Sunday, September 30, 2018

Review of "Plowing right through"


From a formal perspective, the parser based interactive fiction game Plowing right through reminded me of nothing so much as of Adam Cadre's Varicella. In that game, the player character is about to carry out a brilliant if nefarious plot that he has thought through perfectly, but the details of which are completely unknown to the player. Inevitably, the player will fail many times before finally coming to understand what the character he is playing has been wanting to do all the time.

In Plowing right through, we find ourselves in the cabin of a time machine, which has apparently already transported us back into the past. The only indication of the player character's identity is a little note in our possession that says: "Good luck Mitch!" Otherwise, we carry nothing but two extremely well-made latex masks depicting an adolescent man and a woman in her early thirties. You are otherwise given no information about the masks, and when you leave the time machine, you find yourself at a wild teenage party in a very posh home. What to do?

As often in this kind of game, the best information comes from dying. If you simply press the return button in the time machine, you travel back to 2018 and then learn that a man named Mark Judge has just been forced by the FBI to release a home video of a sexual assault, a video that dashes all your hopes of dashing all liberal hopes for a generation. Ignominious failure!

I will not spoil the main puzzle too much, but of course one must first wear the female mask (which, on second consideration, looks a lot like a young Hilary Clinton) and then the second mask over it (which one by now understands to be a precise likeness of an even younger mister Kavanaugh). If you pull off the Kavanaugh mask at the exact right moment during the ensuing scene, the home video shown in 2018 will reveal to all voters that the seeming Kavanaugh assault was actually performed by nobody else than Hilary Clinton, who already in the late 70's desired vengeance for her future loss to mister Trump. In the victorious ending she is, of course, locked up by the president, who is so overjoyed that he even lets Rod Rosenstein keep his job.

I have some major reservations about the game and especially about the fact that it treats a traumatic scenario full of real human pain as nothing but a setting for puzzle solving and cynical means-ends reasoning. But of course, this weakness is its strength, for the game is nothing if not true to its subject matter. Those of us who, in the backs of our minds, were trying very hard (and failing) to suppress the thought "I hope he did something really bad to her, because that might derail his nomination" are shown to be, in essence, identical to the Mitch character from the game. In this way, Plowing right through captures the central fact about contemporary U.S. politics: it makes you feel dirty.

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