As the great storm St Jude bore down on us here at wasduk HQ, we did the only thing that seemed reasonable. Download a ton of free Indie games and hunkered down. The storm may not have actually shown itself, but we still have the games, so we hunkered down anyway!
“don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story” is a free-to-download visual novel, charting the stories of several teenagers, exploring themes of adolescent sexuality/homosexuality, social networking and privacy (or rather the lack of it).
You play as John Rook, recently-appointed literature teacher at a prestigious high school. On his first day, John is given complete access to his students ‘Amie’ accounts (basically Facebook), giving you utter freedom to observe your students’ interaction; private and public.
The game can be played in about an hour/hour and a half and is broken into seven chapters, each of which deals with a different student in your class and their individual story. As each chapter unfolds, you get immediate (and thus constant) notifications when any one of your students does anything on Amie and you can check it as often as you like. And boy, how often you will check it even without the game prompting you! Your choices in the game are inherently coloured by the fact that you know more about situations than the students think you do, but this in turn presents the dilemma of whether you act on information you, in all good conscience, should not have looked at.
I did not expect to enjoy this game half as much as I did. Coming of age stories or adolescent sexual awakenings are not my cup of tea (unless they star Anne Hathaway as a princess, in which case fuck you). Yet in this instance the characters are extremely well-developed and the way in which they interact over social media is so completely identifiable it was impossible not to enjoy it. Chances are you’re with me when I say we all have a friend who puts attention seeking statuses up, and we all have a friend who sees social media as another opportunity to troll and we’ve all been involved in a conversation that has at some point delved into the realms of ‘OMG, did you see what X put on their wall?’
The story-telling in this visual novel is superb, and there are many parts that are supposed to make you feel uncomfortable, which isn’t surprising given the sheer voyeuristic nature of the gameplay. At one point two of your students engage in the exchange of nude photographs of each other, but the pictures are password protected and the password is unavailable in the game. It is, however, freely available on the developer’s website, but you have to search for it. You, as the player, are taking time out of the game to search for a password so you can look at pictures of naked teenage girls, not the character. There are many moments in the game where you can stop, look at your actions and think “wait…wtf am I doing?!”
The narrative also weaves elements of meta-fiction to parody the particular dilemma John faces in each chapter. In a very clever device, your choice of literature to study and the use of a 4chan-esque Anonymous image board is utilised to foreshadow your potential decisions, making you consider alternatives. On a few occasions I knew I was set upon an action before a post on
4chan 12connect actually made me reconsider.
It is an extremely clever game that deals with surprisingly relevant concepts through the increasingly familiar medium of social networking. Ultimately, the crowning achievement is the moment when you realise that, actually, this isn’t your story. You are a vehicle to explore the stories of the students. You aren’t actually the important one.
There are three potential endings and although the replay value is somewhat coloured by the fact that you’ve read a lot of the social interplay before, it is still worth playing and replaying to explore the different options, and every now and then take a moment to look at yourself and wonder how many different ways you have taken advantage of a number of your students.
“don’t take it personally babe…” was released in 2011 by Christine Love and is free to download HERE.