Pete Davison: Don’t Take It Personally, Babe

Posted on April 6, 2011 by

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The thing I like about games that are a bit off the beaten track is the fact that they’re not afraid to break with every gaming convention under the sun in order to try something a bit different. Objectively, sometimes they’re not great “games” in the traditional sense, but they are definitely worthwhile experiences that explore interesting new ways of telling stories.

One “author” who produces such games is Christine Love, who is fond of creating ren’ai titles. For the uninitiated, ren’ai games have strong plot elements of romantic love. They’re not necessarily dating sims or hentai games—though some are—but all of them have a narrative which explores love and emotions. Final Fantasy VIII, for example, is regarded as a ren’ai game. Stretching the definition somewhat, you could even argueSilent Hill 2 has elements of the genre.

The appropriately-named Love’s titles, however, are much more up-front about their intentions. Digital: A Love Story and the oddly-named Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story are two games which go about telling a ren’ai tale in similar, though markedly different fashions. Both of them revolve heavily around the use of technology and its role in interpersonal relations.

I’ll resist spoiling either of them, but I think they’re well worth exploring for anyone interested in the “visual novel” genre—anyone who liked games such as the Ace Attorney series, 999 or Hotel Dusk, for example.

Digital: A Love Story sits you at the desk of an Amiga (or rather, a non-copyright infringing equivalent) five minutes into the future of 1988. Purely by interacting with your computer and dialling up a number of virtual BBS systems, a genuinely compelling tale is told without any graphics whatsoever. You don’t “break character” for a single instant in the game, and it’s this gameplay “hook” that keeps you playing to see what’s going on. I’ll say nothing else, as that would spoil it. But it’s excellent—if only for nostalgia value. It happens to tell a good story, too.

Don’t Take It Personally… is a little different. Taking a more Japanese style to its art, it looks like a dating game, though it isn’t one. Casting players in the role of John Rook, a 38-year old double divorcee who came to high school teaching in 2027 as part of a mid-life crisis, it tells a tale which explores interpersonal and social issues that you don’t generally see in games. It’s a relatively simplistic visual novel in terms of gameplay, with only a few choices to make, but like Digital, it’s the story that matters. And it’s told in a very interesting way through three different “layers”. There’s the face-to-face action, where the player, as John, sees and hears what’s going on in front of him. John also has access to his students’ Facebook-like social network, though, and is able to read any of his students’ communications—even the private ones—giving an ethically-questionable insight into what they’re thinking and what is really going on behind the dramas that unfold. And thirdly, this game features possibly the only time you’ll ever see 4chan (sorry, “12channel”) being used as a Greek chorus.

Both games have a “message” and while Don’t Take It Personally in particular is a little heavy-handed with it towards the end, it’s cool to see games trying to say something a little more than the usual melodrama.

So check ’em out. They take, like, two hours at most each. And they’re free. You love free stuff, right?

 

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Posted in: Pete Davison