Happy New Year! I wanted to write up a few pieces of interactive fiction that I’ve enjoyed over the last few months. In no particular order, here they are. I hope you check them out.
Burnt Matches, by Pippin Barr
Playing “Burnt Matches” feels like descending into the heart of a glitch. The entire landscape is starkly delineated by representative words like “snow” and “home.” These words describe what’s around you but are wholly disorienting; absent of detail, it’s as though you’re sightlessly feeling your way through the world with only rough sketches and fragments to guide you.
Barr also uses the browser window as a clever constraint, forcing you to scroll as you traverse a corridor or climb down stairs. It’s an unsettling way of moving, like leaping in feet first, not quite sure where you’re going or what you’ll find. ◙
The Jugular Fish, by Ciara Burkett
I recently wrote about Burkett’s body of work for Geeks of Color, and “The Jugular Fish” remains one of my favorite pieces. It’s a snarky little gem that somehow manages to create a whole world in just a snippet. It’s a world much like ours — except there’s a deadly fish with heat vision that’s become a public health menace because teenagers keep using it to get high. The story includes testimonials from feminist biologists and YouTube stars, and it sparkles with a unique wit that’s firmly tongue in cheek. ◙
The Seers Catalogue, by Sean Michaels
I’ve been referring to “The Seers Catalogue” as a “mystic heist” in my head, and what a wonderful mystic heist it is. Michaels’s writing is crisp and evocative, and the soundtrack really adds a cryptic ambience that makes you feel as though you’re embarking on a secret adventure. I love the premise: You discover a mysterious advert in an otherworldly magazine called — what else? — The Seers Catalogue. All the advert says is: Accomplices Wanted. Don’t Weight.
My favorite part about “The Seers Catalogue” is the fact that you actually get to read three issues of the eponymous magazine, which contains various columns, letters to the editor, and even its own serialized story. ◙
Martha Stewart Doesn’t Live Here, by Allie Ast
“Martha Stewart Doesn’t Live Here” tells a tale of anxiety wallpapered with sunshine-y fantasies of suburbia. Your goal is to make scrambled eggs to bring to a party, but it isn’t so easy when every move is shrouded in hesitation and doubt. Should you crack 4 or 5 eggs? Where did you put the frying pan? Do you even want to go to the party? Calming classical music plays while you attempt to decipher this supposedly simple act of domesticity. ◙
Stay Lost, by Casey James
I read about Texture on the inimitable Emily Short’s blog, and decided to check it out. The interface is pretty unique, involving a drag-and-drop mechanic to move you through a story instead of, say, clicking hyperlinks. “Stay Lost” was the first Texture story I read. It’s a short, bittersweet coming-of-age story about a romance between two girls in the suburbs. I enjoyed the way the mechanic worked in this story. Because you have to drag questions and verbs into the story to proceed, it makes you feel responsible for the emotional consequences you’re about to witness. Sometimes, you don’t want to ask why but you know you must in order to go on. ◙
Birdland, by Brendan Patrick Hennessy
Birdland is a hilarious romp through an increasingly weird summer camp involving strange encounters of the bird kind. It’s perfectly illustrated by Izzy Marbella, and Hennessy’s dialogue is sharp with dry wit. You should play it immediately. And if you want more, there’s also a prequel: Bell Park, Youth Detective. ◙