Wot I Think: Don’t Take It Personally…

By Alec Meer on April 6th, 2011 at 3:22 pm.

Oh look, a face book

The next game from Christine Love, creator of remarkable 2010 adventure game Digital: A Love Story, was released a few days ago. It’s another adventure of sorts, but more specifically it’s a visual novel with heightened interactivity. Here’s how it made me feel.

I know next to nothing about visual novels, I don’t know anything about anime, I’m only passingly familiar with 4Chan, I’ve never been a high school teacher, I haven’t had to wrestle with coming out and I’ve never been seduced by someone half my age. Clearly, I am completely unqualified to write about Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story. Fortunately, the universality of its theme and its observations means I feel completely qualified anyway. I know what it is to feel like someone’s kicked me straight in the heart. For all the otaku trappings, that’s what Christine Love’s latest is really about.

It’s a game about love, sex and the internet, as was its forerunner Digital: A Love Story. This spiritual sequel takes the form of a visual novel, told with text and very occasionally animated anime art. The latter means it’s an instant turn off for some, but quite frankly I suspect anyone with so stubborn a reaction was never going to take all that well to an only semi-interactive tale of emotional drama and catastrophe anyway.

You’re in the shoes and mind of John Rook, twice-divorced but apparently still super-hot high school teacher, who’s found himself teaching literature as a result of panic as much as profession. His class is a half dozen or so social network-hooked 16-year-olds, only two of which are male. The story primarily tells itself, as Rook observes the squabbles and romances between the group, which inevitably escalate into high and sometimes tragic drama. At critical junctures, the game asks you to make an A or B choice, the repercussions of which may not affect the broad course of the game but can deeply affect certain characters.

It’s not especially accurate to claim that you play as Rook; while you have access to his thoughts, the visual novel construct means your access to his larynx is very limited. He will say and do things you would not, because… well, don’t take it personally, but this ain’t your story. It’s his. This is one of the many car-crash horror elements of the game: you feel as though you’re in control, but it will occasionally very brusquely remind you that you’re not. Spoilers obviously this way lie so I’ll say no more, but that this offers the illusion of involvement but (aside from at a few key junctures) the reality of only observing is why it frequently manages to be powerfully affecting.

As the slim story plays out, you’re forever distracted by a pinging noise. In this near-future school, every pupil and every teacher is equipped with a tablet computer/phone. The students use this to communicate, flirt, argue and gossip on a Facebook-aping service known as AmieConnect – with their private and public posts observed by Rook. Knowingly sinister from the very start, this serves two purposes. Primarily, it makes the story much, much more than a matter of clicking to see what happens. You’re piecing together conversations and information that inform what’s going on centre-stage, and which often foreshadows key events.

Secondly, it means you’re using the game like you (if you’re anything like me) use the internet – forever distracted, forever diving out of whatever you’re doing to follow some new train of information, with this true even of how you keep an eye on and remain a part of people’s lives.

Even in the midst of a critical event or decision, the temptation to click on the omnipresent numbered speech bubble and spy on the students’ latest nattering is extreme. I know it’s wrong, I know it breaks every moral I have about privacy, but at the same time both the school and the game expect me to keep an eye on these highly-strung teenagers’ lives. A suspension of disbelief is necessary, as clearly the concept seems ludicrous (the pupils would simply find another, more private channel; while the issues around this do not go undiscussed, you need to make a fair few conceptual leaps in advance of that) but it is a fairly deft way of telling half a dozen stories at once, as well as granting the element of interactivity necessary to elevate this far above a digital picture-book.

The information – someone’s burgeoning realisation of their sexuality, an uncomfortably inappropriate crush, terrible threats, the sweet possibility of a couple’s reconciliation, the revelation of homophobic bullying – is critical both to understanding the characters and to the decisions you make. When a pupil comes to you for advice, you have some insight into what it’s about and how the other students are likely to react to it. Often enough, either choice will lead to the same, or at least a similar result, but how you’re left feeling about it won’t be so clear-cut. Telling someone not to act on their feelings or claiming you don’t know what to tell them will leave them upset or disappointed, and you’ll know you’ve done the wrong thing.

As for whether or not you succumb to one cute student’s persistent advances… well, that’s one hell of a moral litmus test. (Important point I should mention, actually: the age of consent in the UK is 16, the age we’re told the students are. This means that, while that dilemma and certain other elements of the game certainly made me incredibly uncomfortable, I and other British players may have had a different reaction/objection than that of some players from territories where that age is higher. I leave discussion of any finer points around the very, very limited and mostly purely implied sexual content to non-British websites. Even so, bear in mind the game’s intention is not titillation – it’s about exploring the nuances of the awful wrongness of such situations). Despite the cutesy presentation, Don’t Take It Personally doesn’t pull many punches. It doesn’t shy from discomfort, it doesn’t shy from lurid language and most of all it’s capable of being profoundly sinister. Even before an apparently metaphysical element is introduced late in the game there’s a background hum of creeping horror behind all the peppy bickering and flirtation.

It’s also capable of being profoundly moving. One happy event, which at least seemed to be a result of the choice I’d made/advice I’d given, reduced me to brief tears. I fear overstating this, but a game’s never done this to me before. I suspect part of the reason it happened here is because this is in many ways a soap opera, with that kind of line in knowingly effective emotional melodrama, but that may be underselling the effectiveness of Christine Love’s dialogue. Not arch, not vapid, not overwrought, it may not give the characters as individually distinctive voices as they perhaps need, but it does make them real enough that I cared, and was invested in their fates.

It isn’t consistently effective, alas. Sometimes the students’ webspeak jabber becomes wearisome, there is a late game turn towards silliness, and it probably goes on longer than it needs to, with focus and punch slipping in its latter chapters. The use of occasional visits to ‘12Chan’ as a sort of Greek chorus, abstractly commenting upon and prophesying the game’s events via a typically coarse and lol-flecked discourse of an unseen anime series, is perhaps a meta-layer too far, but then again the sneering, satirical reactions of the Chan-lurkers to these other tales of love and pain do create a sense of how meaningless your pupils’ tales would be were you not directly involved.

While I can’t help but feel it’s a slightly lesser game than the starkly affecting anonymity of Digital, none of this undoes the powerful tragic-comic horror of watching young lives collapse and rebuild and collapse and rebuild. It’s happened to us all: errant crushes, unflinching belief that you know love, utter devastation following rejection, fear to act, the sick of thrill of knowledge you shouldn’t have…

Visual novel it may loosely be, but this isn’t simply an observation – it’s direct action. Through your control of Rook’s occasional decisions and persistent digital voyeurism, you are made very much a part of these events. You will feel like they’re your fault. Don’t take it personally, but this is your story.

Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story is free, and available now.

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181 Comments »

  1. TheCheese33 says:

    The “digital horror” aspect of the experience sounds fascinating and is tempting. The free nature may push me over the edge, but I’m not sure how much anime art I can handle before I shut it off. At least it doesn’t sound like it turns into nonstop hentai bullshit.

    • Deano2099 says:

      I said this in the last thread, but:

      The anime style is appropriate, but it’s not necessary. It adds to the sort of 4chan/tech geek vibe, but it’s not required. You spend the vast majority of the game reading. There’s about 6 backgrounds, and each of the 10 characters has 2 or 3 different sprites I think, and a bunch of facial expressions. And they’re just dropped in on top of the backgrounds. They’re mostly there to tell you who is in the scene and their mood.

      Basically, not playing this because it has an anime style is sort of like not reading a book because the cover and the art at the front of each chapter is done in an anime style.

      Also worth noting: this was made from scratch in a month as one of those challenge things. I think some of the assets were re-used from other stuff. The brilliance is in the writing and the interface.

    • TheCheese33 says:

      Sounds pretty reasonable. I think I’ll give it a shot.

  2. Dominic White says:

    It’s nice to hear a literary and intelligent dissection of this. Everywhere else on the internet, the most common cries are ‘kiddie porn’ and ‘burn the weaboo witch’.

    The internet is fucking terrible sometimes.

    I remember when some tools were seriously trying to get The Path pulled from Gametap, because they were seriously convinced it was some sort of hardcore child-rape simulator.

    • TheCheese33 says:

      While the creators of The Path clearly didn’t intend for the game to be interpreted as a rape simulator, it’s easy to see how someone could misinterpret it. You’re basically leading the girls to an ultimately tragic event, and one in particular could be interpreted as rape.

    • Tei says:

      More like a Victim simular, has you move the girl.

    • John P says:

      There’s a slight difference between a game that deals with rape as an event or a theme, and a ‘rape simulator’. Anyone who can’t see that difference is probably from a different planet.

    • DrGonzo says:

      The Path is most certainly not a rape simulator. But it is messed up. It completely fails in its attempts to be art, and as such just comes across as incredibly dull, and unnecessarily violent and negative.

    • BobsLawnService says:

      I’m so glad I don’t read the internet then. And I have no idea what a weaboo is, and no – nor do I want to.

    • gorgol says:

      *reposted somewhere more relevant*

    • Ayn Rand says:

      u mad?

  3. Conor says:

    I pretty much agree, I thought it was an excellent little story game. Some of the choices really make you stop and think, and the ending I got was quite thought provoking. Plus, the issues of sexuality were handled quite maturely and sensitively. All in all, a lovely adventure, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone!

    • Faldrath says:

      This, pretty much. Lovely game, and while there are a couple of things I could nitpick about, the whole experience was immensely satisfying and thought-provoking. We need more games like this (and Digital, which I also adored). Kudos to Christine, I hope she’ll keep on making games!

    • gorgol says:

      Err, I dunno man, it reminded me of those cheap soft porn books, you know, the Mills and Boon types, which is just awkward…

      The “game” also made me feel uncomfortable because of the highly creepy spying on the students…

      As a novel it sucks ass, and as a game its just as bad or worse.

    • Acorino says:

      Softporn without any sex then.
      It’s quite a way off from softporn, I think. Expect if romance and softporn is the same for you.

    • gorgol says:

      Acorino,

      From the moment I started the game till the moment I turned the game off (the point where you have to choose whether to squeeze akira’s hand or pull it away), I did not see a single bit of romance, only creepy spying, and very awkward and heavy handed attempts to make me sympathise with the character being turned on.

      These aren’t exact quotes that follow, but phrases like “I was getting hard”, and “her silky thighs” are not exactly the most romantic phrases one can think of, and are very similar to the kind of phrases employed in an attempt to generate cheap thrills by the “romance” books I referred to in my post.

    • Acorino says:

      Well, I didn’t pursue the relationship with her, but I accepted the walk home and the invitation to lunch.
      Thought more about the student romances than the one intended for the protagonist, which isn’t very pretty, yes. Kinda sad fuck this teacher, the only romance option he has is with a student. The game treats him poorly. ;)
      Still, I doubt it’s softporn. It’s not meant to arouse, after all. But creepy, unsettling, awkward, I’m sure it’s like that.

    • JuJuCam says:

      Gorgol,

      It’s unfortunate you felt the need to shut off the game at that point. The discomfort you felt with that scene was entirely the point, and there is plenty more to the game than that first issue.

      But I guess this is strategic writing. I’m reminded of something Neil Gaiman wrote concerning “American Gods”. The second chapter of that book is a fairly graphic sex scene seemingly pulled from the pages of a dark fantasy romance, and someone asked him why that was necessary so early on. His reasoning was that anybody (youngsters, prudes, etc.) who took issue with that moment and felt the need to close the book at that point probably wouldn’t find much of interest later on in the book.

