Succour And Shelter: The Spare Set

The Spare Set is a free Twine game, commissioned and hosted by the UK homelessness charity Shelter, and written by Rob ‘Black Crown‘ Sherman. It’s the story of a woman arriving home on a day when her life and that of her family is set to change dramatically. Based on the origin of the project, it’s easy to anticipate the general thrust of the narrative but the game’s interest lies in many tales rather than one. The house is a repository of memories, as houses tend to be, and I found one thread that resonated like a nightmare. It involves a spider called Jerome and is ludicrously similar to an experience in my own life. As for the rest, more thoughts below.

The framing of the story is occasionally cluttered but often very clever indeed. As mentioned earlier, The Spare Set’s origins block the possibility of some revelations (much is already revealed), but the role of the player and the particular nature of the storytelling are devices worth the time spent to comprehend them. Patience is required though. I spent more than an hour reading through the many stories, hunting for objects and pondering the meaning of certain details. Some of those details turn out to be great signifiers, others appear to be a background static.

Mid-way through, I started to skim through that static, eager to reach the meat of the story. If you reach the end, you’ll most likely realise why all of that skimming and zoning out has made me feel a little bit ashamed of myself. I don’t like to make apologies for apparent weaknesses in structure, and I think there are problems with the density of unchanging text in the central hubs of The Spare Set, but given my various reactions and how eerily and unpleasantly they reflect my occasional apathy or head in the sand approach to the plight of people close at hand…there’s an uncomfortable sense that the game may have exposed something a little rotten.

Stories of safety nets eroding and snapping aren’t easy to hear and the people who tell them first-hand aren’t defined by where they are at the time of greatest need. They’re defined by where they came from, where they will be next and everything that mattered along the way. The Spare Set seems to avoid the point that I expected it to make for so long, leading the player/reader in tiny circles in search of metaphorical jigsaw pieces, but that may be an honest way to portray the communication of helplessness and embarassment.

Over at Intfiction.org, there is a short forum thread for discussion of the game. It is introduced as follows:

Every 11 minutes in England, a family loses their home, usually through repossession. This is often as the result of forces outside their control; an accident at home or work, a job loss or other incident which means that they begin to find it extremely difficult to keep up with the payments on their home. In fact, the situation is so dire that many people, even if they do not know it, are only one paycheque away from losing their home.

Shelter provides expert advice and legal representation to families at risk of losing their homes, equipping them with the tools they need to keep their lives on track. ‘The Spare Set’ is a fictional story of a woman named Lucy, a home-owner, office worker and mother-of-two who is in just such a situation. Players can explore her life right up until the point at which the incident occurs, and how things steadily get worse after this fact.

Similar thoughts in video form.

The Spare Set sprawls and occasionally feels like a task to be fulfilled rather than a story to explore. I suspect the two things are intended to be one and the same, and the whole picture supports that view, but persistence is required to see that picture. Feedback is welcomed.

2 Comments

  1. caff says:

    I found the narrative quite engrossing – I could imagine someone relating the story. There seemed to be almost a game element at the start, but this breaks down almost like the emotions of the character reading the story.

    Unfortunately, I got stuck on the “selling the Holloway’s armchair” option, there seemed to be no way to get back to the list of choices before this, so I don’t think I made it to the end.

    But a sterling effort nonetheless, and gives a vivid picture of a family living on the breadline.

  2. Frank says:

    You almost lost me by opening with “is a free Twine game”, but that does sound interesting.