The Urge (IFComp 2014)

The Urge insists it isn’t a game, and I agree. That honesty is one of its only redeeming qualities.

It’s a minimally interactive story about a serial killer who works at Walmart, sizing up customers as victims and then torturing them in a “container” (a shack?) in the woods. One day he encounters a woman who, to his surprise, he doesn’t want to kill. Instead, he falls in love with her. Everything’s awesome for about one page. Time elapses, he gets bored with the relationship, and he kills her cousin to spice things up. She gets suspicious, and in the end he must choose whether to kill her as well or to take his own life.

It has gory themes that some might find disturbing or unsettling, but I have a strong stomach, and anyway the torture is mostly only described in the form of instructional cards detached from the narrative. Still, I was groaning the whole time I played this, because it’s just so cheesy. Imagine one of the early seasons of Dexter if the main character were played by a melodramatic middle schooler, punctuating his stream-of-consciousness narration with cryptic attempts at poetry. THE URGE TO TORTURE ANOTHER GUEST GROWS STRONGER! O, EXISTENTIAL AGONY!

As a work of interactive fiction, it’s only slightly more deserving of that title than Moby-Dick. Twine can be used effectively, but this isn’t one of those times. The interactivity consists almost entirely of clicking the last line of text to read the next page; I think the only choice that had any impact on the story was the one at the end. There are occasional “dynamic” elements, like words popping into the middle of sentences, but most of them are simply delays before you can read a line or turn the page. At one point a conversation and its subtext (I guess?) were presented in corresponding halves of the page, with each conversation needing to be advanced separately; the lower one was identical to the upper one except for some substituted words, and it wasn’t clear how this was supposed to be experienced.

As a novella, it’s meandering and cliched and could’ve used an editor. It could’ve used a proofreader and typographer, too: it randomly mixes curly quotes and straight quotes, it uses All The Fonts, some lines break awkwardly when zoomed in, and the prose… well, English isn’t the author’s first language so I should be forgiving, but even an automated grammar checker would’ve helped a lot.

On the bright side, I got through it in an hour and felt no need to spend any more time on it.