      Make no mistake, this game is a well written teen soap opera, and for some people there is no quality of writing that will elevate a soap opera above trashy nonsense. For those of us who appreciate solid drama, this is a rare gem in interactive entertainment.

    • gorgol says:

      JuJuCam,

      heheh, thing is though, I’m not a “youngster”, and I’m about as far from a prude as you can get. I simply found this “interactive novel” to be poorly written trash that tackles sensitive subjects with retarded heavy handedness.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Gorgol: Not the game’s biggest fan, but I think it’s fair to say that given you only played less than a sixth of it you’re not really qualified to make an informed comment.

  4. Blackseraph says:

    This is why I like rps, you report on games that noone else necessarily cares about.

    This is a rather good game, and everyone should try it, it is short and it is fun. Even if you don’t like it there are worse ways to waste your time.

  5. BAReFOOt says:

    The thing is: I’ve already got enough heart-kicking and sadness in real life. I play games to (among other things) escape from that. So like those ARTE films, this is nothing for me.

    Edit: I’m also not a fan of thinking the thoughts of others. To be forced to a certain thinking path that goes against my principles, is probably the biggest put-off one can put into a game. Worse than looking at ED’s “offended” page.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Looking at things from other peoples viewpoints is incredibly important in understanding others and getting along. It makes sense you see it that way, it explains your quite trollish attitude most of the time.

    • Deano2099 says:

      Do you not read books or watch TV either?

      You spend 90% of this ‘game’ reading, it may help to see it as a book…

    • Acorino says:

      Actually, this game didn’t feel very real too me. It’s sinister at times, but the ending blows it all away and leaves us on a bright note, so…it felt more like escapism, fantasy to me.
      I mean, how the students think of their teacher as a friend, how he gets involved so deeply in their personal lives, his spying on their online activities that is a-okay for them,…it’s all very removed from reality.
      A bit too much for me, actually. The twist and the blunt ending left me incredilous, though it got me thinking. I love so much of it, yet I’m still disappointed by its flaws because they weigh the experience down so much. *sigh*
      At least I have the supposedly better Digital still before me. :)

  6. Skull says:

    I didnt really understand how they all managed to pull off such great grades in their English Lit at the end of the year. I mean, Eng Lit was my best subject at school and even the dumbest kid in the class got a better grade than me. Their stupidity is further underlined by the fact they dont only just say “lol” and “OMG” when talking but also manage to talk in txt speak for every other word. One of the smart kids at the end cant even define the word “privacy”…

    The studuents, although having very strong personalitys and often being quite likable, were all completly mentally retarded and I cant understand how they passed their test.

    • colinmarc says:

      They were graded on a curve, as the administrator says in his email at the end. And Ichigo (and by extension, the author) were making a point of the concept of privacy being foreign to him, I think.

    • Easydog says:

      I thought the grades were jumped up by the college. I read that last e-mail about it as them implying that the administrators would have appreciated a warning that the students were going to fail so badly as they would have had more time to fake the results.

    • Gormongous says:

      Yeah, welcome to grade padding. Everyone does it.

    • DAdvocate says:

      !SPOILER WARNING!
      The email you receive listing the exam results imply that the kid’s exams were modified by the staff to obtain the high grades that a fee paying private school requires to maintain their clientele.

    • Skull says:

      Alright fair enough, I went to a private school myself, which was similar to this one in the way it was full of imbeciles, and I never noticed any sign of “grade padding”, but as this story is set in the future I can let it slide.

      However, if the college was going to rise everyones marks and this was hinted at in an email to the teacher, why was he getting so worried that everyone would (and in the real world, should) have failed?

    • Gormongous says:

      Narratively? Because it gives you another hook by which to identify with and care for the characters. No one wants to see people they like fail.

      Realistically? In my experience, new teachers especially privilege real success over paper success. Situations like at the end of the game breed that out quick.

    • mickiscoole says:

      !SPOILERS CONTAINED IN THIS COMMENT!
      I just assumed that the discrepancy between the marks at the end and them complaining about how they didn’t understand the classwork was another case of them screwing with the teacher because they knew he was reading their stuff.

    • Acorino says:

      I also found it amazing how much internet speek influenced their talking. But it’s not improbable that we’ll talk more like this in 2027, so I thought it was a clever touch.

    • Bret says:

      Yup.

      Faked up grades to ensure the money keeps in. Considering the overall school policy on honesty? Hardly surprising.

      Well, glad I played, I think. Nowhere near as good as digital, though. That? That was incredible.

  7. colinmarc says:

    SPOILERS!!!!

    I know it’s wrong, I know it breaks every moral I have about privacy, but at the same time both the school and the game expect me to keep an eye on these highly-strung teenagers’ lives. A suspension of disbelief is necessary, as clearly the concept is ludicrous (the pupils would simply find another, more private channel)

    Isn’t that the point?

    Aside from lots of other things I liked, I loved the explicit point at the end – the idea that if you’re thinking about “privacy” in 2027, you’re thinking about it wrong.

    • Ryuuga says:

      That sounds truly disgusting.. like a voluntary 1984.

    • Consumatopia says:

      It’s not only disgusting, it’s bogus. Everyone’s always going to have information about themselves that they wouldn’t want their boss, their friends, their family, or their government to know. In fact, even the characters in the game make clear that when they really want to keep secrets, they’re perfectly capable of doing so. Note that all the “12 channel” posts are by “Anonymous”.

      They might have a different notion of privacy, but when Akira doesn’t even recognize the word he’s clearly exaggerating, even in the context of the game.

    • colinmarc says:

      From the game:

      The fundamental misunderstanding, I think, is mistaking privacy for control of your personal boundaries.

      In the game, Akira’s generation assumes that “knowing more about a person is always a good thing”. The point isn’t that they don’t have a right to have secrets, or to keep things to themselves, but that they don’t do that by default. Kids in 2027, because of social networking, are more honest about themselves, are more out in the open. Even if they could choose to hide stuff, they don’t, because, well, why would they?

      That’s not disgusting at all. In fact, I think it’s pretty cool.

    • Deano2099 says:

      Think about this, and really think about it: in a world where everyone was doing the same thing, what wouldn’t you want people to know about you?

      Sexual fetishes? As long as they’re legal then it saves some time and helps you find a better match.

      Criminal activity? Well of course, and I think it’s implicit that the kids know better than to put anything illegal on the internet.

      The game also makes the point that this isn’t the case of a surveillance state. Nuddy pictures stay between friends. But nuddy pictures are not information, but something more.

      It’s more that they just get what we still haven’t worked out: there is no privacy on the internet. And because of that, and because of how living a virtual life offers so many advantages, they’ve become very free with sharing information about themselves.

      Again, outside of illegal activity, what would you not want people to know about you?

    • Vinraith says:

      @Deano

      what would you not want people to know about you?

      Quite possibly the most hilariously circular question ever.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Yeah, I got that’s what he (edit: Akira) was saying, but I don’t find it plausible that a culture would still have concepts of secrecy and even anonymity without also having a concept of privacy. If you still have people, young and old alike, keeping secrets and concealing their identities, that means that at least some people of the new generation, including some of the students in the class, consider privacy to be at least some part of controlling their personal boundaries. (Judging from comments Christine posted elsewhere, the two girls don’t expect you to view the photos they’re taking of themselves).

      The changed norm seems to be not privacy, but that “private” is no longer the default option. And that does seem to be the way our digital social networks are moving. But I’m not convinced that this is sustainable. I’m sure job applications are discarded all the time because of something inappropriate on Facebook. People are fired because one of their friends posts the wrong thing on their wall. Lawsuits are lost. Here in the United States, I’ve even read of applications for health insurance being denied over it. It will be at least until 2014 until the barbarism of denying health insurance to sick people ends here, and depending on court challenges it might never end–which actually makes privacy a matter of life and death.

      And it isn’t even if you’re doing something wrong. If you “like” the wrong political faction, or that cancer support group, maybe that means you’re a subversive or a financial liability. A lot more would have to change about the world for privacy to become an antiquated concept than my own antiquated feelings–the way the world treats people today makes privacy necessary. And assuming that will change is basically imagining a utopian End of History–it could happen, but I doubt it.

    • Wulf says:

      This is, conversely, one of the reasons I like the Liir. They exist in a state where they’re almost incapable of causing suffering, because due to their telepathic nature, if they cause suffering, they feel it as intensely as the person who is suffering. And the attitude of the Liir is ‘Why would you even do that?‘ Also, due to their telepathy, everyone pretty much easily knows everything about everyone else. For schooling, young Liir basically pirate the brains of their elders, combing over them, reaping those brains for whatever information can be gleaned. And their elders encourage this.

      How is this at all even remotely relevant? Well, I could say it’s not just to mess with you at this point, but I don’t want to do that.

      One element of why we keep things secret is because people can and will use freely available information to blackmail (control), humiliate (control), and lessen/weaken (control) the position of others. There are things we don’t make possible because we can’t have someone experience the suffering they might cause us, for someone blackmailing another person, it might even feel good, and we’re self-interested for that reason. The answer to this is privacy, we keep information away from the eyes and ears of others so that we can’t be controlled.

      Knowledge is power, after all, and if someone has something over you that could seriously degrade your quality of life to the point where you’re suffering that much that you’d almost contemplate suicide, then you’d do anything to keep that information from becoming public. You’re afraid of suffering like that. And you’re afraid of death. The end result is that the owner of your secrets is the owner of you. This is why humans can create a hierarchy like this, because they need not have to suffer at all for what they do to others – and on the same note, if someone manages to get their hands on your credit card details, they won’t have to deal with how it’ll make you feel. So you safeguard your information.

      There are things you’ll not tell anyone, and as a result by and large we’re all fairly introverted, since there are things that we can only share safely with a tiny number of people, and even then it might be a danger to us. A person doesn’t have to consider how it will effect you if they misuse your information, there’s no telepathy there, so folks are very self-interested because there’s no negative feedback, only the positive feedback of their own minds, because what they’ve done benefits them, and I daresay that there’s even a degree of solipsism to this as well.

      There’s no privacy on the Internet, no, but you still do all you can to cover your tracks so that people can’t directly, factually link things back to you, because they have no reason not to make you suffer with this for their own gain. There are people who wouldn’t do this due to a strong sense of ethics, but there are also people who would do this due to having no comprehension of ethics whatsoever. And that’s about all that stands in the way of someone taking advantage of another. Dog eat dog world and all that.

      Even before the Liir, I’d long since thought that the only way we’d really make a total lack of privacy work is if we were all retrofitted with telepathy, so that we’d get some nasty negative emotional feedback if we caused someone to suffer. Since being able to feel the pain you’re causing someone would change your attitude quick sharpish. And children raised in such an environment would be okay with being open because they’d be used to telepathy and early on they’d learn not to cause others suffering, they’d even question why it’s a good idea.

      I can see that being one of the potential things leading up to the Singularity, really, a massive brain network and zero privacy. But until that happens, we’re all still going to guard our information, even if the act is futile, because if just one person gets their hands on it, they can use that to really screw up someone’s life. So we all endeavour to bury our little secrets away. It’s not an ideal solution, in fact, it’s prtty much the opposite of, but it’s all we have for now.

