Too Much Free Time

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Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

IFComp 2014: Raik

Posted by Tracy Poff on October 17, 2014

The second game I’m looking at this year is Raik by Harry Giles, which is written with Twine. According to the blurb, it is “A scots fantasia about anxiety. Battle kelpies, watch TV, avoid your emails and find the magical Staff of the Salmon.” Sounds amusing!

(This post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)

My spoiler warning above goes double for this game. Really definitely don’t read this without playing the game. I mean it.

When you start the game, you’re advised that you can “Learn about Scots and use a translator at Scots-Online.org“, and you are presented with a pair of links: gang and go. It looks from the outset as if the game is simply available in two languages–Scots and English–for flavor, and the “Translate to Scots” and “Translate to English” links that appear reinforce this. The text is even very similar in shape in each language. However, this is only a facade: there are two stories being told, and they are superficially unrelated.

In the Scots-language story, the PC struggles through the day, trying to fill time: “If ye can get tae hauf five, mebbe ye can get tae dinner, than mebbe ye can get tae bed.”

In the English-language story, the PC is on an epic quest: “You are searching for the Staff of the Salmon, whose magic alone will release your clan from the withering curse of Black Edward.”

At the bottom of each page of text is an option to ‘translate’ into the other language, which actually presents not a translation but the section of the story which is in the corresponding position in the other language: the stories are structurally the same. They are related in more ways that one: at the end of the English-language story, “You imagine another version of yourself, who stayed in bed that fateful day and even now lies frozen in time, unable to act, an endless scream seeking only relief.” In the most recent corresponding part of the Scots-language story, the PC is paralyzed by a panic attack.

My interpretation: the Scots-language story is ‘real’, and the English-language story is the PC’s way of dealing with life–or of not dealing with life, as the case may be.

The duality of the stories is very cool and well done. Though you could (mostly) play them separately, the English-language story serves as commentary on the Scots-language story. For example, when the PC of the Scots-language story is (figuratively) lost in a panic attack, the PC of the English-language story is (literally) lost in a maze. It’s an impressive way to use metaphor.

The individual stories are well-crafted, too. I particularly liked the use of links to pace the story. Early on, links interrupting the text make the story seem to move slower, but later they make the pacing seem more frantic–well done!

You’ll note that my praise is all for ‘meta’ aspects of the game–this is not an accident. The actual game isn’t all that interesting. The Scots-language story is dull (but it’s supposed to be, since it’s the ‘real-world’ part of the game) and the English-language story is far from engaging. However, the game is quite short (about fifteen minutes for a single playthrough), so this wasn’t a problem.

The language aspect could prove something of a problem. It’s easy enough to tell the general sense of the Scots-language story, but for most readers there will be many specific terms that require definition. It’s certainly the author’s intention to induce readers to learn more about Scots, which is fine, though I wonder how much effort the (non-comp-judging) general public will be willing to expend on comprehension. My own experience with Scots (other than Robert Burns) is limited to an encounter with the Scots Wikipedia, some years ago. At the time, I judged that the editors were treating Scots as a somewhat more dignified version of leet-speak, and put it from my mind. It seems to have done better since, though it still has very few editors.

According to the author, Raik was inspired by Depression Quest, which I have not yet played. I’d like to come back to this game after playing Depression Quest, to see how it affects my opinion. At any rate, I foresee myself continuing to revisit and think about this game in the future, which is about the highest praise that can be given to a ‘serious’ game like this.

Play time: about 40 minutes for several playthroughs.

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