The annual Interactive Fiction Competition is over now and Kicker placed a glorious 20th! In the world! (Out of 28!) Now I’m not here to grizzle about being misunderstood by the interactive fiction community, because the competition yielded some really interesting viewpoints on the game and a bunch of very accurate critiques of how the game was implemented. It was never a game built to win a competition, being made as utterly on my own terms as any other game I’ve produced. To a fault, one could possibly argue, but I like those faults, so. At any rate, now that the competition’s over I can post the game to the games page, which I’ve done, and I can comment a bit on what the point was.
What was the point again? Ah yes, the point was to make an interactive fiction sports game in which you weren’t “marked for glory” the entire time, as we so very often are in games. The initial idea sprung up from a conversation with Doug Wilson and Simon Christiansen about making a text adventure based on that excellent movie Zidane, in which the camera follows only Zinedine Zidane, no matter what he’s doing. Because I know very, very little about soccer, I went with the “football” I do know about, American Football, and the least glorified position of all, that of the kicker. That’s the setup.
From there it was mostly a matter of creating a detailed enough world for the kicker to exist in and, crucially, to not be very important in. I spent vast amounts of time implementing a not-very-good-but-not-awful background simulation of a game of football, complete with the ability to just watch the game take place, penalties, crowd reactions, subunits going on and off the field, and all that. The point being that the the “real” game goes on largely without you, which I found and still find quite a beautiful experience.
Along with the “real” game, I tried to implement as much “sideline” activity as I could stomach – and therein lies the major flaw of the game, in a way, because I simply couldn’t implement that much of it, leading many a player to complain “there’s not enough to do on the sidelines”. There are two replies to this. One is, “I know, I’m sorry, I’m just one guy”. The other is, “yeah, I know, and that’s at least to some extent the point – you’re not that important on the sidelines, so why would there be a whole lot of exciting stuff to do? Your teammates largely hate or ignore you, and you’re there to do your job not enjoy yourself. Jesus!”
Wherein lies the entire tension of the game. It’s a game about not having much to do, not being important, and only very rarely getting a chance to influence the actual “game” being played, which structures the entire experience. I was particularly pleased with the points system, in which you get exactly as many points as the kicker score during the game (which could be none, or three, or whatever), and when the game ends you win, lose, or draw based on how your team did, because it’s a team sport after all. I think there’s something good in that.
Ultimately, the game was a great big experiment that I’m pretty happy with. It’s not a fun game, obviously, but I think it does what it does with aplomb and its fundamental experience of being unimportant in the larger context of a game is well-conveyed. It’s just that people don’t like that experience all that much. Screw ’em.
As a coda, one deeply fascinating result of the game is that it has been interpreted as a commentary on being gay in a super macho sports environment. Which I have to say never crossed my mind a single time, but which I find incredibly rewarding as an interpretation. And also which helps, I think, to illustrate the power of words – how many highly visual games can allow for such a radically alternate interpretation of events? Ambiguity is king, as per usual. Further, it makes me wish I had beenthoughtful enough to include something like that in the game, and makes me wonder about doing something more along the lines of such “commentary” in the future.