    • Deano2099 says:

      @Vin hah, I never thought of that when I said it – obviously meant fictional examples or broad topic areas…

      @consum – but that’s the point the game is making isn’t it? That as the generation that were born and raised on social networks grow up, they’ve have that different attitude and start to effect that change.

    • Consumatopia says:

      I use Facebook, my friends and family use Facebook, and I don’t see any indication among any of them that we’re moving to destigmatize all non-criminal information.

    • Deano2099 says:

      Did you actually play the game?

      I thought it kind of heavy-handidly hit you over the head with the point at the end but I guess not.

      Our generation don’t get Facebook in the same way because we only encountered it during high school / university time. The new generation are raised on it and hence see it in a different way so we don’t understand.

      The fact that you think it’s wrong and are still holding on to notions of privacy like I am IS THE POINT OF THE GAME.

    • Lacero says:

      The idea that we’ll end all social taboos in 20 years thanks to the power of the internet is a little bit fantastical. Posting about all the people you’re having an affair with? Sure! I don’t know what privacy even is!

      It’s ridiculous and I feel my time with the game was wasted.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Deano, did you play the game? Your utopia without social taboos is not at all what the game is going after.

      It’s not as though discrimination doesn’t exist. You can still hide things, or show things only selectively. You just don’t hide everything by default.

      And, even assuming that we stop “hiding everything by default”, I don’t see how that’s equivalent to the death of privacy as a concept.

      Further, as long as discrimination exists, I don’t see why people wouldn’t prefer a standard of “hide everything by default”. Now I can see why corporations like Facebook and Google would oppose such a default, and THAT seems to be where the pressure to reveal everything comes from, not from the younger generation.

    • colinmarc says:

      @Wulf

      The point is not that people can’t keep secrets, but that they don’t keep secrets by default. The kids in the game still would keep secret those things that could be used against them. The teacher doesn’t have the telepathic ability to read their minds – he can only see the carefully controlled images of themselves that they put on the internet.

      @Wulf, Consumatopia

      More importantly – and this is where the point is strongest, and I think it ties into the idea of social networking solving social taboo – by making everything totally out in the open, the kids remove any power those secrets had over them. To be blackmailed, or humiliated, the information has to be a secret in the first place. Blackmail only works if you care whether or not people know.

    • JackShandy says:

      The I Am John Galtian end-game lecture about privacy about privacy just doesn’t work with the characters. Charlotte would be flat-out horrified with her teacher looking at the naked pictures she sends to Kendall, and the teacher would obviously have access to kendall’s middle name, and thus the password, just from school records. The game sacrifices it’s characters to prove a point, plain and simple. It’s a deep shame.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Blackmail isn’t the problem. Discrimination is. And by “discrimination” I don’t mean simple racial or gender discrimination, but people judging you by personal information like your medical history or social activities–kinds of discrimination that might be perfectly legal.

    • Coren says:

      @JackShandy Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, and that’s where Don’t Take It Personally is at its most clever!

      —SPOILERS—

      Remember that the pictures Charlotte sent to Kendall were password-protected? Rook does not have access to the password. You assume that he would have had access to Kendall’s middle name through school files, but this is not stated or even hinted at anywhere in the game. The only way to get access to the pictures is if you, the player, leave the construct of the game and look up the password on the net. And thus the burden of looking at some underage girl’s private photographs falls on YOU, and not on the teacher. Additionally, Charlotte would have (perhaps naively, given her weak password) no reason to suspect that her teacher would have had access to the pictures.

      So I disagree that the characters were sacrificed to make a point. On the contrary, I think the game is extremely clever in the way it lays responsibility in the player’s hands.

    • Nico_101 says:

      Exactly. And the characters (with the exception of the Teacher, alter ego of the player) are very clear with the boundaries of their privacy, and they practically spell it for him. Yeah, it was posted on the net, and it is for being seen. Akira expresses surprise when he realizes that his teacher read his conversation with his friends and was embarassed of it, not because it was “private” or “secret”, but he did not deem it worthy of the teachers attention.
      A little later Arianna tells him that what she has posted in his conversation with his friend was there for him to see it, even if it was a “personal” chat, and if she had wished for it to remain private, she would have just talked it to her friend in person.

  8. Gormongous says:

    This is a little bit spoilery, so I’ll try to be vague.

    For me, the most effective element was the constant question of how much impact your decisions were having. You get this in just about every RPG, but here it’s actually narrative design, particularly as the semester wore on and students began to underperform. As a TA in grad school, I know the dilemma here very well, and it was reproduced so realistically here. Am I not intervening enough? Too much? Is it even possible to reach this one person? That, with its ultimate conclusion, did a real job on me.

    Now I get to go teach my real students, having spent most of my night obsessing over imaginary ones.

  9. Easydog says:

    I’m also pretty sure that in Britain it’s illegal for a teacher to have a relationship with his pupils until they’re 18 or possibly even 21, outside of the age of consent. It is very much a sacking offence, never mind the reactions of the parents, the co-workers and other students.

    • TheCheese33 says:

      I think The Police put it perfectly;
      “Don’t stand, don’t stand so, don’t stand so close to me!”

    • Gormongous says:

      You don’t have to turn on that red light.

    • Teddy Leach says:

      Easydog’s hit the nail right on the head.

    • briktal says:

      But I want my MTV.

    • Chris D says:

      Yes, but is it the right nail? “Is it legal?” is not really a question the game is interested in asking. It’s noit even really asking “Is it right?” It’s more interested in “Why do you think this way?” and “Why do you think this way?”

      It’s about taking a tour through all the grey areas and seeing if you still feel the same way when you come out the other side.

    • Easydog says:

      I quite like that song…

    • Easydog says:

      “It’s more interested in “Why do you think this way?” and “Why do you think this way?””

      That might be why it fell flat with me then. I already know why I think the way I do on these issues. I was merely trying (and failing) to imply that being British doesn’t necessarily give you an out when excusing the behaviour of the protagonist. It’s still abhored.

      It’s not a bad game, quite the reverse, I just get the feeling that I’m ideologically opposed to some of the games conclusions and that is what irked me I suppose.

    • cjlr says:

      While it may not be, strictly, a criminal matter – it wouldn’t be in Canada (though there are ways in which he could be charged), and I guess not in the UK either? – it’s very much a conflict of interest, natch, so I’d be much surprised if it weren’t hardcore against the rules.

      Except…

      How can that matter, when the grades don’t? The school gives them ‘A’s regardless. Even that excuse doesn’t quite hold up. And indeed, that confirmed, at the end, I (having kept a professional distance all game) was given one last choice. After spending the whole game saying, to the other students, “just try it and see what happens,”… Who’s to say I shouldn’t follow my own advice? That’s the dilemma. Maybe for a lot of us (easydog?) it still isn’t in any doubt. Then, indeed, it may fall somewhat flat. Something to make you question your convictions won’t really succed if you’ve done so previously, and found them to be rock solid.

    • Easydog says:

      It would be a criminal matter in the UK.

    • Chris D says:

      Easydog – What did you feel the protagonist actually did wrong? ( In my game he never did have a relationship with the girl.)

      As I see it the issues with pupil-teacher relationships are:

      Underage- Except in this case she’s not, at least by British standards.

      Abuse of power – In this case she’s pursuing him, not the other way round.

      Manipulation – How do we know that she’s not being manipulated into thinking it’s her idea? In real life we don’t, hence the law, but here we know what’s going on inside his head.

      None of this makes it a wise course of action, it still looks like professional suicide. I’d also expect a school to have very strict rules to prevent abuse of power of manipulation. On the other hand, in this case where we know that’s not what’s going on I don’t know if I’d definitively condemn it as immoral.

    • cjlr says:

      Ah, ok. I am not up on the laws of the mother country. Thanks!
      In Canada, strictly speaking, the age of consent is 16. Exceptions can be made if one partner is under 18 – which I think she was, in-game? wasn’t she 17? The big one is if one partner is in a position of authority over the other, which could easily apply here at a judge’s discretion, the idea being to avoid coercion or exploitation. While I don’t think it would be very hard to put together a case that would clear Mr Rook, should it ever go to court, I’m not 100% sure whether I would want to.

    • Consumatopia says:

      One issue I had was that the student’s profile screens are (almost) the only thing that establishes how old they are. If the game had told me they were 12 or 13 I totally would have believed it. 16 or 17 year olds usually look like adults. Those students looked like kids. And given that it’s kind of infamous how many games in this style have ludicrously young looking “18 year olds”, I wasn’t sure when I started playing whether I was supposed to take the stated ages literally or as a joke.

      And the difference between 13 and 16 (by the end of the semester she’s only a couple days from 17) is the difference between an unprofessional abuse of the teacher-pupil relationship that would get you fired and a monstrous act of statutory rape that would send you to prison. And I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about the options being offered.

    • Grape says:

      Wait, I don’t get it – can you actually have sex with her? That would… surprise me greatly.

      At the very end of that particular subplot, there’s a sequence where she wants you to come into her house, or… something. What happens if you say yes? Do they have sex? (Implied and off-screen, of course), and if so, what happens afterwards? Are you in a relationship, now? That doesn’t sound very healthy.

    • Doesntmeananything says:

      That also interests me. I, uh, mean, the relationship part. Since this subplot starts quite early in the game, I’m curious to see how it’s handled through the rest of the story. Perhaps, will play through it again, but not too fascinated with the idea of skipping chunks of the same text to get to the parts I’m interested about.

    • Easydog says:

      Easydog – What did you feel the protagonist actually did wrong? ( In my game he never did have a relationship with the girl.)

      True. In my first playthrough he didn’t either. I replayed the game though and pursued the realtionship as I wanted to see if there would be consequences. Yes, I am the equivalent of a ‘daily mail’ reader deliberately looking for something to find wrong with it. I hate myself a lot for that. I really truly do. So bear in mind i’m enraging myself, the game isn’t, and I actually applaud the game for at least trying to approach the issue.

      In that second playthrough what I feel he (what I?) did wrong was to take advantage of the position. I would argue that there is abuse of power, especially as after the tryst he spies on her online interactions and is in a position to decide her grades, her future etc. It is inappropriate and there is little consequence for it. (If you do choose to enter a relationship, and later be angry at Taylor, Taylor threatens to blackmail you. You can call her bluff by saying “Who do you think they’ll believe? A teacher they trusted enough to hire or a schoolgirl we all know has problems?” and thus illustrates why he should not be allowed to teach. He’s a shit.) I know he doesn’t abuse his power over Arianne during any of this, but the fact that he can does define the relationship. It puts more power in his hands whether he uses it or not. What if she decides to break up with him and he takes it badly, decides to make things academically difficult for her afterwards. He has acess to her school record. If she’s in the school next year he can still abuse that power.

      This is why there are laws defining certain roles as being ones where abuses of power can take place. This is illegal and immoral for teachers, doctors, the police, employers etc. It can be, and often is, harrasment. Yes, in this fiction it’s presented as romantic. It’s just that I’ve never seen a real life example of it as romantic, Usually it’s, at best, grossly manipulative and innapprpriate.

      It’s also a dick move.

      Edit: Also at the end Arianne asks if he’s seen the ‘private’ messages where she explicitly says she wants to suck his cock, says that she wanted him to see those messages and then he says (Paraphrasing) “I’m glad you can be discreet.” Before they walk to his house together. It’s creepy.

    • Consumatopia says:

      You can mess around in the preferences for an “auto-skip” feature that stops at either decision points or dialog you haven’t seen before, so it’s not hard to try all the options you didn’t see before.

