Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story

The field of electronic entertainment didn't use to have nearly as many of the lush, well-developed stories that it does today.  You couldn't really tell much of a story when the highest graphic capabilities of your machines were little more than blocky lines on a screen.  In the late 1980s, Western developers like Sierra and Telltale began to discover ways to actually put the player into a story that made them an active part of it.  Monkey Island, Out of This World and others pioneered the "baby boom" of PC adventure games in the '80s and '90s.  Meanwhile, in Japan, some smaller developers were coming up with ideas on how to further develop the realm of interactive storytelling.  And, in the late '90s, the visual novel was born.  Visual novels gave sort of a middle ground between adventure games and books.  For the most part, the player is merely a spectator, but the story might occasionally provide you with a branch of choices that can ultimately have a large impact on the way it plays out.  In 2010, an independent developer named Christine Love took elements from both Eastern and Western adventure games when she made Digital: A Love Story, a tale of romance told through a 1980s bulletin board system.  About a month ago, she released don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story, taking the themes of sexuality and technology's role in our lives and giving them a whole new spin.

Rook on being a gentleman.
don't take it personally (Or DTIP, as I've now decided to call it) puts you in the role of John Rook, a twice-divorced, down-on-his-luck English teacher who happens to land a job at a prestigious Canadian private school in 2027.   School in the 2020's isn't quite the same as it is today.  Each student in your class is given a tablet for their schoolwork.  They all come with standard textbooks and e-paper for assignments, but they're also all connected to a program called "AmieConnect," a Facebook-like social networking system that the students can use to connect with each other.  But there's still one thing that hasn't changed 16 years into the future: annoying students.  Your class is small.  Very small.  In fact, you really only have 7 students you interact with throughout the course of the story.  Each has his/her own agenda, none of which John seems to be even remotely aware of.  However, on the first day of school, he unintentionally walks into an enormous, complex web of love and drama that he could never have imagined.

That's a lie.
The kids you meet in DTIP are almost as eccentric as their tangled love lives.  From Akira - the shy, gay kid from Japan - to Kendall - an annoying but caring student who spurts memes more often than she breathes - the personalities of the students are refreshingly varied, surprisingly human.  The story is set up in such a way where each character has their own chapter, something that I've always loved to see in literary works.  I do feel that John himself could have used a little more development, though.  There are little bits and scraps talking about his past, but I never felt like he evolved much over the course of the story.  I feel like he needed far more bits in the main plot than he was given to make up for the fact that he didn't have any sort of interaction in the AmieConnect side story to further develop his character.

As a teacher at the private school, John has access to a special version of AmieConnect that allows him to monitor every students actions on the system, from their public statuses to their private messages between each other.  If you want, you can let your notifications build up while advancing through the main story, but much like their tempting Facebook counterparts, they're pretty hard to ignore.  In a sense, DTIP has two separate storylines: An apparent one and a not-so-apparent one.  It's through the AmieConnect system that most of the bitter drama occurs.  It's John's job to act as a sort of neutral party, giving advice to others, but never taking sides (publicly, at least; some of his inner monologues tend to be far less sugar-coated than his external personality might suggest).  The idea of using this sort of social networking aspect as a way of developing the story - and character's personalities - is an interesting one, to be sure, but occasionally it feels more like it's preventing the flow of the story than anything.  I would like to be able to get through at least a full section of text without a surge of "dings" and notifications.

Something I felt a strange absence of in DTIP was the lack of choice.  I mean, sure, there were certainly instances where you could choose between a couple different ways to go about shaping a certain part of the story, but none of my choices really felt like they carried much bearing on the overall plot (save one regarding a relationship).  The other ones were mainly just small things, like changing a bit of dialogue here or there, but nothing truly significant.  Of course, according to Christine Love, this game was her first attempt at using choice as an element in the story.  I have to say, I did expect a little more out of the choice element, but I do hope Love decides to continue using it in her future endeavors.

All in all, I really enjoyed DTIP.  It's a powerful, intriguing, sometimes poignant story of teenage drama that manages to steer itself clear of many of the awful cliches associated with the subgenre.  There are certain elements that it could've certainly done without, such as some particularly...  over descriptive... portions (which Love herself has claimed were "painful to write" on her blog), the required "12chan" checking at the end of each day, and an ending that felt rushed and forced, but I can most certainly look past those, as Love has done an incredible job at exploring the controversial topics of sexuality and privacy in a way that will leave many players questioning DTIP's themes long after they've finished reading.

VERDICT: While I wouldn't say don't take it personally, babe is quite as innovative or interesting as Digital: A Love Story, it's still a well-written, powerful teen drama that deserves to be read through at least once.  There are some parts that are a bit awkwardly written, but overall, it's more than worth your time to download.


  1. I finished it, so I might go on about SPOILERS.

    Honestly, that Isabella part was kinda disturbing, and other than the HAHAshejustmoved revelation and that lady in a kimono making it a bit too obvious that it was a prank, it was interesting. Could've been better if it was real; Honestly, that sort of thing sounds a bit too serious for a joke to loosen up.

    The whole plotline of Arianna could've been a bit better like actually having more of a part other those too few scenes interacting with her. It didn't give off that creepiness that the author apparently intended, although that might've me just skimming through those real creepy descriptions of her and Rook and just reading on the parts where it seemed more like a platonic and "cute" kind. The ending of it seems kinda odd as well, there was the one where you stayed with her, and the one that goes "I walk away; Cue credits". Course, that's the one where Rook takes her offer; I usually don't replay games after being done so I haven't seen the other path(s).

    As for the ending, it really was just odd; It was just like having all the problems accumulated from the very beginning just disappear without much stress.

    But other than that, DTiP was enjoyable, and I'll probably check on the other games that you have reviewed.

  2. You definitely should! There are some great games on here, for sure. I agree with you about the ending. It honestly seemed a bit too rushed.