Monday, December 3, 2012

Emancipation by Jake Care

Emancipation was a very interesting entry with a lot of experimental elements, which I strongly approve of.

Like the other "false reality" entries this year, I felt like it suffered from not completely making sense until you get to the big reveal at the end. To be fair, I think Emancipation might have been better about this than the others, in that at least you do have a complete vision of the world and your character, it just turns out to be incorrect. In Day of Dissonance, you have some idea of your character, and some idea of the setting, but it still feels very jarring and unexpected to be suddenly escaping from a burning hospital and making wierd decisions that don't seem character relevant (put on a ninja costume? what?) and then there's these bloody footprints, and suddenly you're in a B horror movie. Your head spins. In A Knight's Trial, there is actually no sense at all of who your character is, what the world is like, or what your character motivations are. If someone read this who didn't know the Camelot myths, they would have no idea what was going on at all.

Contrasted with those, Emancipation gives you a very clear setting: You're in hell. And a very clear character goal: Get Out. Both of those are important elements which the other False Reality books failed to deliver. On the other hand, while it at least gives you those elements, I for one did not find that premise especially compelling. Like the other false reality stories, I didn't really enjoy it much until I found the twist at the end.

I also think that Emancipation in particular suffers from being so short. I know Jake Care has a particular fondness for short gamebooks--on his blog, he frequently posts experimental "one page" gamebooks--but in this format, where all the other entrants are taking full advantage of the space allotted, it's a self-limitation to make Emancipation so short, and the story suffers for it. It just doesn't have time to really take off.

One thing I did appreciate about Emancipation was the clever use of the items. This is actually the first time I've seen an item mechanic like this (although there were several others using it in this year's Windhammer lineup) and it impressed the hell out of me. For those who haven't read it yet, the mechanic is basically: use any item at any time by adding the number of the item to your current section number. Flip there to see if it does anything.

What I like about this is that it gives the world a sense of real interactivity. You are free to think and explore and experiment. You have to ask yourself, "can any of these items be used right here right now," and use your own innovation rather than completely relying on the author to spoon-feed you choices. On the flip side, the potential disadvantage is that it could open the doors to spoilers, say if you flip to a page that's not a correct use of the item and happen to see a secret revealed there.

At the end of the day, Emancipation is a clever thought experiment, and has some clever mechanics and a clever twist, but it's just not that much fun. This is true of all of the False Reality stories this year, which really raises a strong question for me: can a "false reality" tale be engaging before the big reveal? If so, what would it take?

I would really like to see this happen.


  1. Emancipation was a false-reality story? I don't think I knew that. I remember playing through twice and getting two different endings--one where a demon killed me (I think it split me in half or something) and one where I used a knife to kill a demon and escape from hell. I'll have to play through again and see if I can get the big reveal.

    I did think the item system was pretty awesome. I think Jake handled it a little better, though, in his latest short gamebook, Eternal:

    I do wish it had been longer, though. It was cool to see what could be done with less than 30 sections, but I would have liked to see more and dive further into the story and the character. I was pretty disappointed, for example, when I escaped and got a paragraph essentially telling me, "Well, you're free. You're going to spend the rest of your life avoiding the demons." Um... hurray, I guess? I can't get at least a little more of the chase scene? Maybe explore ways to hide from or eliminate the demon threat? I feel like escaping should have opened a whole new chapter in the game, instead of just abruptly ending things.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Ashton! Looking back I do agree that Emancipation is deeply in need of more engaging elements to keep the story exciting before the "big reveal". Also I do intend to try some adventures on a larger scale in the future, providing more places to explore, more background to discover, etc. I'm glad that you did at least like the twist and the mechanics :)
    As for Kurth's comment about feeling disappointed with the ending, that was the point; In Emancipation there was "one true ending" while the others were designed to give you the feeling that something was missing. I do agree that Eternal did a better job with the items though.
    Perhaps I'll try and create Ashton's "engaging false reality" at some point. In any case, thank you all for the feedback, cheers!