    • Doesntmeananything says:

      Knew about auto-skipping but somehow absolutely forgot about the option that stops it at new dialogue. Cheers!

    • Chris D says:

      Easydog

      Fair enough, that does look creepy. I wasn’t sure how much the story changed given your choices. On the other hand you do have the choice of which path to take and, from what you say, you have to face up to the consequences of your actions. I think just because a game (or any art form) depicts something doesn’t necessarily mean it approves of it. I don’t think that Fallout 3 was necessarily defending nuking small towns, for example, but admittedly it can be quite hard to tell with Fallout.

      I’d see this game as exploring the issue and asking where the harm lies exactly, is it intrinsically in the relationship or is it in the abuse of power that often goes along with it, and also, if there is no abuse of power is there still harm?

      I don’t know how serious you were being but I don’t think there’s particularly a need to hate yourself for wanting to see more of the game. It is just a game after all. If I’d been playing through as me I wouldn’t have read any of the pupil’s messages but that would have missed the point.

    • Deano2099 says:

      It would be a breach of trust offense in the UK if she was under 18. Not statutory rape, but still a crime.

      And yes, it’s the one element that didn’t work for me. I shut her down in my first play-through, if you do do that, you still get the chance to take her out for coffee at the end as friends seeing how it goes.

      If you pursue her, you never actually have sex, but it’s implied you will do. There’s some fairly graphic descriptions of you getting a boner while she sits on your knee and stuff, but it’s handled quite well, the protagonist keeps telling himself “I will not sleep with her” and resists the temptation.

      But then at the end you go off together all happy, which sort of feels a little off for me: has there been even a single example of something like that happening and ending well with lifelong happiness?

      I hear there is a third ending but I don’t know what it is…

    • Easydog says:

      Yeah. I got myself a little bit worked up. As I said elsewhere it’s a little close to the bone.

      And I enjoyed many aspects of the game, I even awwed at the two main relationships at many points. I did treat it as roleplaying though, and got annoyed at the options. And while I disagree with some of the ethical implications of the game I have enjoyed discussing them.

      Anyway, I have discovered season 2 of Burnistoun on iPlayer. That should help the anger dissapate.

    • Chris D says:

      Now, Burnistoun, that is good stuff.

    • dethtoll says:

      The Police comment is appropriate and made me laugh heartily because my friend and I played through the game together last night and she basically made the same comment.

      Actually making fun of Arianna turned into a thing with us, like “what does my stomach and Arianna have in common? They’re both demanding to be filled.”

      We are such awful people.

  10. CMaster says:

    It’s very, very 4chan.
    Or at least 4chan as it was 4 or 5 years ago.
    Also, while the kids are all interesting enough, and yes they get into plenty of drama, they seem far, far too emotionally mature to be 16 year olds.

    Was interesting anyway.

  11. KaL_YoshiKa says:

    It’s okay Alec, I know your screenshots are all from the seduce school girl arch, your secrets safe with me.

    I’d have liked this game a hell of a lot more if the ending had have been less soap boxy about future privacy. Also it made the teacher look really really stupid.

  12. cjlr says:

    The kids all give zero shits about schoolwork, and I am a terrible teacher. But the administration will just go ahead and give them good marks anyway, so their parents can’t sue us when they don’t get into university. So that’s not at issue. What’s left, then? Try to make the kids a little happier, I guess. I haven’t gone back to see how much difference any of your choices make, but I don’t think you can go wrong by way of advising, “just give it a shot and see what happens”.

    I mean, the player character is a loser. He says so himself. And he certainly seems to believe it. So hell: might as well embrace it. It’s the glorious mystique of abject loserdom for me, like some Steely Dan protagonist. For two hours, you bet I can be a depraved ephebophile voyeur. And I will damn well revel in it.

    Then there’s the multi-layered “meta” business. There’s already the obvious duality of direct public and Amie-”private” interactions. But then there’s the course material as commentary – note particularly the chapter-break lectures. And there’s the 4chan chorus. I liked it. Kind of a Chekov’s gunshop. As long as you don’t take it too far: too much self-referentiality and you are liable to disappear down a black hole of recursion. I don’t think it reaches that point. What is does here is present a way of commenting on the events. Also foreshadowing. Whether it’s commentary as presented by the story, or whether it’s more a direct comment by the author herself – both the meta-narratives as well as the concluding sentiment – is another long discussion.

    And then there’s the agency deal: while there are some choices presented, much of the time you’re only observing (and how!). The PC is far more than just a cipher, he’s a character who is only sort-of to be inhabited: you’re part actor and part mere audience. In a good story that works, and in a bad story it’s horribly frustrating. So here? Well, I’d say it’s a good story, or at least leaning far in that direction. I genuinely wanted to see the characters’ lives go well. It was distressing when they didn’t. But it really does remain a story which you (as player) watch you (as character) take part in. That’s something unique to the medium, as it were, and I like the possibilities, even if it is a little trite to then go so far as this game’s title does in pointing it out.

    As for privacy: here’s where my own upbringing is telling. My father, a computer-man himself, impressed upon me quite forcefully the idea that there is no such thing as internet privacy. If you put something online you must assume that anyone who really wants to has instant access. And that’s sort of what Ichigo and Akira get into at the end. There are layers to privacy. Like an ogre. You put different amounts of yourself on different channels. What should go in what channel is a generational matter, the game seems to say. I’d agree, though the PC seems a little behind the times: in 2027 I’ll be his age, but would agree more with the kids’ perspective. I refuse to believe they wouldn’t understand privacy outright, though. I mean, yes, it’s a shifting concept, but anyone with an ounce of observation would know that their thoughts are their own; no one else knows unless you put them out there.

    God what a load of words. In conclusion: anything set in the GTA gets serious bonus marks. That’s my place, yo!

  13. Easydog says:

    I posted this in the other thread on this game (which I just finished playing) and so I apologise for drumming home the point but…

    SPOILERS >>>>>>>>>>>>>

    It hit quite close to home, having recently had to watch a friend deal with being in an inappropriate relationship with their teacher, and the teacher in question not being so… ‘nice’… about it in their interactions. Plus when I was at school there were a couple of unpleasant scandals. I see it as a game where you’re given the option of playing as a ‘good’ pedophile.

    That it raises the issue, one that many games would shy away from, is a point in it’s favour. I just feel it’s very much a romantic notion of horrible behaviour. Like Twilight.

    In the fictional world it’s turned out alright (fine, fair enough) but when I’ve seen similar happen in real life it has been just plain nasty and just plain wrong. It’s at this point, and the notion that privacy in 2027 is just a quaint old-fashioned more, that cause a fundamental disconnect for me and makes me think that it’s, well, bad. Or at least irksome and irritating.

    Edit: Perhaps I should have used the word ephebophile, as one poster just did. It is the accurate term.

    • Grape says:

      You certainly do sound like you’ve worked up some issues, yes.

    • Deano2099 says:

      He’s not an Ephebophile either, the word is being over-used by people that rightly object to the word Paedophile being used to describe people that shag 15-year-olds.

      The correct description for him in this case (if you play the game that way) is: a dick.

      A paedophile has a sexual preference for partners that aren’t sexually developed. It’s entirely divorced from normal thinking to the point of being a mental illness: the stuff that we find attractive about members of the opposite sex just hasn’t developed yet. It doesn’t exist. It’s a fair shout to say anyone shagging a immature kid is a paedophile. Because no-one wired up normally finds them attractive.

      An ephebophile has a sexual preference for teenagers. Shocking news: finding sexually developed teenagers attractive isn’t weird. I show you a photo of a hot 17-year-old, tell you she’s 21 you’ll think she’s hot. If I then tell you she’s only 17 you might then feel bad about thinking that, but it’s a conditioned response. And a good one too. It’s generally a bad idea for older people to sleep with 17-year-olds. But it’s not odd or wrong to find them attractive.

      Ephebophilia does exist, but it’s a sexual preference for something not a million miles from the norm. Unlike paedophiles, most ephebophiles will still find older people attractive, if not as attractive, as teenagers.

      But most guys sleeping with teenage girls (and vice versa), be they 15, or 17, or whatever aren’t doing it because they’re ephebophiles and they really get off on the fact that they’re doing it with someone that young. They’re doing it because the girl was hot, interested and available and they took advantage of that fact instead of having some morals.

      There’s nothing wrong with the guy in this game other than him being a dick.

    • Easydog says:

      I stand corrected. He is a dick. Well played, good sir.

    • Acorino says:

      German Wikipedia informs me that Ephebophilia stands for sexual attraction to boys in puberty. Huh. I guess the meaning of the term changed with time and differs from country to country then…

  14. Ysellian says:

    Thanks for this! I still haven’t tried her earlier work, still looks interesting enough to give a try. I definitely like the idea of western visual novels being released as there is a lot of potential om the idea of a interactive novel.

  15. Joyo says:

    Last night, I played Digital and then immediately started this. I was struck by how profund a difference it made to have the player character already named, with a face and with his thoughts and lines visible to you, the player.

    Digital sort of tricks you into thinking “I’m gonna play myself!” but then doesn’t let you see what you’re saying when you reply to people. You have to piece together what kind of person you actually are from everyone else’s reactions to you, and I found that nearly as compelling as the puzzles themselves.

    Removing all of that and just saying “This is John Rook, here’s what he looks like and here’s how he talks” made it all feel a bit more, I don’t know…theatrical? I can’t quite put my finger on it.

    As an aside, Kendal is the worst person ever.

    • Acorino says:

      You’re mistaken. Taylor is already the worst, and there can only be one I say.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      Man, I adored Kendal, she was great. Her and Akira’s friendship was maybe my favorite part. They just struck me as the most true to life; that’s the way I’d expect teenagers to act, that’s the way I remember acting with my friends when I was 16. Yeah, they were way too caught up with their own sorta in-jokes or personal references, too willingly adopting internet culture wholesale, but shucks, that’s being a teenager (at least it was for me), and dang if they didn’t seem to be having a good time. They were the ones I’d most have liked to be friends with.

      Also, in her own way, she seemed the most mature of the lot (with the exception of Isabella, who was understandably less developed than the others). Childlike, but not childish? Like, a whole host of surface ticks that show of teenage immaturity — her use of slang, flippant attitude, lack of formal respect for the teacher, etc. — but underneath it a sort of aloofness with regard to the silliness of the drama everyone else was caught up in. She seemed to be one of the few to sorta instinctively recognize how ridiculous it all was. That was my interpretation, in any case.

    • sinister agent says:

      I agree. Kendall was the most like a quite clever and funny 16 year old, except with the advantage that you don’t have to hear her shrieking every 6 minutes. She seemed to use the stereotype of the aloof and RANDIMLOL teenager as a device for entertaining herself and defusing drama rather than to actually conform to it.

      I have to admit (SPOILERS) that while Taylor immediately set off ‘psychopath’ alarm, by the big drama point, since it was pretty obvious what was going on with the whole Isabella thing, I was starting to suspect that there’d be a subtler twist where it turned out that actually, it was Nolan (her ex) who was being the arsehole by telling her one thing and Akira (his new squeeze) and everyone else another.

      I was almost disappointed when it turned out that actually yeah,she is just a straight up scumbag.

  16. RP says:

    I played this last night after it was previewed here on RPS. It’s clever, interesting, and fairly emotionally investing. I didn’t stop playing until the game was done, and I’m thinking about replaying to try the different choices now.

