IFDB page: Pass the Banana
Final placement: 33rd place (of 37) in the 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition
Ooooo-kaaaaay. This must be what Sins Against Mimesis felt like to people who hadn’t read the IF newsgroups. Pass the Banana, near as I can tell, is a little collection of in-jokes originating on ifMUD. I’m basing this conclusion on the fact that the one location in the game is an Adventurer’s Lounge. I certainly recognize that from ifMUD. The three characters in the game are a giant flaming head, a monkey, and Melvin the Robot. These ring faint bells for me. I think I’ve seen some of those things on ifMUD once or twice. The nine objects were all, well, bananas. I’ve never seen any bananas on ifMUD, but hey, where there’s a monkey… I’m not a very frequent visitor to the MUD, though, so my associations with these things are very tenuous indeed. You start out the game with nine bananas, and the object seems to be to get rid of them all. As the title suggests, you can’t just drop them or throw them — you have to pass them to the other characters in the room. So I passed all my bananas and won the game with a rank of “Master of All Bananas”. I even managed to get that Last Lousy Point, one of the few things in the game whose joke made sense to me.
The game, for what it is, is well-implemented. There are a number of funny responses which require no inside knowledge to enjoy. For example, the room description mentions that seating is plentiful, but when you try to sit down, the game tells you “It may be plentiful, but it’s also only scenery.” Once the bananas get going, there are a myriad of random responses for each character, including an array of each for passing, receiving, and attempting to eat bananas, as well as whiling away the time. I found no bugs, at least not as far as I could tell, though in a situation like this it’s difficult to tell what a bug is. For example, this sentence kept popping up: “The giant flaming head 712 looks bored.” Now, that looks to me like some garbage numbers in the middle of the sentence, but then again the whole scenario is pretty meaningless to me, so for all I know 712 could be a reference to yet another ifMUD joke. Ho ho ho. I can say for certain that I saw no grammar or spelling errors in the game.
I did my riff on in-jokes when I wrote my review of Sins Against Mimesis in ’97, so I won’t revisit it in depth now. Basically, the good thing about in-jokes is that they strengthen the sense of community that comes from shared reference points. The bad thing is that, to an outsider to that community, the in-jokes feel like closed gates, whose guards snicker, “We know something you don’t know!” It was interesting to experience an in-jokey IF game from the perspective of the outsider, especially since I’m someone who considers myself a member of the IF community. The experience underscored my growing understanding of the effects that the ifMUD has had. The MUD has done a lot to bring the community together, including providing realtime hosting for the XYZZY awards and the Implementor’s Lunches. However, it has also attracted a subgroup of IF devotees, people who apparently hang out on the MUD for great swaths of time and discuss whatever comes to mind. This group has developed its own dynamic, its own references, and in some cases even its own cant. It’s not a group I ever see myself being a part of, since I don’t have a great deal of spare time as it is, and that which I devote to IF goes to SPAG or my own work in progress (or to writing long, boring reviews of tiny little comp games). Plus, the lure of hanging out on the MUD is so seductive that I know I can’t let myself get hooked, lest it become a huge suckhole of my time. So I guess I’m not going to get those in-jokes anytime soon. Perhaps someone could offer translation services, or provide a key with the explanations (such as they are) behind ifMUD in-jokes? If this doesn’t happen, I guess I’m doomed to further confusion, as mysterious missives continue to emanate from the Adventurer’s Lounge.
[Postscript from 2020: Mike Roberts (the creator of TADS) wrote a hilarious review of this game for SPAG, including the memorable line, “Other games in this year’s competition might have more plot, more puzzles, or more elaborate settings, but none have more bananas.”]