don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story is somewhere in that murky territory between interaction fiction and a game. There are decisions to be made, and there are different outcomes, but for the most part, you aren't actually 'playing' or interacting in a large sense.
Which is its strength.
don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story examines quite a few issues, though the crux of the story is something that encompasses it all, while asking us to explore something new and yet not at all. You are to take on the role of a teacher, John, who has his own past, issues, and insecurities. At the same time, you are asked to see this through your own eyes, the game subtly hinting that it wants you to not be immersed in the story a few times.
Christine Love, the writer and coder, admits it is a spiritual successor to her previous work on Digitial: A Love Story, so fans of that might well be on the track to enjoying this, though it plays quite differently.
Also, because it is relevant to this site, it contains two same-sex relationships being explored, in a game where you are a teacher of students who are mostly aged sixteen or seventeen, with one being two years their junior. As you can imagine, it gets messy.
So, I will provide you with this link for a free interaction that will take you somewhere between one and two hours (I would recommend playing it in one sitting), and ask you to read on after that. This review does contain some spoilers, as fair warning (I would wrestle with this, but since it is asking of you time, not money, I don't feel horrible as long as I give a head's up). If you are not a fan of teen drama, well-used anime art style, or games where you aren't in control the entire time, I'm not sure the experience is for you, though I would probably suggest you give it a try anyway, but then again, I was rather engaged by the questions the story laid out for me.
This all takes place in 2027, which is somewhat significant. It's in the future, but not far enough away that we are estranged from it. While the game does seemingly have anachronisms (I highly doubt that the same internet language we use would be that unmodded in sixteen years), it's in a space where the game seems primarily directed at my generation: people who grew up without social networks their entire lives, but were aware of them in their late teens or early twenties. Therefore, asking us to learn another language is counterintuitive to speaking to us directly. At the same time, it is far enough that it isn't that hard to believe that the teens in the game live on a social network all the time, and that it is a part of their daily life.
It's not hard to conceive of it today, in fact, which is what's intriguing about such. This is because a large question is one of interaction in an online space, a question that is asked by some website writing advice or an editorial at minimum once a day. Toward the beginning the teacher asks his students what the word 'gentleman' means, and the fact that they struggle with answering gives clue as to how certain words' meanings can change, even when some just become ever more common.
In fact, one of the first messages you, as a teacher, will receive is that you have access to Amie, which is a Facebook/email service all the students use. You even have access to their personal messages sent to each other, but are asked to not reveal this to the students--which is where that strength in those non-interactive times lies. There's also 12channel (guess what that references!), where everyone posts anonymously, but the kids have strong enough personalities, and in some cases tones and styles of writing/speaking, that it's easy to pick out who of your classmates might be posting.
Therefore, given the emphasis on privacy, and being a teacher with access to their information is at the crux of most of the decisions you do actually make. Typically, these choices either acknowledge you know something about their personal lives, or work at keeping that under wraps. I imagine it also creates some moments where many of us would cringe and wince, though in retrospect, I can recall IMing friends similar messages about fantasies concerning a teacher or two (and still I blush as if they might read this). The notion of who has access to information becomes even more jarring for us, who are put in the position of having that authority.
Which is why, as a gay man, when I came across the storyline where the youngest boy, Akira, comes out to his best friend, I was somewhat concerned at how things would proceed. I've outlined my own experience with coming out in a digital world, but I cannot imagine coming out on a social network (I was already out by the time I started my LiveJournal in 2001), with people I see every day, or to whom I have some real life attachment. That's more and more the reality of how people can find out about these things (and considering old school friends who didn't know me as out are friending me these days on Facebook, it is something about which I do think). However, what followed was both reassuring and handled with a deft touch. It tackles issues of bullying, troublesome language, identity, and even feelings about gender, while clearly making it so that we know being gay isn't all that odd, but still used as an insult by people who will grasp at anything to get their way.
Therefore, the romance Akira starts with Nolan, the only other boy in your class, was all the more sweet when I got to see them struggle with their ideas of what a relationship is, how to communicate, and what to do in the face of bullying. As I said, the bullying isn't wholly contingent on their being a same-sex couple, so much as it is the efforts of an incredibly selfish girl's attempt at winning back her previous boyfriend. The language and tones used still paint this as a world that doesn't mean all is happy, and the way everything falls out, does at least show she is an exception in her attitude and how she approaches the issue. Even with how Akira comes out to his parents is endearing, but I believe I want to explicate that further in another post.
There's also a lesbian couple, who start the game off having just had a breakup. You, having access to certain information, can influence whether or not they get back together. The story is rather sweet, and held two opportunities for me to divorce myself from the role of teacher and want to both smack him as well as myself. One was when John, the teacher, talks about how he can't relate to Charlotte's problems because he's never been in her situation. His own language is muddled, and while I get he meant that Kendall isn't the type of girl with whom he has experience, he almost sounded as if he was saying because it was a lesbian relationship, he couldn't relate. John can be articulate, but when stressed, he loses that ability, and it's underscored a few times in the plot, when you check messages talking about how your students don't understand what just happened in class.
Then there's the second moment, where the two girls are getting a wee bit horny, and Charlotte sends Kendall some racy pictures. I've seen passing articles about sexting, with the naive assumption that teens and people in their twenties today don't commonly do such across any platform; I will add that considering sites like ManHunt, DudesNude, and such, I call it the norm, but that was my own experience coloring the interaction. The crux of the matter is that John, the teacher, can never access those pictures. Charlotte password protects the pictures so that John simply could not guess (theoretically, considering the hint given, he could find out in the school's registry, but the game doesn't allow that), so if you want to see the pictures, and you can, you have to do it as the player. The implications here were enough that made me wonder why I, a person who isn't sexually aroused by women of any age, wanted to see this. Was it because it was in the game, was I a voyeur, or had I just fallen into the lull of wanting to know everything about these characters' lives, even down to their sexy bits? Also, because some will ask, if you want to know, simply perform a Google search for 'Christine Love Kendall password' and I'm sure you'll find it.
Which is to say, Christine Love does give us access to that information, but completely outside the game, which became among the central themes to me by the end of the entire experience. What's laid out in the final chapter clearly asked me some questions about my own definitions, both socially and within the context of what makes a game, and where the two intersect. Socially, most of us wear masks in various forms (not necessarily to hide, but sometimes to highlight a specific personality trait, for instance), and with the advent of Myspace and Facebook, we're constantly being told we have to be very careful with that mask. We're told that mask has implications dependent on if we completely take it off or instead carefully tailor the information available.
What happens by the end of the game is that the definition of a social network has changed in terms of daily lives. What has not is the fact that we may use masks. What we find out is that definitions and societal expectations change, and we may be afraid of that. John is from my generation (a little younger, but within the demographic for whom I believe Love was aiming), and his struggle with his responsibilities is the one we're theoretically facing now, or are being told is one with which we should be struggling. Therefore, the ultimate message for me was that things change while they remain ever more the same. The classroom you walk into has seven distinct personalities, and in that group four can end up in same-sex relationships without an enormous fuss, for instance. At the same time, petty teen squabbles exist. Crushes on school teachers and how that can be uncomfortable exist. The general framework? That can change. Everything else? Is a matter of perception.
So, again, I would highly recommend you don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story.