The Reprover (Le Reprobateur)

The Force Between You and Temptation

System Requirements:
Win XP+ or OS X 10.2+/ 512MB RAM/ QuckTime
Fran├žois Coulon

The Reprover is a piece of art, and literature, in which the player/reader has the freedom to choose the order in which he experiences new passages. But there is no space for individual agency within the story, no way to make the narrative come out differently. There is also no challenge and no goal, other than the goal (certainly self-selected and individually defined) of getting an aesthetically satisfying experience out of the reading.

That description may make Reprover sound a lot like literary hypertext. I suppose it is, in the sense that you read a piece of the story (accompanied by drawings, music, and even video clips of the main character speaking), and then click on one of three connections to go to a new piece of the story. So the mechanism of linking is similar.

The experience of reading, however, is much different from that of reading most literary hypertext I've tried before. Many hypertexts are designed to give the reader little clue of what lies beyond a given link: to pick one path rather than another is often a largely random determination. Some hypertexts even conceal their links entirely until you mouse over the correct words, so that when you choose something to click on, you are kept partly ignorant of the other possibilities, the field of choices in which you make your decision.

The result can sometimes be a beautiful and unexpected juxtaposition of ideas, or a subtle working out of themes that become clear only through exploration. Quite often, though, I find -- and perhaps I am simply not yet a very good reader of hypertexts -- that the result is confusing and frustrating. In game design terms, the interface is obscure. As player/reader, I am making choices, but they are not meaningful choices, because I do not know where they will lead, or what my other options were. The resulting story often also partakes of this sense of randomness and indeterminacy. Some are designed so that there are no clear-cut endings, but it is also impossible to be sure you've seen everything, so the reader's motivation to end his session with the hypertext is not that he's achieved an ending, or because he's explored all the available elements of the story, but that he's gotten bored.

Any design that must culminate in the interactor getting bored is bad design.

The Reprover avoids many of these pitfalls. It provides a clear map of all the segments of the narrative, which means that it's possible for the reader to know when he's seen everything. Along the way, there are always exactly three choices of where to go next, and they are always obviously marked. It's also usually pretty comprehensible why a given link leads to a given bit of the story. The reader has enough freedom and enough control to come up with some goals for his interaction, and then carry them out.

Sometimes those are as simple as "find out what happened to this character" or "discover the details of this anecdote" -- reading goals, in other words, not goals about what should happen in the story -- but the fact that it's possible to formulate them and then act on them gives The Reprover a structure that is lacking in many formally similar pieces of work.

It might not quite qualify as a game, but whatever it is, it stands at the edge of game-ness, and offers us an intriguing and novel example of how interactive story can be done.

Ed.: The Reprover, unfortunately, has no demo, and is a commercial work. Normally, in keeping with our name, we cover only titles that you can download and play (if only in demo form) -- plus, on Tuesdays, tabletop games (which, except for some available as a free PDF, inherently can't be downloaded). However, we thought this worth covering anyway.