Monday, September 3, 2012

Home, Ladies and Tigers

System: PC (available on Steam)
Developer: Benjamin Rivers
NA Release: June 2012

“Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady?”
The Lady, or the Tiger?

In 1882, writer Frank R. Stockton penned “The Lady, or the Tiger?” a short story in which a young man faced the trial of choosing from two doors. Behind one door was a beautiful lady, with whom he would win immediate marriage. Behind the other door was a tiger of inconsequential gender or appearance, who would win a meal of the young man.

Stockton makes great effort to lay out all the details surrounding the young man's situation. We learn of the loving relationship with the kingdom's princess that brought him there in the first place, how only that same princess has found out the secret of the doors, and the internal dilemma she faces in telling her love which door to choose. And as she covertly points him toward a door, the tale climaxes... by not climaxing. Stockton does not tie up his story. He leaves it in the hands of the reader to take the evidence presented and choose what happened on his or her own, ensuring his story would be read by frustrated high school English classes for all of eternity.

Now, only 130 years later, we get the same style of open-ended mystery in a nifty interactive form!

Retro graphics hearken back to old adventure games and add focus to the narrative.
Home, by Benjamin Rivers, gives players control of a man who wakes up in an unfamiliar house with little memory of how he came to be there and a dead body to contemplate. By exploring in classic adventure game style, the narrative is revealed through the man's first-person perspective, as if he's relating the events to an unknown listener. Even choices to grab items don't come in typical “Take paper?” fashion but more, “I wasn't sure what use this scrap of paper would be to me. Did I take it anyway?” It's almost like the listener is also a collaborator in some way, verifying whether the main character did or not do certain things.

This style is easy to get used to and starts to become a second thought—that is, until the questions become a lot more influential. It soon becomes clear that you need to take the sum of your experiences in the game, including all you chose to do and not do, to determine yourself what actually happens. It's “The Lady, or the Tiger?”, but instead of taking the side of the cutest person in class to argue how things might have gone one way or the other, you're there in the princess's seat, making the ultimate choice based on your perspectives on logic and human nature.

Not the ultimate choice.
And even then you're still not going to understand exactly what happened, leaving so much to think about and debate well after you've closed out the game. Rivers has offered a place for players to contribute their own interpretations, and it's just as much a part of the game, really.

Stockton received a lot of mail from readers demanding what the “real” ending to his story was, and Rivers is probably going to get his share of curious requests as well. Me? I doubt whether either ever had a definitive ending in mind—in fact, I would find it supremely gratifying if I knew they didn't. Crafting these kinds of tales take a lot of effort, but the ultimate intention is external: it is placing all your circumstantial evidence in another's hands and seeing what they find out about themselves by letting their minds and hearts fight over it.

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