Sunday, October 5, 2014

IFComp 2414 - Begscape, by Porpentine

Begscape is a WB game in which you play the role - as suspected - of a beggar trying to survive the day on the streets.

Very cut-with-an-axe, the main character shouldn't be considered a real, profound one. We have no motivation (what has happened?), no purpose (when do we win?), no identity (what's our story?). On the contrary, our beggar has to be intended as a metaphor of a much wider set of humans, each with similar difficulties in facing hunger, lack of respect, overall bad luck (of sorts). The kind of people anybody can discover being, in spite of himself: hopeless.

The mechanics of the game are simple and straight-to-the-point. We keep clicking on the same hyperlink (this is soooo much what people complain about WB games, still soooo much necessary to the story!), hoping for something good to happen. We try and survive the longest possibile, ultimately dying of famine in twenty turns, tops. After a while, the "game" itself becomes so boring you run away in fear...

... and it's then that you understand the point of it all.

What if I was in the same situation? In real life, you know, there is no off-button. The only exit, is the last one. What if I had to beg to survive, had to endure the spits, the hemorrhage of insults, the mob pushing me away because they are uncomfortable with my presence? What could I do?

The answer this game gives pretty much sums up to: nothing. You just keep hitting the button, or the streets, until this absent-minded god decides the game is over. Or we do.

Honestly, if this game was not from acclaimed Porpentine, I would have thought it was a troll entry. (This tells a lot about our expectations in videogames or narration itself. Tells a lot about why editors and publishers work as they do, and how hard it is for newcomers to reach the wider audience. I myself am one, struggling to be heard from the literary circles, and begging - everyday - for somebody to read my manuscripts. This tells a lot, also, about how wonderful the IF community is, and welcoming. But this is tangential.) Knowing how much content to expect, I was more open-minded and received a lot more than it was possible from Begscape.

Having us live the repeating nightmare of a beggar (again: a very chunky beggar but, for the sake of letting a message pass through, this was necessary), cursing the game for cutting us down of 5 coins just when we got enough to buy a night of food and sleep, randomly insulting or robbing us, Begscape succeeds in letting us understand a generic mood that could apply to a very wide range of situations. Up to us to link the feeling to our personal experiences.

The prose is effective and works like a Turner painting, turned upside-down. Above (where in a Turner it would have been below), the brilliant, evocative description of fairy places. Below (the darkness usually engulfing many of the painter's masterworks) a set of arid actions around which our life turns. After a while, you completely stop looking at the beautiful descriptions - half because of the repetition in gameplay, half because of what you do care for: survival - and simply bounce from an ordeal to the next until your life's gone.


If one wants to have fun, this game is to be avoided. The mix between concept, game mechanics and theme makes it for a punch to the stomach, although not so intense as in previous works by the same author. Technically, a brief experience -- maybe too brief to be recorded, or recommended. But, while I would deem it not-right for the IFComp, I understand that the same statement would have passed by, no one noticing it if exposed elsewhere. And, you see, being ignored is the first of a beggar's problems.


Emily Short received far more input from this game. I suppose it depends on one's experiences and empathy. You should take a read there, too.

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