Jan. 14th, 2017

rionaleonhart: the mentalist: lisbon, afraid but brave, makes an important call. (it's been an honour)
Played another hour or two of Oxenfree! I've just opened the gate to Adler's house.

I keep thinking about the dialogue choices in this game. When I play, Alex is a peacemaker. She worries about people and tries to see things from their point of view, even if she doesn't necessarily like them. She tries to get along with everyone, although she doesn't always succeed. She's inquisitive; she's interested in history; she can get excited about little things. She makes jokes to deflect serious conversations. She avoids talking about Michael if she can. She feels like such a complete, established character to me, and it's strange to think back on dialogue choices I turned down and realise I could have been playing her as apathetic and hostile the entire time.

The game's excellent voice acting helps. Whatever responses I choose for her seem to flow so naturally that it's hard to imagine she could have said anything else.

I'm also interested in 'Scrödinger's backstory' moments. Several hours into the game, Jonas asked whether I was religious. I said no. Up until that point, Alex's beliefs could have been anything, but the moment I picked 'no' she'd been an atheist all along. My Alex is a non-smoker because of a bad experience the last time she tried smoking. That's something that happened in the past, but it didn't become true until I declined Jonas's offer of a light. My decision in the present altered Alex's past.

Videogames are weird.

Another aspect of Oxenfree that's been playing on my mind is the moment where your reflection gives you advice for a later point in the game. Because it's not just the game giving you advice; it's an actual person. A PSN username shows up alongside your reflection. You see the dialogue options - 'do A', 'do B' - that the reflection is choosing from. The game makes it as clear as possible that the person giving you advice is a real person who's also playing this game, and that they're choosing to say what they do.

It's such an effective way of inducing paranoia. If my reflection had just given me advice, without the indication that there's a real person behind it, I'd have gone 'well, I suppose I'll take its advice!' But introducing a real person changes things. I don't know this person! Can I trust this person? Is this a helpful person trying to give me good advice, or is it a troll trying to lead me into disaster for their own amusement?

The possibilities I can think of:

- The other player knows that A is the right thing to do, and in saying 'do A' they're trying to help me. I should do A!
- The other player knows that A is a bad idea, and in saying 'do A' they're trying to screw up my playthrough. I shouldn't do A.
- The other player did B on their own playthrough, and something bad happened. They don't know whether A is good or bad, but they know that B is bad, so they're trying to give the best advice they can with limited knowledge. I should probably do A.
- The important question isn't whether I do A or B; it's whether I take the reflection's advice. The moment the reflection said 'do A', A became either the right or the wrong decision. The other player could be trying to give me good advice, but giving good advice isn't necessarily possible. I... either should or shouldn't do A, but I suspect I probably shouldn't.

I'm so fascinated by this game!