulls me out of a game like being forced to choose between several things that all feel completely wrong. Moreover, I was rarely told what emotion I felt in response to events, but rather asked.
It took me just about exactly two hours to reach the ending I did. I felt satisfied by it, but as I am the type of traveler that does want to go back for the other road, I plan to come back and play again when the comp is over… or if I get through the other 41 games with time to spare!
A wonderful way to start the competition. Thank you, Lynnea Glasser.
* Partway through the game, you are given choices about your character’s identity: age range, ethnic background, and gender (including both cis and trans options). I appreciated that this didn’t happen in the very first scene, but after I had started to get to know my character’s situation a bit. It made me feel more like I was describing someone I knew instead of inventing someone for an unknown task. I am curious about how my choices affected the game. I think there were some places where the gender I picked influenced pronouns, and I wasn’t limited to heterosexual relationships, but everything else is a black box. When the comp is over and I replay this game, I’ll make different choices and see if I notice anything.