    But I do think it would have been better served if the art style didn’t include people with purple and red eyes. It made it feel a bit like a kids game to me, when it’s clearly more what the plot lays out- a grown-up commenting on/thinking about kids today (in the case of some Mr. Rooks more then others).

  17. Acosta says:

    THERE WILL BE SPOILERS

    Man, Alec, don’t tell me you went so easily with Arianna haha. Well, to be honest I did too, but I never got that pic of yours, so I guess you were seduced in her first advance?

    As a loser, I played with the intention to “make it right” against all odds. My first impulse was not reading the messages, and I didn’t, until the game forced me to do, which I believe is a fundamental flaw in a game that gives you options, it would had been a triumph to have a way designed for that possibility.

    With Arianna I made everything in my hand to stop her advances, including being a jerk for her good sake (which made her even more in love with John because she considered I was being that way out of responsibility for her, which is exactly what I did). My position was “no way”, as a two times divorced 38 years teacher, a relationship with a 17 years old student was going to be a disaster for both. But, at the end, in my ending, she gave me a really powerful speech about her feelings and about herself which really moved me, so I accepted to give it a try and inviting her to lunch (that’s how it ends for me actually, no torrid love or anything, just going together to a restaurant for knowing each other better.)

    I was quite happy with my role on the game. I couldn’t help Nolan at all because I refused to tell him what he should do about something so personal and disconnected from my perception and experience. I feel John really helped Charlotte and I felt happy for her and Kendall, buying the alcohol for Kendall was fun. I also feel satisfied on how John helped Akira, and I also consider that John did his best with Taylor giving how difficult the situation was. However, the biggest achievement of John was not killing Akira and Kendall for the prank, I would have done it myself! (damn your stupid messages and your creepy “shinigami”.)

    At the end, John was a pretty bad teacher, but he cared and tried his best, so I felt satisfied with him and my decisions, I don’t think I will play ever again, I like my story as it was.

    Excelent review for an excellent game, thanks to you Alec for making me play this, and thanks to Christine for a fantastic job in narrative and character building. I really feel the game it could be much more, some elements of the story itself don’t sustain themselves too well (a year in the school with other colleagues and I don’t ask anyone about Isabella? come on) and I feel it could offer much more options and possibilities, but I understand thar would take even more time and it´s free game, I guess Christine’s time is not unlimited.

    About the “final message”, the more I think about it, the less I care, perhaps because I didn’t feel identified with the moral dilemma as I didn’t intend to check the private messages until I was forced by the game design, so the whole idea fell flat to me: “cool story bro” would be my line in this regard. I think It didn’t impact me because I feel it natural in the context of our culture and social reality. I actually remember the chararacters, the moving moments where I felt I made a connection with the characters and the fun moments (the 4chan thing was hilarious, that part when they start to post the lyrics of the Prince of Bel-Air had me in tears.)

    Meaningful experience and meaningul game, loved it.

  18. Morph says:

    I played through as a good guy, staunchly refusing the girl’s advances, trying to get the couples happy. Of course I was using the knowledge of their private conversations for this. Reading them felt bad but was strangely addictive.

    By the end, when the ‘prank’ was revealed, I wondered if everything I’d seen was for show. Whether the kids had made every storyline up, or whether they truly didn’t care about privacy. I was a little confused I must say.

    Overall enjoyable, if a little long.

  19. Rond says:

    I tried to play it (mainly because I liked Digital), but all those unnatural anime characters with purple hair physically hurt my eyes. I think stuff like that should be tested on animals.

    • Handsome Dead says:

      Christ, I hope for your sake you never play Mass Effect. I think you’d have a fucking seizure at the mere sight of an Asari.

    • Rond says:

      I played through Mass Effects four times, and their visuals appeal to me. I think Asaris look more natural and humanlike than those acid disproportional ‘Japanese-drawing’ abominations.

    • Handsome Dead says:

      So it’s less that bright colours hurt your eyes and more that things drawn by foreigners or in a foreign style hurt your eyes.

      okay mate

    • sinister agent says:

      Reading racism into that post is less of a stretch and more of an orbit, man. Mass Effect’s aliens are plausible and meant to be aliens. That anime art style is freakishness presented as human. Whether you like the style or not, comparing it to Mass Effect just doesn’t work, and making insinuations about xenophobia is just silly.

  20. devtesla says:

    lol porn

  21. Handsome Dead says:

    I liked the way there was option to pursue jailbait but not an option to be nice or even act professionally, (you are supposed to be a fucking teacher after all) to the bitchy chick.

    Also unfortunate is that the author has a rather severe condition: whenever she tries to use a literary device her hands turn into giant hams and she has to bash the keyboard instead of typing. Very sad.

    Other than that, it was pretty good.

    • Lilliput King says:

      I liked that the student’s foreshadowing was just explaining the whole plot, in full, with no exceptions. This is not what foreshadowing is.

      Also, the dialogue options seemed crazy. The first situation, where you have the option to lie about your umbrella or walk home with the girl? I mean, why would I lie? How about

      “No, I don’t have an umbrella”
      “Walk home with me”
      “I think that would be extremely inappropriate. Good evening.”

      And the bitchy girl:

      “You have acted extremely inappropriately towards another student and are contributing to disruption in the working environment. If it happens again we will consider suspension.”
      “But life is so hard, I have no – ”
      “Good evening.”

      I consider myself stern but fair.

      But I guess it makes sense. “Not [our] story”

  22. Acorino says:

    Edit: reply fail

  23. Rinox says:

    SPOILERS

    It was pretty good, up until the part with the ‘ghost’ and the ending, which just seemed to be trying a little desperately to try and tie everything together. Classic phenomenon in almost every ‘mystery story’, but still a little bit of a let down. The appearance of Akira’s mom and her whole expose was pretty random. Her motivations were as well.

    On a personal level I also don’t agree with the things the game is trying to say about privacy in the cyber age , but that’s not the game’s fault obviously. :-)

    • The Innocent says:

      Aye, that was my problem with the ending. The whole thing felt mature enough, right up until the meaning was tied to a rock and tossed through my living room window.

      But it was interesting, and I’m glad I played it. Going back on a second run, I was surprised by how little my choices actually affected anything — which is disappointing — but I’d rate it a successful experiment. On my second playthrough (SPOILERS) I paid more attention to the digital sci-fi element of a society that had broken down the barriers of “privacy” more completely than ours has, while ignoring my own notions of morality. I enjoyed it a good bit more.

    • liqourish says:

      I actually rather liked the ending.

      Everything was sort of collapsing all around John, and it was shocking when things turned out all right.
      Sort of left me dazed and confused.

  24. Keith Nemitz says:

    In the previous thread, I wrote about my disconnect with the main character. I did jump in expecting to ‘be’ the protagonist. Perhaps that wasn’t the right approach, but the designer should have introduced the protagonist more clearly as a character under her control, allowing my choices to influence her story. Most of the VNs I’ve encountered were player driven not protagonist driven.

    That said, I still believe I made the best choice, to stop playing. I don’t know what the ‘prank’ in the story is, but I suspected during the girl’s flirt that it might be a set-up. It felt more like one as my desired choice, to respond professionally and maturely (not unreasonable as the protagonist was introduced as a decent sort) was never offered.

    I did enjoy perusing the student’s private thoughts, and I knew it was wrong, but in fiction I’m okay with that.

    In a game, I want an outcome that provides something worthwhile, even a tragedy well told is a valuable experience. If I suspect I’m being led down a path toward a fate I don’t want, instead of kicking and screaming, I’ll pass. If the story genuinely fools me into a sad state, then I’ve probably learned something.

    For me the game failed.

  25. Acorino says:

    Thanks to RPS and this game I’ve already read the lyrics of the “Prince of Bel Air” twice this week now!

  26. Shazbut says:

    Thanks for reviewing a visual novel. :)

  27. Zwebbie says:

    I hate to say it, since I’m happy someone tries a social game, but I didn’t like the game at all. The title makes the point perfectly: “it just ain’t your story.” Alec mentions that he felt himself in the role of Rook. I didn’t for a second. I get to make a choice every once so often in a game, but the options don’t nearly always correspond to what I’d say, and Rook does a hundred things on his own that I completely disapprove of. Yea, worse! He forces me to check all the AmieConnect messages to progress the game. Who is playing who here? Rook forces more decisions unto me than I to him!
    I rather wonder what would have happened if the game were honest enough to create a total disconnect, with the player being the writer in charge, rather than a tiny part of Rook. Maybe you’d get the idea of letting him make mistakes. It’d largely be a matter of presentation, from first to third person, but I’d be interested in that.

    As it stands, it didn’t play out like a game and it’s filled with all the drama that I very much tried to avoid when I was at that age myself… Which, again, is a shame, because it sounds like a rock solid idea and I think Love’s writing is good enough.

    • Acorino says:

      >>Who is playing who here? Rook forces more decisions unto me than I to him!
      Good point. Was also disappointed that you had to read the messages. The game should’ve taken into account that you might not read them at all.
      But still liked it very much. Despite its flaws, its strengths were extraordinary.

    • sinister agent says:

      I did enjoy the game anyway, but I do agree. I was quite happily not reading any private messages until the game forced me to open them all, at which point it became clear that you had to or the game would be pointless. It lessened the impact for me of some of the ‘moral’ stuff, because I could absolve myself of responsibility as I had no choice in reading.

      However, I think I can accept that this wasn’t the point – the game wasn’t about whether or not I’d respect the students’ privacy – it’s not even about the decisions you make, really. It’s a kind of bait and switch piece of fiction that’s just enjoying playing with some concepts. And as an aside, handling sexuality with an impressively natural grace and humour.

  28. djbriandamage says:

    Digital: A Love Story was my favourite game of 2010. Another free game by this talented woman and fellow resident of Ontario? yesplz

  29. Coins says:

    Well, this was fantastic. Also hilarious at times, and greatly moving at others. Perhaps I’m not used to much, or perhaps it’s all a little too close to home, but I do think this was one of my best experiences in gaming in the past years. Also, this has me itching to try the other thing she made. Great stuff.

  30. Faxmachinen says:

    I spent all day replaying the game (which is excellent, by the way, but not excellent enough to warrant reading all the dialogue on the third playthrough), trying to find Kendall’s middle name. It’s not even about the naughty pictures (they’re in the data folder ofcourse. I didn’t bother looking at them). What is Kendall’s middle name, damn it?

    I had to finally admit defeat. I had exhausted all my options. I had tried every name of every meta-fictional character on 12chan. Damn you Akira, and your red herring princes. So I cheated. I spied upon the most private and intimate part of the game: The source code. I took it apart and analyzed it as if it were a comodity. A mere fruit.

    And even though I did find Kendall’s middle name, and even though a search revealed that it was not mentioned anywhere in the game ever, I felt dirty. A sham, a liar, an untoward person.

    Why do I not have a problem with the thought of invading other people’s privacy, but feel like a horrible person for picking a game apart and seeing its inner workings? Food for thought.

    • absolofdoom says:

      Kendall’s middle name is Morgan.

    • Oozo says:

      You should read Lewis’s piece on the game and that scene in particular. I agree with him that what makes this moment so clever/powerful is that by not mentioning the middle name anywhere in the game, it actually forces a decision from you, the player, and not the character, who would not have any way to find out about it. But as soon as you go and google the name, or look it up in the source code, it’s actually YOU who turns into a voyeur, and it’s much more difficult to pretend that you are just “role-playing” dickish John Rook. It encourages you to break the Magic Circle, but in the same time, keeps you within it, because it’s really just a continuance of the themes/motivations that the whole game is about.

