Monday, 3 October 2016

IFComp 2016 reviews: The Mouse by Norbez

In which a uni student in small town America negotiates domestic abuse and violence from her roommate.

The Mouse feels like a comic book with the multimedia additions that computers bring: audio and music, dynamics of delay, a few choices. You click through its pages in a forwards direction, usually by the tail of the last sentence on each page. I think it's assured in its comic bookish sensibility, for instance with a fan of images of the heroine's domestic preparations going from left to right down the screen, or with its generally well-judged interplay of text and images. However, I was frustrated by the story framing and scale in general, and by the constant hesitance of the main character in dialogue and narration. Spoilers below.

The Mouse ultimately reveals the protagonist Evelyn's belief that the position of the abuser (Carrie) was reinforced by Carrie having always lived in the town, unlike outsidery Evelyn, and also because of the smallness of the town. Evelyn posits herself as a mouse of literature (eg Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH) but without the strength of such a mouse. Though there may be other similarities.

I mostly lost touch with the above ideas during the telling because I encountered only four characters: Evelyn, her wise sign-languaging friend Miss Dexter, Miss Dexter's angry son, and Carrie, a threatening antagonist who is rarely present. Considering these folk and the size of the game, and the fact that Miss Dexter is arguably an outsider as well, though one who radiates nothing but calm strength, the material can't really convey the social dimensions of a small town that might emphasise or de-emphasise any of the characters' sense of self. Actually, the separate introduction to the game, in which Evelyn muses about Dayner-Wayne University, fictional mice, eccentric professors and the remarkable actions of unremarkable people, conveys small-towners' concerns about small-townerism better than the game proper.

Evelyn is the sole narrator. We walk in her shoes, as she says. It's a strong voice in terms of writing consistency. Much of her narration is spent questioning her own actions and diverting her own sentences. I normally like this kind of inner psychological sparring, but not when it's so microscopically hesitant that it gets in the way of progression of the prose. There's lots of italicised text in The Mouse to indicate further questions and asides to the self in a stream of text already from the self. Their physical and literary effect on me was as if I was being pulled aside to read a footnote every few sentences.

When I did make choices, I always clicked the lines I thought would produce the most exposition about the abuse situation with Carrie. Evelyn already went in for so much evasiveness that the last thing I wanted to do was encourage more of her lip-chewing, especially if it was going to leave me pondering abstracts. I suspect this is a trap for this kind of game in general. Who wants to close down a story by choosing options that look likely to do so? I don't think The Mouse has many narrative strategies in place to make a player particularly interested in choosing the more blocking or self-sabotaging options for Evelyn.

1 comment:

  1. But that's the point! Try acting more Evelyn-like and you'll see.