These days I’ve been reading / playing Choice of Robots quite a lot. I picked it up on a free app deal from Amazon some time ago but I’d forgotten about it. After I resurrected my Kindle Fire, I rediscovered my stash of unused and unplayed apps, Robots among them.
For what is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure game, Robots is surprisingly complex and compelling. It gives some interesting insight on how to make an interactive fiction game and games in general. It’s still a story on rails — given the limitations of the medium, that can’t be avoided — but it’s amazing how it almost transcends those limits.
The story is divided into pre-set arcs. You start out as a graduate student building a robot. You then build a company or become a bum. War breaks out between the United States and China. From there, there are main paths that can result: conquer Alaska, join the robot revolution, marry a robot, or transcend humanity into the robot consciousness. These rails besides, what makes it interesting is the journey from one arc to the other. That journey consists of interactions with different characters and the consequences of choices that you make. Some playthroughs, the characters become friends, sometimes they become enemies, and sometimes they become lovers.
The game mechanic is driven to a large extent by stats. Your robot grows along four different characteristics: Autonomy, Military, Empathy, and Grace. The stats dictate the path the story takes. Likewise, you can develop or sour your relationship with the other characters, also leading to consequences and story paths. Finally, you can play the game as a sensitive humanist, a war freak, or a complete loon. This affects your Humanity quality.
What drives the replayability is the concept of unlockable achievements. Achievements happen when you reach key points in the game, like getting your robot to sing, or replacing your arm with a gun, or conquering the world. For an obsessive compulsive like me, it’s reason enough to keep trying. Gotta catch ’em all!
Robots is said to have a word count of 300,000. That’s quite impressive. Even more so is how seamless it all fits as a complete story. There are plenty of nods to popular culture, all of which adds to the flavor of the experience. Robots was written by Kevin Gold, a computer scientist. Excellent, excellent work.
Speaking of Humanity, it’s a quality that I feel is starting to dwindle among Filipinos. The other day, I heard an official of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce said that the murders committed in the name of the “drug war” was acceptable “collateral damage.” Or words to that effect. Today I read about a journalist for the Washington Post who was sent a profanity-ridden Facebook (that damned Facebook!) comment by someone was supposed to be medical doctor from Manila. And, of course, the farce in congress, drawing testimony from alleged ‘drug lords’ in exchange for immunity, all to pin down and discredit an opponent.
All this is really distressing news. Every day I feel closer to despair. There seems to be no way out of this, save for an Act of God. But really, my problem is the people around me. People have become so hateful.
For instance, I used to follow the Twitter posts of my fellow teachers in Ateneo. I have since broken off. When they talk about national events, there is a tone of smugness and of arrogance. There is now the lack of civility. These are people I do not want to associate with.
Likewise, I am saddened by the stance that Ateneo has taken of late. Partner for Change indeed. All the talk of advocacies for the environment, for indigenous peoples, for development — suddenly they seem so hollow. Moreover, there seems to be a lack of dissenting opinions coming from the university. It has been absorbed into the hive mind. No, I am sorry, I am not going back.
It seems the coward’s way out, but as I wrote a month ago, when this madness was just starting, I said my strategy would be to hunker down and immerse myself in reading philosophy and literature. Taking stock now, I think it’s still the right strategy. The Philippines has gone mad and tragically Davao is at the forefront. There’s no arguing with fanatics, so my strategy is to insulate and innoculate, to hold fast to what is good, and to save my Humanity. Certainly I hope there will be enough to pass on for when we wake from this nightmare.