      Even though I would agree that this game has a few problems (most of which Hunam has listed below, and much like him, I really enjoyed the game nevertheless), you have to admit that Ms Love has not only talent, but also some really intriguing ideas up her sleeve. Excited to see where she goes next.

    • Hidden_7 says:

      That’s an interesting point about how it forces the decision on the player, however in this case I felt it fell flat since the character really WOULD have had access to her middle name. He’s her teacher, it’d be right there on the roll call sheet / contact information / a dozen other places he could have access to it.

      Personally when I played through that part I just assumed the requiring a password at all meant that there were no pictures, that there was no right answer, and that it was communicating to me that this was a line John would not cross, since the information WOULD be available to John, the character, but not me, the player.

      I found it interesting to then learn that there actually was an answer, but to get it it required you to go outside the game. So it strikes me less as a “this is something the player can find out but not the character” and more of a “we’re making this slightly difficult for you so you can have a moment to think about what you’re doing.”

    • Oozo says:

      Now that you mention it, I was wondering why Love chose this and not something completely random (like a nick name the girls had for each other), and maybe it was not a concious decision. Not sure if I wouldn’t have prefered it that way. As it is, your interpretation makes a lot of sense, too.

  31. JackShandy says:

    My 2 cents: I really liked the way it used a solid protagonist, instead of a void like Digital.

    Rook acts as a lens over your actions. As the viewer, you feel like you have the right to know everything you can about the characters, right up to the bit where they get naked – which is why almost every player begins having no real problem with reading every message that passes though their heads. When it casts you as their Teacher it becomes obvious that this whole damn thing is a massive, vouyeristic breach of trust.

    The biggest shame of the game is that it forces you to read the messages when it should let the player decide.

  32. Daffs says:

    Digital felt more within my trad. likes and interests but I didn’t find it anywhere near as compelling as this.
    Admittedly, I am currently doing work as a teacher-in-training, and spending a lot of time worrying about not being cut out for it, and about personal boundaries with students.
    (An experience which it plays very strongly and accurately, in my opinion.)

  33. JuJuCam says:

    HEEERRRE BE SPOILERSSS (Mild, aye, but still spoily)

    Some people have been mentioning the payoff at the end seemed a little unusual, if not wrong, Akira not grokking the whole privacy issue. It reminded me of a conversation I had the other day. I’m a domestic computer technician, and a fair few of my clients are older people who want basic internet use tutorials. One lady wanted to post videos onto YouTube, but had grave concerns about unknown people watching videos of her grandchildren and doing “who knows what”.

    I certainly didn’t know what.

    It was clear that there was a generational gap even here. She wanted to post the videos and send the link to her family so that they and only they could watch. I told her that there was a privacy setting just for that. She was then concerned about the recipients of her email passing on the link to other people who she didn’t know. I told her if the videos were that interesting that people felt the need to spread the word, well that’s half the point of putting up a video on YouTube in the first place. I could see her point but we were divided on whether that was an issue or not.

    I think that’s probably what Christine Love was trying to capture in that end dialogue. Akira totally understood that his posts on Amie were being read by people they weren’t addressed to, but for him that wasn’t an issue. In the same way that nowadays if our vid on youtube reaches a thousand people (or our quote on twitter is retweeted etc etc) that’s cool by us but baffling and potentially frightening to an older generation. In fact for Akira skeeving out his teacher was as much a thrill for him as snooping in on his convos were for the teacher.

    • The Army of None says:

      Indeed, that was sorta wot I had picked up about the privacy thing. And, in the end, as someone who’s wholly immersed in net culture (yes, I understood every word that Kendall was saying, :/ ) its an interesting topic to think about. Made me think about my own habits, what I do on the internet, etc… Regardless, another key bit was the “well, maybe I just want to be your friend?” line. I think this is very true– I’m ok with people reading all my crap I post all over the various internet. If they want to talk, I’m ok with that!

    • sinister agent says:

      That’s the thing, I don’t think the writer actually believes the concept of privacy will be vaporised in a few decades. I think it’s jusy throwing the ideas out there. I doubt anyone played this and imagined that the students wouldn’t have a problem with you reading their “private” emails (although the fact that they’re even labelled “private” is a bit of a cheat), even if they did figure out that at least some of the students knew he could. Attitudes will, and indeed already have changed, though, and this was a neat way of showing it – putting the probably tech-savvy and modern gamer in the shoes of that same character in a world where his ideas and concepts are old fashioned and slightly embarassing.
      It’ll happen to us all, y’know.

      Oh, and as for just wanting to be my friend… piss off kid, I’m your teacher. I’m not here because I like you.

  34. Hunam says:

    I’d love to know what had Alec at a sniff and guzzle because there wasn’t anything too much in my game. Though I did play it by the book as much as possible but I did read everything they posted.

    Anyway, long bouts of text full of SPOILERS below.

    It’s a weird game to tackle. One, because almost the entire cast in it is gay. Which is weird because outside of markedly gay programming it just seems to be a very prominent theme. I think it could be a provocative one. I know what makes me sound like an old man who doesn’t get it, but it does feel a little culture shock I guess. It does make me step back and re-examine my attitude towards homosexuality because I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a situation filled to the brim with it so much. I’m as liberal as they come and it’s refreshing to see a good, neutral stand on it but it also feels like, with the anime theme, it wants to either share an ideal of a future where no one cares anymore, or poke at people from the get go to ditch the game if they aren’t cool with gay relationships and people encouraging school teens into a healthy gay relationship. It’s not something I’ve ever really thought about, but I bet some people would be phased by it. To get to the point, i’m not sure if the gay relationships are written as a plus to add to the layers of the story and to it’s ideal of the future, or if it’s to push the more closed minded people away from the get go.

    Whilst out of the gate I was a spy, a filthy one too, it did attach you to your students and I became more comfortable showing myself later on as knowing more than I probably should, because I wanted to protect my students. I think I was just kidding myself later on about being a bad dude because I felt like doing something wrong for the right reasons is a good thing. Which also makes me think if parents could see everything their kids said on the internet, despite the awkwardness of it all, could it make them better parents? I mean as a young teen we had MSN messenger (after a brief usage of ICQ that is) and I had some massively droll tragic rantings on that, if my parents read them they’d be embarrassed I guess, but they’d know me more too. So a tick in one column about net snooping not being so evil or black and white. Saying that, I did try and avoid any damage I could cause if they found out as I thought the stuff posted in there could hurt them lots if they knew someone was reading.

    The few times they said they’d talk in person etc I did honestly find myself getting annoyed that I’d have to find out later some other way what went down, like how dare they deny me their juicy words! But then, having everything on hand all the time does really help with his ability to connect to his students. As though it felt as if I was seeing the true them all the time as they didn’t know I was reading. When you find out later that they knew, your image of everyone does take a massive knock though. Because whilst the writing in the private messages is super sharp, it takes a more sinister turn once you know they know. Because it’s like characters playing characters. It makes it then very hard to trust or like the students after that point because it seems everything was just an act. It’s a massive plus to the writing in this respect as I said, because during the game it does feel very much like people being people.

    As for the teacher/student sexy times, I mostly avoided that, what seemed odd is that once it cooled down, Arianna kinda did.. nothing. I think she’s a character that hinges on the fact that dudes will go for the naughty school girl angle that if you reject her, the game kind of forgets about her outside of a few incidental comments until the last minute when it tries one last ditch effort to give you an ending. It did just feel like she was only around to trick you into a trap.

    I find it hard and not so hard to relate to John. It’s easy to understand in one way because people do spend half their times snooping their friends facebook and I tend to not get too involved in the whole thing other than to keep in contact with otherwise lost friends. But I can see people following their friends stories on facebook silently and how it plays into the story, but with John it becomes almost his entire being, like he can’t not follow them all the time, to the point where he seems to do nothing else, like his life is pointless outside of his leeching off his students. It also seems like if I wasn’t reading the babble of the kids every five minutes that John probably wouldn’t give two shits about most of them. It’s like we’re being given an introverted social mishap and his only way to connect is to spy. But I guess maybe that’s just how the story panned out for me because I did spy so very much, that maybe my choices led him to a life of perving and spying and doing nothing else.

    The way Akira and Kendall talk is annoying as fuck. I don’t think anyone says T-Y or they ever will. Though maybe it’s another meta jab to make me feel old, despite the fact that I’m not (that old anyway). Plus the fact that John seems to swear tons at or to his students is another weird thing. Like, rich private school and he’s rolling off the cuss like it’s going out of fashion. Sure at college out teachers sometimes swore, but it was never as casually as it is in this game, then again I suppose it just adds to how shit a teacher he is because he really needs to cut out calling his students bitches.

    This ties into the whole taylor story. If you scold her you’re character seems to turn into a massive cunt. I mean seriously, he seems to let people talk shit about her and then runs off at one point leaving her alone in a class full of people who want to punch her face in to check the little feelings of some other students, with only a feigned regard to taylors own feelings and well being. This just strikes me as a little more… feminine approach. Men aren’t that bitchy and certainly wouldn’t hold the grudge as long as that. There are other things too, the guy is just far too sensitive and scared about stuff. Towards the end when he thinks his snooping as been rumbled he turns into a shambling wreck. I just can’t relate to that in anyway, as my male perspective would be to either dismiss myself as being silly, or just find some diversion and let it float into background noise, I’m hardly a callous person either, but it was so over done that it felt like Christine was hoping this is how men face challenges. I think she thinks too much of us. The whole emasculating story also didn’t work for me. Again, John seemed to worry about this far too much and be far to occupied with it, where I think maybe Nolan might have been as annoyed as he was having to step back and let someone else handle it, John just overplayed it massively. Sure men don’t like being emasculated, but it’s not something we sit and vocalise so much. We’re proud, but not that proud.

    Though on the flip side, it’s unique to see a woman’s perspective on a male lead. It’s uncommon to see a female writing the explicit thoughts of a man, and even the various missteps are in their own way enlightening. I guess it’s nice to think women think about our pride a lot, but also in a way, evil, because it seems like something she is too aware of, like it’s a weapon maybe. Maybe I’m just shit at understanding wimmins though?

    I looked at the pics. I felt instantly evil about it. There’s little in the way to say about it except for the admission and the appropriate shame. It’s a powerful device and I think like the Arianna story it’s in there almost as a moral trap. Like a gauge. He wont run off with a school girl, but would he, if he couldn’t be traced, look at naughty pictures of them if they dropped in his lap. Though with all John’s handwringing I’m surprised he didn’t run to the police and have them arrest him right away. It’s also weird how it’s something that’s referenced once instead of being a bigger deal. Maybe it’s because I felt it’s super wrong that it should have been a bigger deal in the story. Who knows.

    As for the Isabella story. That’s obviously the biggy. It was a clever twist, nay a smart twist. As john ironically says, being smart not clever and I think the game tried to be too clever with it at the end. Initially I was kind of gutted by it, feeling that if I had just stayed in my office I might have been able to save her, but alarm bells did start ringing after everyone kinda didn’t give a fuck about her apparent suicide. But I think maybe they’re all just in denial or something till, obviously, the terrible meta poke of the foreshadowing prods. Like being conveniently told of a shinigami just after seeing one. Then the anon skit just blowing the whole lid off the joke. Though John is a bit stupid and slow so doesn’t get it. So isabella turns and up he’s like WTFBBQ and you’re like DUH. I was hoping it was a red herring because it would have really added to the subversive tone, but it just kind of ruined the twist because after that point the game loses it’s edge and just tried to force it’s message on you.

