Never Say Never: Maybe Make Some Change

By Adam Smith on October 10th, 2011 at 11:28 am.

It turns out that typing shoot [person] is a lot harder than clicking a mouse button

Maybe Make Some Change has certainly caused a change here, in my brain and my general emotional wellbeing. Despite the fact that it’s a Monday and a thin and sickly rain is scratching against the windows trying to chill my soul, I was actually feeling pretty good about half an hour ago. Not so much now. This is a game that may make you think or may simply make you angry or sad, but it certainly won’t make you say “By golly, that was a fun old time”. It’s a piece of interactive fiction (sort of) about this event, which took place in Afghanistan last year. You can experience it now or read my scrambled thoughts below.

Despite containing moving images and sound, Maybe Make Some Change is definitely a game of typing verbs and nouns in combination, so I’m comfortable calling it interactive fiction. But then it’s based on fact and while acknowledging that the events are disputed, it is very much tackling real issues, so perhaps it’s more like an interactive document. The method used to query what happened and why is to jump between perspectives and attitudes, with the player ‘learning’ new verbs, new ways to describe and to act, new behaviours to resolve an unclear situation.

Some of you may know developer Aaron Reed from his interactive novel, Blue Lacuna, which is an excellent and moving example of the form. Maybe Make Some Change is shorter and more painful; a shot of whiskey and a punch to the gut. It’s a story that revolves, although stubbornly refusing to change its component parts, no matter how much they may seem to shift and become malleable.

Perhaps the most startling feeling I’m left with is that of having learned nothing. It’s an interactive experience about an ongoing war but while it depicts horror it doesn’t preach or make a chest-thumping political statement. Instead, it tells a brutal and frankly upsetting story about confusion: the confusion of combat, of conflicting opinions and advice, of hatred and prejudice, and, on all sides, the confusion of agendas and loyalty. In taking this approach, the game questions the intent of the blogger who writes about the event as well as the men involved in it. There’s more about the genesis of the game and the author’s intent here, including some fascinating details about the research that went into tackling a story involving real people.

I’m done with it. The background chatter is haunting me now and I need to decide which bright and cheerful thing to play, all the while feeling gratitude and guilt that those are the choices my day is filled with. Maybe Make Some Change is unsettling because it’s so very real, yet so removed from life as most of us experience it every day.

Thanks to those who emailed me about this one.

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60 Comments »

  1. Metonymy says:

    I’m so sorry that other people’s lives are filled with self-doubt. Say what you like about us Mmmuricans, we at least believe that we are good, and we are usually right about that.

    But yeah, the comment section on this one…

    • LionsPhil says:

      IT BEGINS

    • SOAD says:

      /takes bait

      Good to/for whom?

    • Premium User Badge

      aequidens says:

      You just used a whole sentence to describe yourself as self-righteous.

    • ynamite says:

      and we are usually right about that.

      Short answer: nope. Basically never.

    • Bull0 says:

      Come on people, don’t take the bait, no good will come of it

    • GenBanks says:

      I don’t think this story calls for that particular discussion, it isn’t particularly relevant since nobody was saying that the actions of those soldiers are representative of anything broader in the first place. Just some sick people who abused their power and uniform.

      We should probably try the game out first.

    • Bull0 says:

      Can’t speak for everyone but I’d already “finished” it before I commented. It’s not long.

  2. Bull0 says:

    That was fairly depressing. “I miss my Uncle” was probably the part that rang the most true.

  3. terry says:

    But I didn’t want to shoot anyone :(

  4. Teddy Leach says:

    I’m sorry, I’ve got a job interview tomorrow. Therefore, my emotions are fragile enough without playing this.

  5. Corrupt_Tiki says:

    Meh – did nothing for me. I disliked the fact that the footage in the background the player always used his mouse to buy his weapons, quite irritating I must say.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Arvind says:

    I’m kind of confused about what I’m supposed to do. I revealed all those verbs on the side, but then the game keeps on repeating the same 4-5 questions while the background shows some letters like “Your squad leader is speaking”. If I try to do something different in a scene, it says “your squadmate says you shot him instead. are you saying he’s a liar?” then goes back on repeat.

