Last year’s comp gave us Stupid Kittens, which I called dadaist IF. an apple from nowhere (caps intentionally omitted, as they are in the game) is perhaps a cousin to that game. It’s avant-garde, certainly, but where Stupid Kittens‘ stream of non sequiturs was snide and aggressive, this game’s barrage of scenes feels more distinctly dreamlike, less a pointed attack than just the random firing of synapses, aggregating elements from life to stretch them and collide them.
The game skirts some taboo areas, drug use and pedophilia among them, but it seems to do so more out of an attempt to directly channel the subconscious than out of an explicit desire to shock. Perhaps I’m giving it too much credit — there is an awful lot of in-your-face subject matter here — but the dreamlike atmosphere felt genuine, if overly charged. Perhaps it’s the dream world of a somewhat mentally ill person.
The question it brings up for me is this: what happens to IF when logic is removed? There are plenty of bad games that lack logic unintentionally, and some of these can be as surreal as anything in apple, but they are unsatisfactory, because we can sense that their incongruencies are a bug rather than a feature. When the illogic is intentional, the IF prompt carries a different sort of subtext. Normally, the presence of interactivity tells us that the game wants to shape itself around our commands, and challenges us to enter into a dance with the text whereby we both lead and are led. When a game makes it clear that its responses to our commands may only be tangentially related to what we type, and may not be related at all, it has taken the lead in that dance and turned it into more of an amusement park ride. Now, amusement park rides can be a wonderful thing, and I’d even suggest that there is some room for exploring the ways in which participation can enhance surreality — Shade is an excellent example of this sort of thing done right.
apple, however, has a different agenda than Shade. At the core of Shade, there was still a story being told; all its unreal occurrences were very clearly included with a purpose in mind. In this game, such a purpose is harder to discern. It’s awfully brief, for one thing, so we don’t get much of a chance to make the connections that might lead to a story. For another, it jumps, Fusillade-style, through a variety of characters, settings, and even writing formats (a few scenes are written as a sort of interactive screenplay.) It was well-written enough, and certainly well implemented. There was very little interactivity, but that’s hardly the point in a piece like this.
Ultimately, I think it was apple‘s lack of cohesion that failed me. When I reached the end of this game, I blinked, and then I shrugged. Some people can look at a Pollock and see emotion made visible. Other people just see chaos. This game may be similar, and while I enjoy surreality and even randomness, I don’t think there’s much here that will be sticking with me.