One thing I really enjoyed in making MANIFEST was its relationship to fiction. Initially I wanted to “stick some fiction in it” just to make it less bland, less like it was obviously just a slot machine (the original idea, as I’ve said before, was pretty much entirely “slot machine for desires”). But of course once you start with fictional stuff, it’s always so alluring and fun.
I think the best choice I made with the game was to keep the fictional stuff as ambiguous as possible. And I mean that in every sense. That is, it’s clearly ambiguous to the reader – just little excerpts from a book you never read, mostly – but also to me. It’s a big time-saver if you don’t have to actually know the underlying fiction and thus write “from” it, but rather can just channel a general concept that seems plausible. So having invented “Romanov” and his document about the power of “desirons”, I left it at that and just wrote whatever I felt like when it came to quoting the book. I don’t know what the book is any more than you do – I guess it’s his diary or something? The point is that it almost doesn’t matter because you can fill in the blanks in a way that excites or interests or “does something to you” (even bores you!) as a player.
So it’s pleasing to me that that was both powerful from a fictional standpoint (ambiguity’s such a winner in terms of “allowing” the reader to do a lot of the interpretive dance, so to speak) but also from a practical standpoint: it was, dear reader, easy. And that’s a major concern for me at all times.
Beyond this, though, there’s another element that I discussed with Rilla a bit after “releasing” the game, which is the fictional status of the game itself. Because the game is presented as a kind of fictional object – a phone app from a different world than the one we actually inhabit. There’s something very nice about that weird status and it seems to me we should be seeing it far more often than we actually appear to? That is, games that aren’t just about other places/times, but purport to be from them. (This ties into ideas from design research such as “speculative design” and “design fiction” that are very interesting in their own right.)
So go make a game from another world, why don’t you?