    Is there an ending to this? Am I doing this wrong? Or am I emotionally dead?

    • Bull0 says:

      *SPOILER* move on to performing actions on the people in the background. The lawyer, your uncle, etc.

  7. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    It’s broken.

    It says you could only know how to hear and shoot.
    Then it tells me you could be seeing a native civvie (ah, so you could see too!).
    When I write: “you hear civvie” it replies with: “you couldn’t do that. you could only do what you’d know how to do. you knowing how to hear and to shoot.”

    Broken.

    Same thing when you shoot the other elements mentioned in the story, like the desert or the sun.

    • RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

      I do like the option to hug everyone though.

      also:
      “He threatened the sun”

    • Bull0 says:

      It’s not perfect, it took me a while to grasp – you can’t use different tenses even when the prompt text implies you should. Present tense all the way, and always “I”, seems to work ok.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      Do just verb-subject pairs. The subject should be taken from the yellow words on the screen. The verb comes from the verb list. E.g. > shoot civvie.

  8. Dasos says:

    Yeah seems pretty borked for me too, just wasn’t working with what I was telling it :(

  9. OrangyTang says:

    Meh. Giving you only one option (shoot) and then trying to make you feel bad for performing the only option you can actually do doesn’t really inspire any emotion other than “this is a silly non-game”.

    I get the impression it’s trying to be a game version of the Milligram experiment (“Look! You’d shoot everyone too!”), but misses the fundamental points of the Milligram experiment (people had a choice, people believed it to be real, and the effect of authority).

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      It looks like you didn’t get very far into the game.

    • Bull0 says:

      Yep. Definitely didn’t play long enough.

    • OrangyTang says:

      I’ll freely admit I didn’t play very far, but it doesn’t really do anything to make me want to play further. If it’s not going to give me any actual choices I’d rather go read a book instead of it’s (rather bad) writing.

      Actually I think I’ll go do that.

    • Bull0 says:

      Farewell!

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      Um, you get plenty of choices. The game opens up as it goes along.

    • Bull0 says:

      *Puts hand on Fhnu’s shoulder*

      Just… just let him go.

  10. K says:

    You stand in the desert. You see the Haji. The sun is scorching you
    >Shoot Sun

    • soldant says:

      Ridiculous, but pretty much sums up my thoughts on this. Tries to be emotionally exploitative and fails.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      Shoot sun is one of the synonyms for trying to fire a warning shot at the afghan.

    • Tams80 says:

      That’s the first thing I did.

  11. Tom4J says:

    fantastic.

  12. Joseph-Sulphur says:

    That was pretty rubbish. It pisses me off when hacks try to pass of one dimensional crap like this as some kind of profound exploration of modern war and what our soldiers are experiencing over there. Its fucking bullshit. Read some actual journalism on the subject, watch some documentaries if you actually want to get informed.

    • LionsPhil says:

      So you’re saying it’s “art”.

      (Grins, ducks and runs, etc.)

  13. Tengil says:

    What “confusion of combat”? They just murdered people, then planted weapons on their corpses.

  14. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    This game is becoming hilarious. Perhaps not intended…

    “Courtroom

    The prosecuting attorney watches you sternly.
    >hug attorney

    you hug the lawyer.

    You’ve already tried. That’s not it; it’s something else…”

    • Bull0 says:

      That can be said of all text-parser based games.

      My half-brother wrote one back in the day, and my twelve-year-old mind immediately tried to break it by trying illogical things. First attempt:

      >USE Self

      Game output:

      >What a concept.

      I found this very, very funny.

    • Krauss says:

      Quest for Glory:

      >pick nose

      “Success! You now have an open nose.”

      Or you die if you don’t have enough lockpicking skill.

  15. Bishop99999999 says:

    So I’m trying to do escalation of force on the crazy dude running towards me, but instead of warning him it just says that he might “pull out an RPG.”

    An RPG is almost as tall as you or me, you don’t just pull it out of nowhere. That’s stupid.

    And if the guy is running towards me while I’m shouting and pointing my weapon at him, whether he’s armed or not that’s still a legitimate kill. Yes, it’s terrible if he’s unarmed, but it’s still justified by his behavior, what with suicide vests. So if he is brandishing an AK and pointing it at us, that makes the shooting pretty cut and dry, whether his intent was to shoot or not.

