The Games Of Christmas ’11: Day Two

By Alec Meer on December 2nd, 2011 at 1:10 pm.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… a bitter lesson in what love really means (or doesn’t). What could have made this iron man (cough) feel so low? I’ll send you a private message explaining everything, but don’t tell anyone, right?

It’s Don’t Take it Personally Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story.

If you haven’t played Christine Love’s short follow-up to Digital: A Love Story, you either should do so first or at least read what I’ve previously said about it. Oblique, thematic but non-direct spoilers below.

Perhaps more a visual novel than it is a game, and as such not something I’d recommend to everyone, but Don’t Take It Personally wormed its way into my head precisely because I felt a part of it rather than a mere observer. It made me simultaneously paranoid and the presumed perpetrator of others’ paranoia, before ultimately pulling the rug out from under my feet.

I’m not entirely sold by the climactic reveal and justification: that privacy doesn’t really mean anything in this online age, and no-one expects to have it. It felt like the end of a discussion, rather than the discussion itself, and had gone to a slightly absurdist extreme that somewhat departed from the dilemmas I’d truly experienced. But, for me, the game’s strength was never going to be in its dénouement anyway. It worked so well, and so painfully, because I became complicit in what seem like enormous life-and-love choices of the teenagers I was really only supposed to be teaching literature to. I had the presumption, the sheer gall, to believe myself worthy enough to alter their lives, and then I felt entitled to spy on the consequences of my advice and actions.

Further, I had the option to twist them to my way of seeing the world, and even, had I so chosen, to reach my own sexual gratification through them. My character – me – was not a bad person, but it was almost impossible to not behave badly. Not to be an intruder in the lives of others. Even aside from that awful option to sleep with a student, or to snoop at the sexy photos of another, The Right Thing becomes more and more muddied as the game wore on.

I knew some of these kids, in the full flower of their sexuality and self-awareness, were suffering, or at least they appeared to be. But I knew this because I’d read their supposedly private messages to each other. Is intervention the morally correct act? Especially when you know you can peek at its consequences. Have I done the right thing, by reading all those Facebook messages and knowing the grief and pain some of these students are in, or did I just exchange one ill for another?

I kept being bad in Don’t Take It Personally because I wanted to be good – a harsh lesson in meddling in matters I only have peripheral understanding of. And, unlike RPGs that promise moral consequence, this wasn’t a matter of checking in later and finding out someone had had a bit of a rubbish time as a result of my actions, but of being there for the whole process, never leaving the claustrophobic confines of the situation I’d become embroiled in. Real-time, haunting consequence, the constant sense that a stiff breeze could permanently fracture this loose alliance of bickering students who were in the complicated, painful process of discovering who they really were.

I hate the character art and I often became frustrated by all that click-clicking-clicking through bickering dialogue in search of the point where I could intervene. That didn’t matter, because I was there, absolutely a part of these sinister and yet in the end purely transitory micro-dramas, building a teetering Jenga tower from other people’s lives. Convinced I was being paternal, wise, necessary, but really I was steeped in ignorance, presumption and self-interest. Don’t Take It Personally? I can’t help but take it personally. With deft, dark cunning it made me feel absolutely awful.

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35 Comments »

  1. Knucker says:

    “I can’t help but take it personally. With deft, dark cunning it made me feel absolutely awful.”

    A perfect game for Christmas.

  2. Valvarexart says:

    Hmm, I really did get put off by the whole Facebook spying and 4chan elements…. Not really anything I would care to recommend, but I guess if you’ve got time to kill…

    • Premium User Badge Faldrath says:

      Well, I recommended it to a lot of people :) It’s a very interesting take on something that isn’t usually discussed seriously, especially in games, even though it does try too hard in the end.

      Still, really looking forward to Love’s next game. Digital was also quite special.

    • lurkalisk says:

      @Faldrath “It’s a very interesting take on something that isn’t usually discussed seriously”

      I’d argue that, to many, it’s simply not interesting. Much the same as games rarely discuss hippopotamus related violence. Actually that’s a terrible analogy, hippo maulings would be much more interesting…

  3. Cooper says:

    As an exploration of the possibility of the coming generations having no concept of privacy of thought, emotion and activities I felt this fell flat on its face.

    But, that aside, the writing in this game (bar the final part…) was excellent. Something about what adults think teenagers are like was captured incredibly well.

    • Adam Smith says:

      Some scenes in Super Sad True Love Story, a book not a game, presented the nightmare of a world without privacy incredibly well I thought.