    The message, however, was stupid in delivery. At it’s core, no, it’s not stupid, it’s smart because it is a good warning of where social networks can go, how much privileged people can see of your private communications (like I’m sure some dudes at myspace had had a chuckle at some dirty exchanges me and an old flame had) and how this could extend to everyone if you don’t understand your privacy options, but the actual notion of the students not understanding the ideal of privacy is stupid. That’s the point it wants to make most though, not the be careful what you say, but that in the future privacy will be a lost idea. But the game works against itself in that everyone does keep information to themselves, the Amie thing even has a private chat function and other students can’t see that. So the concept of privacy and the students understanding of it does seem to be there as they know what is or is not good/sensible to say on there. That’s even pointed out during the bit where the game tries to claim students have no idea of privacy. They understand secrets though. It’s big mess at the end, and it labours on the point for so long that it trips up just as it tries to be obvious.

    What I think also undermines the ending is that the game is trying to be serious about it, but the students claim the prank was pulled because John needed to lighten up a bit, whit just feels like some sort of weird jab at the games own tone that it was trying to be too serious. Though the best meta jab would be if the game was sending back to christine everything that we all did the game so she could see what choices we all made. Also I guess I could be grumpy that I totally bought into the prank too. I’d hate those little fucks if someone did that to me. Not only do they not understand privacy (which they totally do) but they seem to lack understanding of how serious convincing someone that someone else killed themselves is. Even the mother was in on the joke yet she had the gall to cry when her boy was being picked on. I think some things in the game can wind you up and kind of serve to undermine the point a bit because you hate all the people by the end. I then trotted off with the underage girl for a meal almost out of protest to the rest of the cast.

    I think it does effectively give the message that people should be careful what they show of themselves on the net and how public your public information really is, and also how the word private isn’t hard and true on the internet as someone, somewhere can probably see it, but I don’t by the concept of secrecy and privacy dying. There will always be things people will never talk about and not want people to know. As someone who grew up on the internet I think I’m more aware of how my privacy can be invaded that I would be if I was older. Basically I think that yes, privacy on the net isn’t really privacy, but I can’t see it changing the social acceptance of privacy in a long term way, and the game does work against it self at time with the anon board and the big secret they all keep and when they know to step away from the internet to say certain things.

    • The Innocent says:

      Nice writeup. Almost as long as the game itself, but nice.

    • Hunam says:

      Heh, thanks. Mostly though it was for me. It’s a a complex game and writing everything down and organising it is the best way to understand my own feelings of it.

    • sinister agent says:

      SPOILLEEERSSS
      Re: everyone being gay/bi. I think that’s just a logical conclusion drawn from the ‘privacy is old hat’ thing. If people are basically open by default, they’d be vastly less likely to deny/hide aspects of their sexuality, and as most people are at least a little bi, the idea that so many of them would describe themselves as gay (and it’s probably worth noting that not all of them do – they just list a gender under ‘interests’, which doesn’t mean it’s an absolute) isn’t all that unlikely. Especially given that they’re at exactly the age when people tend to carry out some pretty fundamental experiments.
      I don’t think of it as a utopian ideal where everyone is openly gay (and there is a definite vein of homo-abuse from at least one character), and I certainly don’t think the world will be like that any time soon, but if you accept the premise that people in general have a very different attitude to privacy, it follows.
      It’s interesting that you talked about the emails and PMs seeming like people playing a part when you’re given the big reveal. I think that’s arguably another point the game is making – how different is that to how people are now, anyway? We all censor ourselves, we all present the world with a persona that’s at best only one facet of who we really are. It falls down if you poke it though, for many reasons, but it’s not the details that matter, it’s just that it gets you thinking.

      I personally found the whole ‘emasculating’ thing completely baffling. When he kept saying “it must be emasculating” I was just wondering what exactly he was talking about, and still wasn’t convinced when he spelled it out. Some girls bought me a present? Um… okay, why would that be emasculating? I dunno, I haven’t really considered the whole ‘man written by a woman’ aspect, it doesn’t strike me as that big a deal. John’s reaction didn’t ever strike me as “feminine” – men can and do act just as idiotically and bitchily as some women in my experience – but it does strike me as clueless and somewhat emotionally retarded at times.

    • Scott says:

      Well I completely agree, Mr Hunam. End of.

    • Hunam says:

      Scott: Thanks, it’s nice to know that others felt the same as me.

      Sinister Agent: That’s a fantastic point to be honest, and it really makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Though half of me feels like what you say is what the game stumbled upon accidentally rather than being of forethought.

  35. Hurion says:

    Very near the end, Akira’s mother uses a name, Katelyn (Lastname)… Did anyone else see that, or am I going crazy? (it’s my last name, and very rare, I’d say less than 50 people have that last name)

    • devtesla says:

      Ha, I thought the same thing when I saw my last name in the same spot. You aren’t going crazy :p.

    • Hurion says:

      Ok, cool, haha. I have no idea where it mined that name from, I don’t use it with anything.

    • devtesla says:

      Magic I guess :p

    • godzilla says:

      @Hurion – I think they get that from your saved games in Digital, a love story, as the game used what I used as name there. Unless you don’t have that game, in which case it is magic.

      Fantastic game by the way – thanks RPS, tharps!

    • Marar Patrunjica says:

      Oh man, I saw part of my online screen name, and it seriously freaked me out, knowing that I did not typed it in anywhere in the game and its not the same as my windows login, completly forgot the fact that I played Digital though, that must be where it got the name from… I hope, can’t recall now if Digital asked for a name or not >.>

    • Lilliput King says:

      Godzilla: Hah, genius. Nice.

    • GViper says:

      EDIT – reading the other comments helps. A genius idea!

    • Hidden_7 says:

      The name I got was Eisenhower, which isn’t mine or even a name I go by online or anything, so I didn’t twig to anything. Is that maybe a default? I can’t think of where it could have gotten it from me, since I can’t recall ever using that name anywhere.

  36. bill says:

    I really hate the (very common) anime technique of making all the kids look about 12, and then saying “don’t worry, their all 18 really!”.

    Not claiming that this game in particular does that, but reading that part about “don’t worry, they’re all 16″ brought it to mind.

    • absolofdoom says:

      For some reason people seem to forget that the main characteristic of anime is that it is from Japan, where the ACTUAL people also look much younger to us a lot of the time. Don’t you think this might have something to do with it?

    • Deano2099 says:

      That’s wrong, 18-year-old girls dressing as 12-year-old schoolgirls at “School Disco” nights: perfectly normal

  37. ezekiel2517 says:

    I’m rather familiar with visual novels, so this was something I didn’t need convincing to try. I enjoyed it thoroughly and hope to see more.

  38. RCGT says:

    SPOILERS!!!

    Was I the only one pissed off that the entire school conspired to fake a student’s death, just for some stupid prank? I actually built up some connection to Isabelle’s character (moreso than some of the others) and was looking forward to resolving her issues, when all of a sudden it’s “She’s dead! You killed her! Ooga booga!” And at then end everyone just goes “heh, kids will be kids!”

    I’m as surprised as anyone to feel some kind of responsibility towards a virtual student, but that struck an extremely discordant note for me, and basically ruined the final part of the game. It felt cheap and manipulative.

    • sinister agent says:

      Not really. It didn’t help that I didn’t believe for a second that she’d actually killed herself. It was way too obvious. She gets asked in passing about an old boyfriend, then sends a short email about how nice it was, and how it’s a shame she won’t get to go out with him again and OH BYE CRUEL WORLD G2G SUICIDE LOL.
      What did bother me was that I was apparently supposed to feel responsible for some way. Why would the students think I’d blame myself? She killed herself without warning or reason, and that’s my fault because… what? I didn’t book a counselling session with every student in the class in case they killed themselves one night after dropping their ice cream?
      But! It turned out it was all a comic farce, so that’s alright then.

  39. Marar Patrunjica says:

    I am going to post the following gradually as I am repeatedly marked as spam and the “drop us a line” link does not work

    SPOILERS

    This game was sort of mixed for me, Alec claimed that
    “It’s not especially accurate to claim that you play as Rook; while you have access to his thoughts, the visual novel construct means your access to his larynx is very limited. He will say and do things you would not, because… well, don’t take it personally, but this ain’t your story.”

    But with two exceptions (the swearing and the prank shenanigans at the end) his replies were spot on; every time I made a choice he would do, think and say pretty much exactly what I would have in his place.
    And yes, I spied on all the messages and felt terribly guilty because of it, and thought it was a necessary evil.

    Needless to say I thought the ending was pretty bad, the Anon sketch was flat-out awful, the twist ending weak (and very silly) and the privacy ‘message’ not very well thought out; if the author wanted to us to leave the game pondering this issue, she could have made a better speech, the arguments for the lack of privacy were not very well made, and of course broke the game universe to no end when it was clear that the characters DID have an idea what privacy meant, not to mention the fact that some of the exchanges clearly were not meant to be seen by anyone except themselves, especially the naughty pictures.

    It’s too bad really since the rest of the game was solid, but it really does fall apart towards the end.

    As far as visual novels go, it’s not bad, but it’s not good either.

    • Marar Patrunjica says:

      The spam filter seems to block the following phrase written out normally
      “yllanoisacco LRI kaeps”
      weird.
      it was meant to be an explination of it “was clear that the characters DID have an idea what privacy meant” > they speak to each other in real life sometimes BECAUSE of privacy issues

    • sinister agent says:

      But with two exceptions (the swearing and the prank shenanigans at the end) his replies were spot on; every time I made a choice he would do, think and say pretty much exactly what I would have in his place.

      No offence, but if this is true, I really hope you’re not a teacher.

  40. RagingLion says:

    Wo-how. That was an amazing game/visual novel and for my money quite a lot more significant, well-crafted and plain genius. I’m blown a way by it a little bit. There’s an awful lot going on in it too – I honestly think there could be a dissertation written on it – in that it tackles a lot of current and future issues in a well-developed way and I think the content is strong enough to really poke into it

    ———————–MASSIVE SPOILERS———————-

    It really got me. It’s been interesting reading the above comments because clearly it didn’t perfectly mesh with some other people and some design choices just threw others enough out of the immersion, but whether by fluke and my assumptions going into it I think I was thinking in the right way at the time while playing for it to really work we over.

    I was FURIOUS after Isabella’s death. The character’s had already been developed enough and it was close enough to real life situations that I was genuinely angry at the perceived callousness with which these schoolmates were treating one of their own and how they were just moving on with their lives. An “R.I.P.” message was just too trite and accepting of the apparent situation. So that’s one example of how it got to me while playing. I t took me on the emotional rollerciaster it wnated to.

    And wow at all the meta. I didn’t know all of the referenced literature sources and I don’t know how well all the stories within stories within stories would hold up on closer inspection but at least while just jogging past it in the one playthrough it hung together really nicely and was very clever and well crafted with the stories being studied referring to the actual story. I know that stuff can always be just ‘phoned in’ but I don’t think it was in this case. There’s so many great layered ideas in there with all the feeding off of the internet humour, anime, what I presume are typical visual novel type tropes.

