IFDB page: Friday Afternoon
Final placement: 16th place (of 34) in the 1997 Interactive Fiction Competition
You work in a cubicle. When the printer breaks, you’re called upon to fix it. You write programs and then write the documentation for them. But you’re not a nerd! This is the premise behind Friday Afternoon (hereafter called Friday), Mischa Schweitzer’s game set in corporate cubicle culture. Friday isn’t Dilbert by any stretch of the imagination — it’s less a spoof on that culture than it is a puzzle-solving game using the cubicled workspace as its backdrop. It starts with a relatively simple goal (finish the items on your to-do list), throws in a few puzzles to complicate things, and goes from there. These puzzles are well-done — they don’t serve to advance the plot very much (since there is no plot to speak of), but they feel natural to the setting, and their solutions are usually sensible and intuitive. In fact, several puzzles can be solved by relatively mundane actions, but the feeling of putting together the logic to find the right mundane action is quite satisfying.
A less pleasant part of Friday is its construction of yet another annoying player character. This character’s main motivation seems to be a desire to prove the fact that he (see below) is not a nerd, by way of going on a date. Now, maybe many people do struggle with this kind of identity crisis, but for the narrative’s purposes it makes the main character seem shallow and unappealing. The character’s gender is never specified by the game, but one section in particular shows that the character is very probably a male, and very definitely a sexist. The unfortunate thing about this is that none of it is really necessary. The sexism demonstrated by the calendar puzzle could just as easily have been pushed off onto other characters without touching the main character. The date doesn’t have to prove that the character isn’t a nerd — it could just be a date, like regular people go on without having to prove something to themselves. As it is, Friday contributes to some rather unattractive stereotypes about the type of person who works in a cubicle.
Of course, this is not to say that the game sets out to make a grand point — I’m quite sure that it doesn’t. According to the author, the game started out as a light satire of his own office. I have no doubt that this early version was a great success, since the core of the game is entertaining and clever. For the competition version, he added a couple of puzzles, and removed all the inside jokes and Dutch words. The result is definitely generic enough to feel like it applies across the board. I work in a financial aid office as a counselor, but several of the puzzles still felt like they could have happened to me. Overall, Friday Afternoon is an enjoyable game and a nice utilization of an underused subgenre in IF. (What happens when the protagonists of college games graduate? They become the protagonists of office games!) It’s flawed by some problems with the player character, but is aided by fine characters, very good puzzles, and solid implementation.
Prose: The prose in Friday definitely has an odd feel to it, as if something is just a bit off. I attribute this to the fact that the author is not a native English speaker — the awkwardness is probably due to a very slight discomfiture with the language. Of course, this is not to say that the prose is bad. It usually does its job quite well, conveying humor and frustration effectively. There’s just a slight unnatural feeling to it.
Plot: There isn’t much of a plot in Friday. It’s basically yet another variation on the “check items off of a list” flavor of IF. Of course, the great thing about Friday is that by placing the to-do list in an office setting, the game gains a very realistic feeling. I really do deal with situations every day where I have a list of things that need to be completed before I can leave work, and so the logic of a game written around such a list feels quite genuine. This device allows the game to escape the aura of contrivance that mars other “recipe” games.
Puzzles: The best feature of Friday is definitely its puzzles. They fit so seamlessly into the setting that I’d be willing to bet that the author has faced several of them in real life. Puzzles like repairing the glasses require several steps, wherein each step is logical and natural but also requires a bit of resourcefulness. Solving puzzles like these provides a feeling of accomplishment that no simple mechanical or lock-and-key puzzle can give.
Technical (writing): There was a slight flavor of awkwardness to the writing, but to the author’s credit it didn’t often manifest itself in outright errors.
Technical (coding): I found no bugs in Friday.
OVERALL: A 7.7