    • Stephen Roberts says:

      Whoa whoa Cooper Slow right the hell on down. You mean you say you had two opinions about one thing? So was it a 5/10 or a 7/10? I feel so disillusioned.

      Actually gotta agree on the privacy dig at the end. I mean they had private message sections to their Facespace communication book thing. Are we supposed to believe every communication they made in the private sections was to entrap us into revealing things we weren’t supposed to know?

      I thought it was a really interesting game though. I did feel connected to the characters and responsible for being a crappy teacher. I also learned about how I would deal with these situations in the choices I wasn’t able to make. I didn’t like.. ugh, one second…
      #######SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER BASTARD SPOILERS#####
      #######SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER BASTARD SPOILERS#####

      I didn’t like how Mr. Rook (not me) kept feeling bad about a girl suiciding. Because I didn’t. It wasn’t my responsibility. Sure, it happened, and it might well have happened because I didn’t meet her on time to discuss something after school but that is such a tenuous link to make and infer cause and effect from. Arguably, the only person that can be responsible for someone committing suicide is themselves, otherwise it starts to strain the definition of the word. They may be some hostage or torture situations that play on that but they are extremes where the liberties of the person in question are very compromised.

      I’ve said too much!

    • sinister agent says:

      The writing was excellent, yeah. Some of the characters (there was one called Kendra or something? She liked to act all LOL ALL IS FUNNY but was actually pretty sharp and tactful underneah it) were particularly well wriiten.

    • Gormongous says:

      I think the general conclusion Christine Love made in her postmortem for the game was that she wanted to connect a personal breach of privacy (a teacher spying on his students and letting that influence his decisions) with a societal lack of privacy (people’s identities are now constructed online and so privacy is deviant), but that her original plans for doing so were rendered unfeasible by her format and she was forced to settle for more “on the nose” dialogue to make do.

      For me, it’s a small tragedy in itself, because the penultimate conversation lays out many of the component points for a revelation I’d probably find quite striking, but instead it stops short and acts like it’s made a point.

      Still, I adore this game for capturing well the familiar feeling of being a teacher, at least for older students. I was constantly worrying that my meddling was responsible for my shoddy performance as an educator, yet too conscious of seeming necessities to behave professionally.

    • Jolly Teaparty says:

      **MAYBE SPOILERS?**

      I can’t decide what I made of that final conversation; it succeeded in making me wonder how close to the truth the idea of the coming generation having no concept of privacy might be I suppose. I think where it fell down is that maybe it would’ve be better to say their privacy laid elsewhere, and maybe we were a bit naive for thinking they eschewed it completely. That bit of bullying that went on, for instance, we didn’t see at all. That would’ve been a more interesting point to make. However by having that kid stand there going “buuuh privacy?” it became a bit hard to buy.

    • Dhatz says:

      Privacy is in most parts already useless. You just have to live the way you can’t be ashamed of yourself and not give a crap about people’s idiotic opinions.

  4. McDan says:

    Ah, I really do like this game, so glad that RPS told us about it. I’ve yet to finish it but thoroughly enjoy it, especially good when I’m in a situation where I have no mouse and can’t be bothered to faff around with the pad in other games. Excellent stuff.

  5. Kandon Arc says:

    I somewhat enjoyed this game, but I felt the moral aspect was severely hamstrung by the fact that you had to spy on your pupils on order to progress the game. I would have preferred it had that been a choice.

    • zapheer says:

      I thought that forcing you to check the messages was a beautiful bit of game design. POSSIBLE SPOILERS — It was necessary for your character to have been spying for the story, so the game tells you to check your messages to proceed. It’s a game, and the player is used to being given orders(quests, objectives, whatever you want to call them) and generally doesn’t question this as being something needed to proceed. You think of it as just another thing that needs to be done and then in the end it ties into the story.

  6. Premium User Badge Lars Westergren says:

    Dear Santa: I’ve been a reasonably good boy this year, and all I wish for Christmas is that Bioshock Infinite doesn’t use GFWL.

    • Delusibeta says:

      Considering 2k has been all-Steamworks since Civ 5, you might just get your wish.

    • Premium User Badge Lars Westergren says:

      Ooh, you are right! Santa came early this year. (Gently insert premature ejaculation joke here).

  7. djbriandamage says:

    I loved Digital: A Love Story like crazy. It’s one of very few games (or maybe the only one) that actually made me cry!

    This next game was almost equally as engrossing, but I found it so super depressing that I couldn’t finish it. I was certainly 4/5 of the way through, at least, at the story’s denouement, but I couldn’t bring myself to keep clicking. Maybe someday but probably never.

