games i wish i’d written: fallen london

Okay. I’m percolating thoughts about culture war rhetoric, particularly as it appears in online ludic spaces. That’s a lot to process. It’s gonna take a while–more time, I’m afraid, than there is between ‘right now’ and ‘the deadline for this assignment’.

In the interests of meeting the assignment word count in a timely and topical fashion, please allow me to introduce the first instalment of *chiptunes fanfare* Games I Wish I’d Written!

First up: Fallen London, a Failbetter Games, uh, game. Wikipedia calls it ‘a browser-based choose-your-own-adventure game set in “Fallen London”, an alternative Victorian London with gothic overtones.’

Why do I wish I’d written it? I’ll give you five reasons, each of them tailored to Fallen London’s digital aspects. This blog post is for Writing and Editing for Digital Media, after all.

  1. It’s delightfully atmospheric. Because the game is browser based, the player navigates storylets set in various parts of London by click-through buttons on a stylised map. Lush, descriptive prose grounds the game in its Neathy setting (London is now ‘the Fifth City’ and has been stolen away to ‘the Neath’, as in underneath the surface). Moody browns and greys set the game’s tone, and each individual location’s image header has a distinct graphic and colour scheme.
  2. It gives the player a substantial amount of agency. Four main attributes–Persuasive, Watchful, Shadowy and Dangerous–determine a player’s likelihood of succeeding at any particular action, and the player is given those odds before undertaking an action. Most challenges are written such that only one attribute is tested at a time, and the player can choose which of the four attributes they would like to work on by ‘travelling to’ (i.e. clicking through the icon of) an area associated with it.
  3. It leaves room for chance. The player’s ten-card Opportunity Deck deals out storylets largely at random, although some cards are only available in certain locations. The player can discard, play or hold on to most of the cards, many of which contain actions whose success or failure will be ‘A matter of luck–it could go either way’ (or, for the bold of heart, ‘the odds are strongly against you here’). These elements help to differentiate Fallen London from a non-game interactive text.
  4. It tracks the player’s choices so that they meaningfully accumulate. Many storylets contain options that become available based on the player’s previous actions. For instance, a storyline involving a dubious character called ‘the Cheesemonger’ can resolve in several widely divergent ways, and the player’s choices will determine whether particular career options and their accompanying storylets will be available to the character. The system isn’t perfect–periodically, a non-player character that a player character has murdered will crop up in a storylet very much alive, which tends to cause momentary confusion–but it is good.
  5. It is fastidiously edited and aggressively literary. The game’s copy is well edited. Its dream qualities and their storylines are based on the five section titles of T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’. Words like ‘Chiropterochronometry’ are made up and deployed with no hesitation whatsoever. This writing is confident and crisp, and I would count myself lucky to produce something this excellent someday.

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