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November 3, 2006

EL236 The Big Mama: IF, by Karissa and Erin

Erin and I decided to play Brendan Barnwell's "The Big Mama." We chose this game after finding out that we couldn't get our first choice to play online.

The title doesn't mean what you think, trust me. "The Big Mama" is actually the Pacific Ocean. (So there ya go.) The game begins with a little bit of the author telling about the game and being a little silly in asking about color... This makes restarting the game annoying, but you could just press enter a couple times (which is what I did) to push through the prompts.

The story begins with a girl telling you that she's dumping you--and your name is Paul. Her reasons aren't clear, but she emphasizes that this is serious and that you're not who she thought you were...(You never find out the specific reasons for being dumped in the game, Erin and I have both concluded after each playing the game for about a half an hour+.)

The actual IF game begins with you walking down to the shore to see "The Big Mama." The playing field is left pretty wide open, so you can go just about anywhere--but if you can't, then the game usually has a good reason (like you can't walk through a wall, you can't climb the boardwalk, or you can't walk through a railing). Most of this game is spent typing in random directions to see where it takes you and who you can meet because the point of the game is interaction with the people you find near "The Big Mama." (The title doesn't end up pertaining to the story much more than just the location of the IF game, which seemed odd to me, but that's just because the story seemed a little weak even though it is well-written.)

There are also a lot of endings. The author doesn't reveal the number of endings. The ones that I found were 35 (with three different ways to get to it, and three different dialogues), 39, and 30. (I've pasted a couple of the endings in the extended entry of my blog.)

Both Erin and I were worried that, since the player character is a boy, that this story would end up being about hooking up with a girl (and I, personally, was really concerned about how the title was going to play into things). As it turns out, neither Erin nor I were able to be "suggestive" (to use Erin's phrasing) without the girl characters responding negatively. Here's what she said in our email conversation about the game:

Finally, I met a girl named Emily in a bikini that kept bending over, and I thought, "Oh no, is this going to be like San Andreas on X-box, where I'll have to be a purv and ask her for info on my ex, then take advantage of her?"

Alas, that was not the case. I said hi and asked if she was alone. She was flirty, but I remained a gentleman. I guess it's easier for us to do, since we are girls with brains. Then, it said I began a new phase of my life because I took a walk and held hands with Emily and that was it. I then went back to the game and tried a few more options to get different endings. When we played board games, the same thing happened. When I did say something suggestive, "You've been rejected!" was the ending. Basically, you can tell a woman wrote this game and I'm glad because I'm sick of games that exploit women. - Erin

I thought it was interesting that Erin assumed that the game was written by a woman (when the guy's name is Brendan Barnwell. Maybe Mr. Barnwell had a mother when he was a child, is all this suggests to me. That, or he respects women more than the average guy. Mr. Barnwell, wherever you are, thanks for this.

A couple of things about the game made me laugh. I've pasted parts of the transcript that correspond with the findings I mention below. Here's what I said in my email to Erin:

Two last random things: I'm not sure, but I think that the game might possibly keep track of what day of the week it is (because when I spoke to Emily she said she was just hanging out on a Thursday night!). CREEPY?! ... Also, I thought that it was interesting that the game used metric measurements. And when it said a sign in "miles," the character said something about them being stupid. Haha :) - Karissa

Finally, I had one opportunity to sort of "push the limits" of the game. When the description of the pier and directional choices are given, the script says "The main pier is to the south; the big mama is everywhere else." Here's what I typed:

>everywhere else
I don't understand that verb.

>go everywhere else
You can't go there that way.
You can't see whatever it is you're trying to refer to.

Oh well. I thought I'd try to be sly.

Overall, I was glad we chose this game for its simplicity. Who knows what we might have gotten ourselves into by going with our first choice (and actually being able to play it)... Regardless, Erin expressed her disappointment in the game:

Overall, I was kind of disappointed. While the descriptions were nice (the whole beach and the boardwalk), I couldn't seem to meet anyone but Emily. I was hoping to talk with some surfers, perhaps actually get to surf with Big Mama, and find out why "I" got dumped. -Erin

While, yes, I did get different endings and met other people I can't say that I was terribly impressed with the concept of the game. It was cool, and I enjoyed the freedom-within-limits that the game presented (this goes back to the "control" issue that we're discussing on Cherie's blog).

Read on for a little transcript of some of the things I mentioned in this entry.

Ending #30
"I'm just stunned by your generosity," you say. "I know you for two hours
and you let me into your house? That is so. . . kind."
"It's my pleasure," Emily replies. "I like having you here; I wanted you
to come, because I like you, and I didn't want to just sit there and let you
say goodbye. Was that wrong? Should I have waited? Should I have moved more
"Y --" you begin instinctively, but stop, and think. Where would you have
been if she hadn't moved so fast? Probably sitting at home alone or sitting on
the beach alone, or wandering the boardwalk alone, in any case consumed by your
own sadness. Whereas now. . . "No," you say firmly.
She grins. "I hoped not," she says, and takes your hand.