    I stopped playing this game for the same reason I stopped reading Irvine Welsh – modern urban tragedies somehow hit too close to home. And I’m a sheltered suburbanite without a care in the world!

    I really have to admire a writer who can coax such strong feelings from me, though.

    • RagingLion says:

      You’ll feel better if you finish the game quite probably.

    • djbriandamage says:

      Thanks friend – that’s all the coaxing I need to have another go.

  8. DrGonzo says:

    I will have to give this another go. I was put off almost immediately by the visuals and dialogue. Another one for the ever increasing list of games that I will never actually get around to.

  9. fauxC says:

    I’ve just played this through in one sitting. Strangely I didn’t feel I was getting properly emotionally involved but then the ending left me quite raw so it obviously had quite an effect.

    Why do RPS readers hate anime-style art so much? I thought it fitted the game perfectly.

  10. kyrieee says:

    I don’t think the game came together at the end. It was too heavy handed and contrived. I think the game wanted to make a point, but never actually managed to. I did feel like a creep playing though.

  11. qplazm says:

    This was one of the few non-shit OELVNs I’ve encountered. Quite well-written, albeit heavy-handed, as others have mentioned.

    Anime art style used to annoy me, but there are some great stories that are only available in that format, so I tricked myself into tolerating/sorta liking it, by telling myself it wasn’t that bad until the lie became true. I used the same technique to make myself enjoy the smell of gasoline and skunks.

  12. PleasingFungus says:

    I enjoyed this game tremendously when it came out. The ending didn’t really work, as literally everyone else has noted, but getting there was a ton of fun. A feature no one else seems to have mentioned was the “greek chorus” foreshadowing – pretty classy (and funny), once I noticed it.

    Love actually has another game coming out pretty soon – “Analog, a Hate Story”, about a group of Korean colonists on a generation ship. Sounds exciting! Until then, enjoy this.

  13. TheGameSquid says:

    Honestly?

    I had no idea what this game was all about.

  14. Nate says:

    I often became frustrated by all that click-clicking-clicking through bickering dialogue in search of the point where I could intervene.

    And in the game. As is said.

  15. Sabin says:

    I started going through it with my wife. I think we got to the third chapter before we stopped for the night and never picked it up again to my regret. I just installed it for my lunch break to finally finish through it myself before the day ends, so thanks for the reminder on the great game.

    For those interested who’ve never gone through a 2nd play through, I didn’t know how much the story branched, but I went a different direction than what my wife and I decided on when the one student walks you home. It was a bad choice. Bad…

    I was hoping it might turn out better than our previous choice, but it just creeped me out instead. Oh well, I’ll just take my lumps for the dumb choice.

    But then that arc apparently wants to keep going in the next chapter, so I reloaded. Despite wanting to see through the consequences of my actions, I’m not willing to put up with that for a choice that wasn’t my ideal to begin with.

  16. willfarb says:

    I saw this the first time you posted it and skipped it due to the anime visuals. I don’t have anything specific against the art style, I just find anime to be a subculture that I am intrigued by, but am totally unable to navigate.

    Nevertheless, I trust RPS a fair bit, and gave this a shot this morning, and I’m really pleased that I did. At first I felt like I was simply “wading” through the drama, but by the end I was so engrossed I had really put some of myself into it.

    SPOILERS

    When I got to the part where you can choose to kiss the girl or not, I actually had to take a walk around the block to ask myself: am I playing this as the teacher, or am I playing it as myself. If I am playing it as myself, do I even know what I would do?

    If a game makes me take a walk around the block just to think, then I believe that it is successful.

  17. Thermal Ions says:

    I’ve not played it, or read anything else about it, however it sounds like it could play as a case study in why there are rules forbidding teachers from interacting with students on a personal level through social media and restrictions outside of the classroom.

    • willfarb says:

      Then please do play it! I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you play it all the way to the end, you may see that it’s not the case. :-) It only took me an hour or so (perhaps longer, ended up very engrossed), well worth it!

    • mentor07825 says:

      I too found it very engrossing. I felt that I was shaping the lives of a few students and, through that, their interactions with the other students. A good novel like game that really flips you over at the end. Highly recommend playing it, it’ll take as much time as watching Walking Dead, for example.

  18. jama says:

    Also worth mentioning: http://katawa-shoujo.com/

  19. noogai03 says:

    This is really good.
    What is 12channel about? It’s pointless!