IFComp 2017: Black Marker   4 comments

By Michael Kielstra. Played twice to completion on desktop using Chrome.

This is an appropriately paranoid place to pick up reviewing IFComp games again after Unit 322.

The premise: you work for an unnamed government agency. Your job is to censor documents. Censor too much, and it looks like the agency has something to hide; miss censoring an important piece of information, and the agency could be hurt or tactics that are used to root out terrorists could be exposed.

The censorship works by just clicking. For example, you have the option to censor the red portion of the email about; click it and it turns into CENSORED.

Given (with some rare exceptions) the only act you can do is censorship, it becomes an action verb like jumping in Mario or exploring in an adventure game. The game tries to “train you in the system” by giving some “easy documents” first. (Note you can decide right away to start rebelling if you like. It’s as if Mario was intended to jump over the first pipe but glitches into the credits screen instead.)

Unfortunately, even with this relatively simple interface there are major flaws. Sometimes clicking to censor picks up more than one chunk (in a way it’s not obvious when it will happen). Relatedly, you can’t “de-censor” if you mis-click or just change your mind on censoring a particular text. You can undo to the previous page, but that resets the text entirely. Additionally, requiring hard-undo for a major interface element encourages this behavior if the censorship wasn’t up to agency standards (or if a player was aiming for it, the opposite). Maybe this was intentional, but the it greatly reduced for me the feel of moral quandary.

Curiously (and unlike every other game of this sort I can think of) censorship isn’t portrayed as inherently immoral. As mentioned in the About text:

I’ve tried to portray censorship in an ambiguous, if not positive, light. I would agree that it is often a danger and that citizens in general should know more about the workings of their governments than they do, but full transparency would ruin a state. Winning wars is impossible if the enemy can file a Freedom of Information Act request for your latest tactics.

If that was this message, this game needed more content to get there. Somehow after a handful of documents I was trusted enough to handle a very important one, and then the game was over; all it said was “Your superiors are pleased with your work.” There wasn’t any impression of story arc, nor of consequence of actions beyond the player’s immediate career status. (I suspect I missed an ending where a news expose might have been the result, but since I couldn’t find such an ending, I can’t review it.)

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Posted October 17, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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4 responses to “IFComp 2017: Black Marker

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  1. I *think* the alternate “winning” ending – or, at least, an ending where the PC seems satisfied with a mixed result – is achieved by the following:

    1. Qb jryy rabhtu ng lbhe wbo fb nf gb erprvir gur bccbeghavgl gb prafbe gur svany (Xehyy) qbphzrag.
    2. Jura qbvat fb, prafbe gur svefg, frpbaq, naq sbhegu bcgvbaf, yrnivat gur guveq vagnpg.

    • Also, I suspect you may not have found the other “winning” ending either – if all you got after the last document was “your superiors are pleased with your work,” then you didn’t. To find the other winning ending: Qb gur rknpg bccbfvgr bs #2 nobir.

      (Lrf, guvf zrnaf gur bayl guvat gung qrgrezvarf lbhe raqvat vf ubj lbh unaqyr gur svany qbphzrag.)

  2. Pingback: IFComp 2017: Summary and Mini-Reviews | Renga in Blue

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