*** You have begun a new phase of your life. ***

[ This is ending #30. The total number of endings is a secret. ]

Ending #35 (there are three listings below of the different conversations that resulted in ending #35)
The Beach
1: "How long you been guarding lives?"
2: "You look pretty, uh, buff."
3: "I love the ocean."
What do you want to say to the lifeguard?

"I love the ocean," you say spontaneously.
This seems to strike a chord with the lifeguard. She looks over at you
and says, "Me too."
You look at each other, considering, for a moment, like two primordial
amoeba meeting in the prehistoric ocean that surrounded Pangea, and testing to
see if they are compatible. You test positive.
"I like you already -- what's your name?" she says.
"Paul," you say, shaking her sandy palm.
"I'm Christine," she says, "and I like you already, Paul."

*** Things are looking up. ***

[ This is ending #35. The total number of endings is a secret. ]
The Beach
1: "Sounds great."
2: "Man, I wish I had a job like that."
What do you want to say to the lifeguard?

"Sounds great," you reply.
"Yeah, I know," she says. "A lot of people think I'm loony or something
when I tell 'em I actually like spending almost every waking hour at the beach.
I mean, everybody likes the beach, but my friends think I'm wacko; I'm here,
like, 24/7."
"You sound like my kind of gal!" you say jokingly.
She chuckles. "Thanks." She sighs, then pauses. "You want to go get
some dinner or something?"
"Absolutely," you say.
And it only gets better from there.

*** Things are looking up. ***

[ This is ending #35. The total number of endings is a secret. ]
"Man," you say, "I wish I had a job like that."
"You know, now that you mention it," she replies, "there's actually an
opening. My partner, who's been working in this station --" she gestures at
the nearby lifeguard station "--just moved to Texas."
You almost don't hear the last part of her sentence. A job? Working at
the beach? All the time? Spending all your days with this girl? But then a
brief snag presents itself. "Well, geez, that sounds cool," you say, "but
don't you have someone else you'd rather have work the shift with you?"
"Nahhh," she says. "In fact, I was never really friends with my old
partner. I mean, she was just in it for the dough." She looks you in the eye
and says, "To be honest, I'd love having a partner who actually wanted to be
there -- you know, who actually liked the ocean. You wouldn't believe the fun
stuff you can find to do on a quiet day. . ."
"Say no more," you say. "Where do I sign up?"

*** Things are looking up. ***

[ This is ending #35. The total number of endings is a secret. ]

Ending #39
"You just like to sit and watch it?" you ask.
He nods. "I like it -- ocean. I lika billa cassel; then the wave come --
big one! -- hits it all down. Then, I billa 'nother. Wave hits that one too
-- now it's jussa pile of sand; all lumpy. Then I billa 'nother cassel --
better one. Every one cassel more betterer than the other cassel I arready
Plus I like to watcha wave. They come -- so fast! -- rush, I yoosta be
afraid they hit me down, even when I'm far away. But then, they hit the sand,
they fall. Can't go no more. They try -- see! --" he points to crashing wave,
indicating the stretching foam that reaches agonizingly for the dry sand, but
is pulled back into the water -- "--but the ocean, it pulzem back. They wanna
leave; wanna get out of the water; but they can't. Can't go nowhere, only back
inna ocean.
So I don't care; I don't. So what iffa wave hit down my cassel? He
dunno. He trying hard, hard to get away fromma ocean. I bilta 'nother cassel.
'S fun, bilta cassel. I like it."
You pause to make sure his soliloquy is over; then, rising from your
crouch beside his castle, you put your hands in your pockets and stare
contemplatively westward.
*** You have gleaned wisdom from the mouth of a babe. ***

[ This is ending #39. The total number of endings is a secret. ]

Does the game know what day it is?
"Not much," you say. "How about you?"
"Same," she says. "Just, y'know, kickin' it at the beach on a Thursday

You (Paul) don't like "imperial" measurements
The Beach
Here the glory of the public beach ends. A haughty sign proclaims
"Private beach: next 1.5 miles". "Stupid imperial measurement," you mutter, as
if that were all that bothered you. Sure, you could probably get away with
strolling through the private property, but you're not in the mood to embark on
a 2.5-km hike through enemy territory. To the west the big mama undulates,
comforting you. The monolithic rear wall of some eatery is to the east, devoid
of any doors or other orifices. The only legal exit is to the north.
There is a little boy here, building an unusual sandcastle.
The boy carefully smooths and shapes a tower on his castle.

Everywhere else is not a "place"
At one time, this little arm of the wharf held dozens of tiny tourist
traps -- ice cream for thrice what any sane person would pay; California
souvenirs made in China; tours offered in creaky rowboats and "guided" by
minimum-wage high school kids. After the earthquake knocked down most of the
buildings some 30-odd years ago, they weren't rebuilt. Now this part of the
pier has become a sort of quiet spot where intellectuals come to sit on the
wooden planks and think about intellectual stuff. The main pier is to the
south; the big mama is everywhere else.

Posted by KarissaKilgore at November 3, 2006 9:46 AM


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