    The issues raised here are very interesting and force you to consider them. That the story all wound back up to focus on the issue of privacy was completely unexpected to me. Yes, it was there the whole time in the background which made it great but all these other dramas had taken centre stage for the most part. I haven’t really engaged with that argument when it has come up so far but this forced me to and through up a lot intriguing points around it. I’m not sure I agree with the position I think the author/game is trying to take in the end – I’m still chewing it over.

    Also, that on over-arching point/moral to the story was ‘lighten up, teach’ seems just a bit cheap and vapid to me.

    I do wonder how this game will be viewed in the long-run. I think it has the potential to end up with a lot of exposure and end up having a big influence though maybe it will miss out on this. I don’t agree with all of the messages, but there’s quite a lot that older teenagers could get out of playing this I think – and I think most would lap it up, even those not into games and such much.

    • RagingLion says:

      ALSO SPOILERS

      There should have been quotation marks around “Isabella’s ‘death’ ” btw, just to be clear. Just explaining how it felt while playing. Yes that was an affecting twist when it’s truth came to light.

  41. terry says:

    I wanted to enjoy this but I found the way the whole exposition-through-email thing worked distracting and frustrating to follow so I didn’t get that far past Chapter 2. So yeah :/ I do enjoy visual novels and thought Digital was very good but this was just irritating to play.

  42. Buttless Boy says:

    I remember playing Digital and thinking the love interest was the most obnoxious, poorly written character I’d ever seen outside of fan-fiction. I played for a while trying desperately to avoid contact with her, but the game forces you into it, like it can’t imagine a circumstance where you’d want to avoid an angst-ridden loser who writes terrible poetry.

    This sounds pretty much identical, only creepier and without the clever “inside the computer” conceit.

    • Marijn says:

      I also found Digital: A Love Story to be a clumsy, badly written mess, but I was convinced by a friend to give Love’s new game a try. And I’m glad I did; even though the writing suffers a fatal breakdown just before the end, this game has a sharp understanding about how (digital) communication has evolved and will continue to evolve, which it expresses in great dialogue, believable characters and elegant interplay between the different media that you peruse throught its interface (certainly as clever as Digital).

      So please give it a try – I’ll be interested to learn what you think.

  43. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I think this is a rather interesting game. The varied responsibilities you can feel combined with the voyeuristic spying on every word the students say make the characters in this game come rather close. In spite of the disconnect one may experience when forced to make a choice between options neither of which seem entirely right. Which helps convey that the teacher is (somewhat) messed up himself.

  44. HermitUK says:

    An interesting piece. The central theme is good, but I had a couple of reservations. I’d spotted the twist coming thanks to the reaction thread to the switch away from Romeo and Juliet to Twelfth Night (someone says something along the lines of “He’s taking it seriously”), which put me to thinking I was being trolled. Even so, I thought the ending was strangely upbeat. The message was an interesting one, but it seemed strange. As I’m generally a pretty quiet and guarded individual (social introvert for the win :D), the whole “erosion of privacy is all fine” thing didn’t really gel with me.

    Especially when the students are using the private messages for incredibly personal stuff at times. There are some clever choices in there – You’d have to go out of your way to look at Charlotte’s pictures, for example. But it’s hardly a pat on the back saying “Well done, you resisted the urge to look at her personal photos. Now read some more of her private conversation to celebrate”.

    My main complaint, though, is that I can’t choose NOT to look at the messages. If I try, the game will stop until you do. I felt uncomfortable accessing messages on Amie, especially the private ones (as did John, clearly), but I’m forced to do so anyway to continue the story. There’s no option to not read it at all, or for John to only read the public posts and leave the private messages alone. If John feels so bad about it why doesn’t he stop looking?

    It’d be an interesting story twist to see how John could resolve issues without that access. Would his honest advice be enough, or does he need that access to their private thoughts, which they won’t share with him in person, to be effective as their teacher?

    Which leads me on to another point. It seems the parents and students know about teacher access to Amie. If everyone knows, why tell new teachers that it’s all hush-hush? If noone cares about our ‘antiquated’ notion of privacy in this Facebook future, then why would the school feel the need to hide that activity?

    Why not give the teachers their own accounts and legitimise it – It could have proved a useful way to clarify stuff from lessons, for example. Or certain characters might feel better about opening up online rather than in person. Being open about that, if indeed people don’t mind, would seem like a far more sensible policy.

    What’s more, it’s clear that the question of privacy is playing on John’s mind to the point that it’s hurting his ability to teach his students. A more clear and open privacy policy for all concerned would have put John’s mind at ease and allowed him to get on with his job without the constant worry.

    Still not sure where I stand on the Arianna plot either. Regardless of honest intentions on both parties it would still boil down to John abusing a position of trust. And he has to be at least twice her age, if not more. And given the prominence of Amie, any ‘private’ relationship between the pair isn’t likely to stay that way. Perhaps people don’t care about student-teacher liaisons in future-school. And this is a fairly standard relationship trope in anime, which might explain its inclusion.

    That aside I really enjoyed the piece. It was well written, and it’s certainly one for pondering on some more. I’ve often thought the visual novel genre has a hell of a lot to offer when it isn’t being used as an excuse for a porn game. This is fine proof of that.

    • HermitUK says:

      Also that was a lot longer than I was intending. It’s nice to finish a game with an ending worth pondering about. Rather than just raging at. Looking at you, Dragon Age 2.

    • sinister agent says:

      Why not give the teachers their own accounts and legitimise it

      Because only about seven students would use it.

      In the world.

    • HermitUK says:

      Except all the students already know the teachers read everything on there. They’re still fine with using it. Heck, Arianna would probably appreciate the ability to stalk John over the internet.

  45. Xxio says:

    Thank you for reviewing this game(story?) – I wouldn’t have found it otherwise. I just finished it and am now downloading Digital: A Love Story. Great stuff.

  46. sephirotharg says:

    At first I was rather apathetic about the whole game. Playing it left me with no real response, god, bad or otherwise. But reading so many comments about the game up above has solidified one thing in my mind: the game is startlingly accurate in its portrayal of the shifting nature of privacy and morality. I’m of the now generation, having grown up in a world where Myspace and then Facebook have been true entities in terms of social networking. And while I’ve not been tremendously active in either (my last foray onto my Facebook account was more then three weeks ago), the “nothing-is-private-everything-is-permitted” (bonus points for those who get the reference) mentality has seeped in to my worldview much more so than the majority of commenters here. I can say with complete honesty that I had no qualms whatsoever about looking at the students’ ostensibly private conversations. Many of the commenters above me have expressed feelings of disgust or malcontent with the forced voyeurism of looking at the AmieConnect discussions. For me there was no distinction between the students’ online discussions and their out loud ones – the two were one and the same.

    Ultimately “Don’t take it personally, babe, it’s just not your story” works only if you engage with the emotions, morals or ethical codes it seeks to invoke. I suppose for me that’s why it rang hollow in my ears. I chose on my first play through to pursue the relationship with Arianna as far as I could – which ended up being nothing more than dirty thoughts about her as she sat on his lap at night. Engaging with the emotions this story arc seeks to bring forth requires, in my mind, certain personal circumstances. As a person very similar to Arianna in age, I found absolutely nothing wrong with seeking a relationship with her, as so many others in this comments section seemed to. Of course this is to be expected: if I were a forty-five year old with a daughter and years of being told by society that having sex with minors is wrong, I would have engaged much more with this particular story arc. As I am not, however, the whole romantic subplot felt like a shallow attempt to manipulate my emotional attachment to the characters and to the game.

    And the fact that I did not imprint myself much if at all on John Rook speaks to several levels of failure with the game and with myself. It might reflect poorly on my inability to empathize with others and inhabit their shoes as it were – in keeping with my generally reserved and introverted personality (as another commenter echoed, introverts FTW). However, it also speaks to a specific flaw both with this game in particular and with game stories in general: they rely on establishing a bond with characters predicated on shared life situations or circumstances. If I were older or more socially oriented, I may well have taken on John Rook as myself and the game may have resonated that much more. As it is, however, he and I have next to nothing in common beyond our gender, and thus the game’s story falls flat for me. Even worse, the emotional investment that makes the story and its messages work is lacking for me. To generalize, many game stories that seek to convey more “refined” or “nuanced” emotions and meanings rely on the player having circumstantial ties to one or more of the characters. Of course there are exceptions to this rule; KOTOR, though it was no masterpiece in the story department, did manage to invest me in the story through my agency in the actions of its characters. But I feel that until we can move beyond this need to establish a circumstantial connection with the player, game stories will never achieve those heady heights attained by more “mature” art forms such as novels and films.

    All of which is to say that “don’t take it personally” is by no means a bad game (inasmuch as it is a game, that is). It does have salient points to make about the nature of privacy, the deceptions and self-deceptions we experience in our lives, and even how much agency we really have in our lives (for it is made painfully clear that John Rook is a product of his circumstances and has little to no agency in his own actions, symbolized by the relatively few choices the player has to direct his actions).

    It’s funny, meditating on the game a little further, how much difference a mere generation makes. I was more upset with Kendall for putting Charlotte in a compromising situation (cajoling her into the online equivalent of sexting) than I was at myself for shamelessly looking up the password and gazing at the nearly-nuddie pics. If that is not endemic of this generation’s shifting moral compass, inspired by the internet and fueled by Fox News and NPR, then what is?

  47. sinister agent says:

    Was anyone else’s reaction to the “coming out” moment not “yeah, everyone already knows”, but “Hang on… you’re male?”
    Damn animeness.

    Also, SPOILERS – I was a little taken aback by the “but I broke up with her – she has to make a move” line. Er… surely it’s the other way round? You can’t ask her to humiliate herself by asking for you back after you’ve chucked her? That would be insane and pathetic of her, and expecting her to do that is just twisted.

    So er, no, I didn’t get them back together on my play through. I am rarely comfortable telling people that someone else DEFINITELY will say yes, and doing so with a couple of teenaged girls, who may as well get their instructions from space gerbils for all the sense they tend to make, seemed a very bad idea.

  48. Danzeru says:

    Anybody have any luck installing this game on Linux systems? I’m a bit of a Linux noob but I couldn’t find a “configure” so I couldn’t “make”… :/

  49. Pantsman says:

    Did anyone else notice that the game takes place in 2027, the same year as Human Revolution? I derived some enjoyment from imagining that the two games were set in the same world.
    It is a time of great innovation and social networking advancement. It’s also a time of teen melodrama, and voyeurism.

    • Bret says:

      Just after the ending, Toronto is awash in blood and oil as cyborgs attack!

      Heh.

      Me, I was just considering the protagonist of Digital in some seedy bar listening to privacy discussions and muttering to himself about “Privacy? On an Amie? Ha.” while causing a major international incident in the corner.

  50. Tirranek says:

    I just finished playing this. Some lazy bullet points below:
    * For the most part very well written. Characters came across nicely I thought.
    * Interesting use of lingo, sort of like Clockwork Orange slang we can all recognise.
    * Facebook culture taken to a hypothetical but plausible level. Freaky yet fascinating.
    * Heavy handed exposition at the end. Kind of killed the subtlety that came before.
    * Un-necessary ‘supernatural’ element that felt like a contrived way of making a good point.
    * First-person emotional freak-out prose is rarely convincing.
    * This game made me consider one of the ways in which could end up feeling old: living in a world of leet speak without any sense of irony.

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