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Word Games: Failbetter's Black Crown

Failbetter’s collection of ‘immersive fiction’ continues to grow via its Storynexus platform but I haven’t found anything in the collection quite as gripping as the bizarre demon-Dickensian sprawl of Fallen London. Until now! Black Crown, the first published work from author Rob Sherman, has found life as a Storynexus experiment thanks to a collaboration between Random House and Failbetter. It’s free to play, although some (presumably) optional branches require the purchase of Nex, the currency shared across the Storynexus platform. I’ve only spent an hour in the word labyrinth so far, but I’m hooked. As well as being adept at squeamish body horror, Sherman shows the mark of a supreme builder of strange worlds.

It will be interesting to see how this experiment plays out for Random House, as well as Sherman and Failbetter. The quality is certainly there and the often fractured descriptions and dialogues are well-suited to a computer screen, communicating through typography and mouseover text, along with the occasional graphic punctuation. I also find that there’s something paradoxically alienating about the interactive nature of the story. Somehow, the abstract and often bleak nature of the choices that it offers make me feel more restrained than the more obvious linearity of a series of pages to turn.

Best not to know too much, but do be aware that Black Crown may inspire queasiness. In the first hour it has managed to confront me with descriptions of injury and decay that make me feel uneasy, and has then perfectly described that uneasy feeling, thereby elevating it to ‘unnerving’. Impressive.

If you fancy something more lighthearted, this tale of canine gents may please.

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Adam Smith

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