    Now, if the story is about the coverup, then they should have made that clear. Instead it portrayed a nebulous situation all too common in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

    • Adam Smith says:

      The way I look at it is that the game’s story is about the event but the game itself is about different perspectives and agendas. The words aren’t necessarily describing things that have happened or could happen, but ways in which voices and viewpoints can complicate or simplify matters.

    • Bishop says:

      The original ‘Bishop’ wasn’t confused.

    • Bhazor says:

      @Bishop9999999

      Its the same event told by 5 different people. The outcome of each action is what *that* person says will happen.

      They are all Alahdad but the pissed off soldiers see him as another murderous fuckhead, your uncle sees him as a filthy raghead, the trainer sees him as a civvie, the blogger sees him as an unarmed farmer (I believe its stated by the soldiers he was carrying *something* but not a weapon) but only the attorney knows his real name.

  16. BobsLawnService says:

    Edit : Not te time or place for my original comment

  17. Wooly Wugga Wugga says:

    I like the way the game and author tries to make the soldiers look like victims. You know, the people who ruthlessly murdered and mutilated the corpses of the civilians and kept their body parts as little mementos. Then at the end of it when the US military was forced to take some action they pretty much got a few months in the brig and dishonourable discharges.

    • Bull0 says:

      They haven’t all been sentenced yet, and of those that have while a couple got off with a few months of jail time, there are a few bigger sentences – 3 years, 7 years, 24 years. Your statement is false.

    • Bhazor says:

      The fact the military report wasn’t officially released and it’s sugar coating of premeditated murder as “an environment in which misconduct could occur” really lends credence to covering their own backs rather than any kind of justice. In particular in justifying the commanders and the orders they gave.

      If Afghanistan is really free, why are they not the ones pressing charges and punishment for a crime that happened in their land to their citizens?

    • Bull0 says:

      I’m really only here to point out a factual error, man.

    • Wooly Wugga Wugga says:

      Most of them got a few months and one wasn’t even dishonourably discharged, instead he was just demoted. Then one of those involved got 60 days of hard labour. So one of them got 7-23 years – it all kind of balanceds out. And if you think any of this is appropriate action to take against men who went around murdering civilians, mutilating them and taking trophies in the form of body parts then I really don’t know what to say. If anybody had done this to a US citizen there would be death sentences all around but since it happened to some brown people in a desert country somewhere it is merely a political embarressment with token action taken.

      I’m not even going to go into the US armies decision to try to ignore this for so long and then only acknowledge it when their hand was forced by European newspapers.

      To me these are serious warcrimes and everyone involved should be executed. I love the fact that the defences involved seem to be “We were just carrying out orders.” – remind you of anything?

    • Bull0 says:

      Well, this conversation is entirely over: You’re making me out as a nazi sympathiser just because I think western justice goes a bit deeper than an eye for an eye. You’re right though, war crimes are bad, fascinating revelation, thanks for pointing that one out Socrates, obviously by my pointing out that you are LYING about the sentences (and still are; 3, 7, 23 years, three seperate people, and the major players are yet to be sentenced, stop lying) I was trying to defend war crime and massacre because my name is the Marquis de fucking Sade.

      I wasn’t remotely trying to argue with you about “war crimes being serious”, I’m just pointing out that you’re misrepresenting the facts, and doing so harms your cause (my cause; humanity’s fucking cause) more than it helps it. Get out of my face.

  18. noclip says:

    I ended up spending almost the entire course of the game (apart from the IM chat at the end, which was powerful in its own right) thinking of better designs for the message or better messages for the design. As valuable as experiments like this are, I think this one fails.

  19. Snuffy the Evil says:

    I’d probably get more out of this if it actually recognized me pushing the spacebar.

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  21. Ayn Rand says:

    this is the closest video game adaptation of the stranger that we will ever get

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  26. Dave Mongoose says:

    I somehow missed the news story that this was based on, so my initial thoughts were that it was going to deal with the concept of the ‘intangible enemy’ – IEDs, suicide bombers, etc.

    I eventually worked out some of the details, and found it interesting in the end, but it definitely needs some prior knowledge.