The Ascot: review of IF Comp reviews — Meta-Cleverness Doesn’t Matter

Some people liked _The Ascot_ and some didn’t, and remarkably, for what we might call the traditional or naive view of what makes text games good, those people tended to agree on everything about the game.  They just *felt* differently about it, and they report feeling differently because of the narrative voice.

Some liked it, others didn’t:  and this determined reviewers’ attitudes toward the game:  not the CYOA form, not the interactivity, not the clever meta-ending that a few people found.

One thing that struck me as interesting was that people quibbled with the grammer when the grammer was too correct.

For example, Pissy Little writes:

“That ascot!” booms the Eagle Beast.  “Who have touched it must die!”
I’m pretty sure you can’t use “who” as the subject of a sentence if it’s part of a – what are those phrases called, that act as adjectives?  “Those who have touched it must die” would work, though.  I mean, you can say “This is Bob, who is interested in learning more about erectile dysfunction,” but you can’t say “Who is interested in learning more about erectile dysfunction is coming for dinner tonight, so cook more ham than you normally would.”

–In fact, the Terrible Eagle Beast is being perfectly grammatical here, and that’s the problem.  Not only is the TEB (or “sphinx”) speaking more correctly than does the game, but it speaks more correctly than do most of us in normal parlance.

(Note to Pissy Little:  You certainly *can* say “Who is interested in learning more about erectile dysfunction is coming for dinner tonight,” if you mean that *all* of them are coming.  Sounds like quite a party.)

 Meantime, Yhlee wrote:

…uh, use of “queer” for “strange,” not so much.

–But “strange” is the *primary* meaning of “queer.”  In _The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe_, for example, the kids worry that Lucy might be “queer in the head.”  The word also meant “unconventional,” and thereby became a gloss for “homosexual.”  (And therefore became used as a noun; the noun form has only the new meaning, of “homosexual,” but the adjective retains the meaning of “strange.”)

Similarly, “gay” means “happy.”

Now, the Ascot sets itself up for this with its loose, slangy voice: 

“Hey, man.  Wujalykan ASCOT?”

–which is a remarkably good phonetic rendering of how people actually talk.  But it’s not standard, and therefore the game seemed to lose authority for many players.

(I recently had to spell “luxurious” “lug zur reeus” to get my students saying it comprehensibly.  Took fifteen minutes.)

Yhlee again:

I…I am actually going to have to bail because this game’s attitude is creeping me the hell out. Like shoving people and stuff. Or being addressed as “young master” by random people. It’s not just weird but off-putting. [..] I am strangely creeped out.

Gruelove wrote:

You know, i actually feel a bit down after playing that.  It’s actually depressed me a little.  I’m sure of it.

You bastard!

You’re getting a zero.  Don’t do it again.  Now go to your room.

–Hmm, maybe I should’ve come after Gruelove for that Richard Boslike finale; but then, he *is* retaliating for his personal depressing experience, so I guess it’s fair.

And Maga_dogg said:

The writing style is over the top slacker conversational with a side of obnoxious; the narrator enjoys misinterpreting your instructions, and does its best to make you feel pushed around and bullied. It’s a touch manic, as if written in an afternoon under the influence of stimulants. As wacky goes, it’s not terrible; it has its own voice, even if it’s not a voice that I care for.

I am not sure if this quite counts as a game; it certainly doesn’t count as IF.

These reactions are unusual — most people thought the game was frivolous, and just over half enjoyed it because of the narrative voice.  But that’s the pattern:  people liked it or didn’t on its voice.

So, again we see that a person’s emotional response to the themes of the story trump their response to the form of the game.  And _The Ascot_ is a remarkably good test for this notion, because on the one hand it’s apparently very simple and almost not IF.  It plays smoothly and unfrustratingly.

People often said, basically, “it plays smoothly and unfrustratingly; it’s almost not IF.”  But then they added either, “the narrative voice bugged me and I hated the game,” or, “I thought the game was quite charming and enjoyed it.”

Now, on the other hand, people who got the clever thing the game was doing, unriddling which allows you to get the happy ending, similarly seemed to judge the game on its narrative voice.  There’s very little difference between reviews by people who found the trick and liked the game, and those who just liked the game.  And that’s pretty remarkable.

Victor G., for example, who is a big fan of weird logicky puzzles, when he came back to the game and found the trick, reported:

Update: The Ascot has a pretty cool winning ending that I didn’t see earlier. I’m not going to change my score, but I thought I’d mention it.

This is pretty consistent with what we found in the reviews of _Rover’s Day Out_:  People who liked _Rover_ added its meta-cleverness to the list of things they raved about; people who didn’t like it shrugged off its meta-cleverness.  So it seems that meta-cleverness does not improve the experience of a game.

–Meanwhile, what is it about the thematic material that alienated some people, but not others?  Well, that’s a little outside the scope of these reviews:  but if you read the game’s transcript at the moment that Yhlee got weirded out and look for strange innuendo, you’ll see a kind of subliminal humor that not everyone may go for.

From this, we can conclude that meta-cleverness with the form of the game doesn’t matter.  What does matter?

We’ll have that in the next post.

Published in: on November 9, 2009 at 1:06 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have now in fact raised my vote for The Ascot by one point. The meta-cleverness that made me do this was the fact that _the filename is a cryptic spoiler_, which I only realised one or two days ago. Brilliant. :)

  2. Well I’m not rewriting the goddamn post.


  3. In my idiolect at least (and probably many others’ too) “Who have touched it must die” is ungrammatical. It would have to be either “Who has touched it must die” or “Those who have touched it must die.” In the first the number of has/have must agree, and in the second a full antecedent makes it grammatical.

    Stop being so prescriptivistic. The most correct grammar is the one that everyone speaks and understands in normal parlance. Maybe such phrases might be grammatical in a higher register, but that doesn’t make them more correct.

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