So far, we’ve featured Hot Water and Legends of Charlemagne in our series about the winners of our public domain game jam, Gaming Like It’s 1924. This week, we’re taking a look at the winner of the Best Remix award, for the best game that incorporated material from multiple different newly-copyright-free works: 192X by designer Chloe Spears.
Several of the designers who entered this year’s jam incorporated themes related to remixing and the public domain in their games, and 192X is a stand-out in this regard. It’s a text-based interactive fiction built with the open-source tool Twine, and tells a story all about the way our popular culture is preserved, how it changes and gets parodied or reimagined, and how digital technology has impacted it — or, as Spears puts it in the game description, “about the art we leave behind for the future, and what we allow the future to do with it”. Replete with references to the 1924 novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin and George Gershwin’s 1924 composition Rhapsody In Blue, story is funny, engaging, and creative: it sends you back in time to a fictionalized dawn of computing (from a future made dystopian by ironfisted cultural restrictions that are worryingly close to today’s copyright reality), and then inside the Buster Keaton film Sherlock Jr. (a 1924 parody that serves as a springboard to even more contemplation of the public domain and specifically the great detective’s role within it).
If the story in the game sounds unclear to you so far, that’s because it’s difficult to summarize for all the right reasons — it’s quite short but contains a lot of carefully chosen elements, without anything that feels extraneous or arbitrary. Every reference and everything that happens ties back to the central theme of how we interact with art and culture, and the prose itself is snappy and entertaining. In other words: no more spoilers, just play it!
Speaking of play: the actual gameplay involved is very minimal, with most of the interactivity just advancing the story down a linear path, with one traditional game mechanic temporarily employed more as an amusing nod than as an actual challenge. But the basic interactivity wasn’t slapped on either, and meshes nicely with the overall design: the text prompts and careful timing combine with the use of color to effectively punctuate, organize, and enhance the story being told. The text-based game genre also enables the otherwise-rare second-person-perspective writing, addressing the reader as “you” throughout — and while it would only take a little bit of editing to make 192X work wonderfully as a short story, the writing is undoubtedly elevated by the game format.
Finally, kudos to Chloe Spears for not just exploring the idea of the public domain and mining it for material, but for expanding it by releasing 192X with a CC0 Public Domain Dedication!
You can play 192X in your browser on Itch, or check out the other submissions in our public domain game jam. And come back next week for the another winner spotlight!
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