Choice is but an illusion.
How do you make an interactive fiction where your sole mechanic is choice, that is also in itself a musing on the illusion of choice? Well, Greg Buchanan and a whole host of other creatives (Adam Coburn, Seb Peters, Matt Nichols, Cherie Davidson, Anthony Gambino, Tanya DePass & Gary Kings, to be exact) have managed to tackle just that in an hours worth of gameplay. American Election, playable free at itch.io, is a haunting, emotional and immersive experience for this reason, and you really don’t want to miss it.
Using second-person narration throughout, American Election casts you as Abigail Thoreau. She’s a campaign assistant, operating within a sort-of parallel reality, where she assistants the Republican presidential candidate Truman Glass. The differences between our world and Thoreau’s are thinly veiled, and the closeness of our world to her’s makes the experience all the more chilling. An unlikely presidential winner, and previous TV personality, throughout the narrative Glass draws closer to success, knocking down those in his path, and manipulating those at his side. Thoreau is embroiled in the twisting of his and her fate, not sure of any choice she makes. She’s trapped within them, repeatedly stating ‘you made your choices’ as if her decline into hellish situations was predetermined, inevitable. The impact of player choice moves uncomfortably between weighty and illusionary, the story forging on ahead without us, regardless of us, but our fingerprints there all the same.
The story is presented in a simple scroll of text, narrative choices occasionally shaking to show Thoreau’s fear. Accompanying is light, ominous music, which does a great deal to set the mood and kept me feeling tense throughout.
It resolves how we might expect, seeing as we already know the answer to the story, but the journey of getting there is certainly not pedestrian. It’s thought-provoking in a sense that I actually mean it makes you sit and ponder in a horrified manner, not just that its clever. It’s available to play on itch.io right now. It’ll probably scare you more than Blair Witch.
Kate has been gaming since she could control a mouse. In addition to having a penchant for indie games, Kate had a World of Warcraft account when she was far too young, and has a weakness for any game with ‘RPG’ in the description.