IFDB page: Jump
Final placement: 41st place (of 51) in the 2001 Interactive Fiction Competition
Jump puts me in mind of something Orson Scott Card said in a 1997 interview. In talking about how he started as a playwright before becoming a novelist, Card says, “By the time I turned to fiction, I had already cleared many of the first hurdles (I had written my suicide story, my perversion story, etc., and had moved beyond them, as every good writer eventually must).” What we don’t know from this quote is just what happened to that suicide story. Given that he was writing plays for BYU at the time, it’s not such a stretch to imagine that Card’s suicide story was enacted onstage for whatever audience might show up to student productions. After playing this game, I have a notion of how that audience might have felt.
Jump is a suicide story. To me, this was clear just from the title and blurb in Comp01, but no matter who you are, you’ll know it’s a suicide story before game’s first prompt, given that it opens with a suicide scene. Suicide stories in IF are an even trickier proposition than in static fiction (a term I dislike, by the way, but can’t think of a better alternative at the moment), because it’s one thing to watch someone kill themselves, and quite another to direct their actions towards that goal. Jump stops just short of In The End, since it doesn’t actually demand that the player type KILL MYSELF at the prompt, but it’s just as obvious that’s what’s going to happen, and the inevitable is just as… inevitable.
There’s a bit of window dressing that attempts to explain the suicide, but really, it’s just that: window dressing. They’re all the sort of movie-of-the-week elements you’d expect: adolescent protagonist; a suicide pact at school; dialogue that’s waaay over the top; alcoholism, battering, and probably child molestation in the protagonist’s home. These things feel pasted on — I never had the sense at any point that any of the characters were anything but cardboard cutouts. Details, characterization, and plot are so sparsely provided that it’s very difficult to really care about who these people are and what happens to them. It’s all overwith rather quickly anyway, so we barely get a chance to meet the characters, much less identify with them.
There are also religious overtones that ring false. Part of this is because of the general shallowness of the piece — it’s hard to get into the protagonist’s mindset when we get so little insight into her. Reading Christian scripture as advocating suicide is so far from typical that it really demands some explanation, and the game provides very little. The other part of the problem is implementation, as seen here:
His eyes look skyward. His arms are spread. His legs are together.
Blood oozes from his feet and hands.
You can't see any such thing.
Well now, wait a sec. If that isn’t Jesus, then just who is it in the picture with the bloody hands and feet? I’m reminded of another quote, this time from Homer Simpson, after being called “wicked” for skipping church:
Kids, let me tell you about another so-called [makes quotation marks
with fingers] “wicked” guy. He had long hair and some wild ideas. He
didn’t always do what other people thought was right. And that man’s
name was… I forget. But the point is… I forget that, too. Marge,
you know what I’m talking about. He used to drive that blue car?
Anyway, my point is… wait, what was my point? Oh, right: the story begins, there’s a suicide, the story ends. Doesn’t take too long. Doesn’t accomplish too much. But if, as Card implies, the suicide story is a hurdle, consider it cleared.