You're looking for a comic for your father. You don't think he's ever read one, and god knows why you picked a graphic novel over novelty socks or ties. But you're here anyway, at The Bookshelf Limbo, a short free game that asks you to explore your own relationship with yer da, through the harrowing mental gymnastics of gift-buying.
Released earlier this week, The Bookshelf Limbo is the latest piece from developers Destructeam. It's the second of theirs we've had on the site lately, after Kat highlighted the emotional labour of Behind Every Great One in this week's priceless play.
Like so many holidays before, you've found yourself scouring the shelves of a bookstore. Books are a safe enough gift, right? But what are you gonna pick? The Bookshelf Limbo asks which of you this gift is really for. Are you trying to mend bridges with the old man? Do you want to share something you're passionate about with him, or get something that'll hit his comfort zone? Is there something you badly need to tell him?
Do you really want to get a Scottish man in his fifties this lesbian table-tennis odyssey? That might just be a "you" thing.
Beyond reading the synopsis, you can check for reviews and online reviews. Regular critics and commenters pop up, revealing their personal tastes and biases over time. Of course, the script also second-guesses every paper you pick up. The art's a bit immature on this one. Oh, no, he'll find The Golden Derelict too complicated. Not that one, he already consumes enough garbage philosophy on Facebook. We're not getting the raunchy sex book, don't even start. Why couldn't you make this easy for me, give me 40 pages of a saltire-clad bloke riding a Harley-Davidson?
Destructeam themselves grace the covers of one of the books, complete with some self-deprecating online reviews. "Can't stand these pretentious f***s," writes a particularly spirited commenter. No need to be so harsh on yourselves, eh? Maybe it's time for the old man to get into free indie games.
It's a game that asks you to really grapple with familial relationships. It's not a game interested in telling one story - instead, you essentially choose your own baggage. What each title means to you, to your own history and relationships with family and loved ones. Importantly, the game never tells you why you're off looking for gifts. This isn't explicitly a birthday or Christmas. There's no phoning it in with some daft novelty.
In the end, I went with The Forensic Artist. It seemed like a decent enough thriller, one I figure. It's not really personal, but I reckon it'd be a good read. That's what books are really for, right?
The Bookshelf Limbo is free on Itch.io.