To be completely honest, I put off reading this story for a while because of the heavy subject matter — I thought a story about Alzheimer’s would be depressing and frankly wasn’t looking forward to such a downer experience. There’s no way to write about Alzheimer’s and not address themes of self-betrayal, loss of independence, and alienation of loved ones, but the approach makes all the difference.
A heavy handed story told from the perspective of a spouse or friend could come off as an emotionally exploitive made-for-TV LifeTime special, but this story is presented from the point of view of an affected, insightful individual, played out gradually, and not squeezed for maximum drama, but just described.
I have played a number of parser-based games by this author, but this is the first of his works in Twine that I have come across. If this is his first twine work, I would say that he hit the ground running, as the medium is well suited to this story.
[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]
The story starts strong, establishing Fred’s age and hinting through stutteringly displayed text that Fred’s cognition is not quite fluent. The effect is subtle at first and progresses, along with an effect where an inappropriate word is replaced after a user’s click with the appropriate word, suggesting incipient aphasia. Further on, there are more pauses, loss of attention, memory lacunae, and disorientation.
These are not just things happening to Fred, but transitively, to the player, so the experience is sympathy for someone else, but self-awareness that capabilities are being slowly compromised, annoyance, and even anger about the unavoidably evident and unavoidably downward course that the story must take.
The unreliability of the main character’s memory provides some interesting opportunities for storytelling. While Fred might not remember his past, by the end of the story, the reader has a pretty good portrait of his full life.
At one point, the story reaches an inflection point, which is conveyed by several effects: the text begins to advance on automatic, which imparts a sense of lost control. Hyperlinks fly by faster than the player can click them, giving the player an altered sense of time and emphasizing helplessness. Finally, cognitive function dips below the threshold of coherency and we get only fragments.
It is always hard to write endings, and since this story is told from the point of view of a character that literally has no mind left at the end, I was very satisfied with the use of a flashback for the final portion of the game.
Having spent so much time focusing on the end of Fred’s life, it puts things in perspective to see him in his prime, a time at which, ironically, strong memory was one of his defining characteristics.
A couple side notes from a technical point of view. The presentation includes some subtle conveniences which are appreciated: a progress tracking bar since this is a relatively long story and a widget to adjust contrast, since the backgrounds vary in color.
Finally — the acknowledgements bear evidence of how beneficial it is to have not only strong proof-readers, but concept reviewers and critical readers to really polish a story.
Preliminary Score: 9