Today, and over the next few days, I am going to be doing something different. I am going to take a look at a game I have enjoyed and discuss it. I feel the game has gone overlooked by bloggers, particularly those looking for a good indie game that casts a critical look on the future. The game is called Technobabylon, and it currently has three parts (with one on the way), so I will be making three posts (and another when the next one comes out). I bet you’re wondering, “What the hell is Thechnobabylon?” and I don’t blame you for not knowing what it is. Technobabylon is an indie adventure game made by a person under the name of Technocrat. It can be found on the Adventure Game Studio [AGS] games page (here). It like a number of games found on that website, are often overlooked, most of the gaming community don’t even know they exist. Technobabylon owns some fame to regulars of the AGS site, as it was recently picked as a game of the month (for November 2010), but it still has only a few looks at the game outside of the site. The following may contain spoilers, and I’m not going to try to beat around the bush trying to keep spoilers from you. Play the game first and then read. At this time I have played the first and second parts, but not the third. I will try to confine myself to as if I had only played the first part for this post, and then expound on the first part when I get to the second part (provided there are connections, and trust me, there are).
Part I of Technobabylon is a short, one-room style adventure game. Further, the goal of the game is akin to escape-the-room games, meaning the player’s task is to leave some sort of trapped environment that is contained in essentially one room’s worth of space. Part I is appropriately subtitled, “The Prisoner of Fate”. The game begins with a dialogue between two unseen speakers who are talking about “her” who has disrupted some plan just by her very existence. They mention dispatching their agent to deal with “her”. At first, I thought that we were going to play the role of this agent, but this quickly becomes obviously wrong as the player is presented Latha, this game’s main character.
Latha introduces herself by ranting about how she loves Trance, and how others should accept the inevitability of Trance. Trance is one of Technobabylon’s conceits for the science fiction theme, and it is the one emphasized by Part I. Transe is a state of suspended consciousness where one’s mind is directly connected to a network of other minds. It is the embodied internet. Latha is a Trance junkie. She lives in government-provided low-income housing, does not work (and has not for two years it seems), and her sole activity is to lay in her bed and Trance the hours away. She remarks a few times in Part I that she eats only every few days, just whatever is needed for her to get back into Trance.
The problem for Latha is that when the game begins, Latha’s Trance machine, and her whole provided apartment, becomes disconnected. She can still enter her machine, but she is cut off from the neural network that she so desires. The problem intensifies when you have Latha try to open the door (to fetch the building manager). The player is presented with the following reflections:
“The door was supposed to open — it should have understood the context of you standing by the terminal.”
Latha: “Door – Open. Alright we’ll try it your way. Contact – building manager. What’s going on, how did it lose the connection? I’m…trapped?”
“You feel even more disturbed. Problems like these just aren’t supposed to happen to you.”
For some reason, this exchange really spoke to me. It really tells you something about who Latha is and how she sees the world. To Latha, only Latha is important, particularly Latha when in Trance. This is reinforced later when you read her cached e-mail. Not only does she have only one person who has tried to get her to come out and socialize (which she scoffs at), but Latha won’t even go to the lobby of her own building to meet with people, preferring to meet up while Tranced. Latha is the most important person to Latha, but to most others, she’s a bit of an outcast. In addition to this, as you perform the various tasks of the game to open the door, it becomes clear that Trancing has left Latha physically weak.
The gameplay of Technobabylon is somewhat straightforward. You connect to the two appliances in the room, the door panel and food processor, and use the two internal personalities against each other. I did say this had spoilers, right? I’m not interested in the gameplay of Technobabylon so much as I am in the conceit and story. Part I of Technobabylon is about the dangers of addiction. A quick look around the room can easily tell what Trancing has done to Latha. Physically weak, uncertain what to do in a physical emergency, the feeling of withdrawal setting in. Latha is trapped in her room, but also trapped in her life. And there are others like her. She lives in a skyscraper of low-income housing, and that’s all she can see if she looked out the window. Technobabylon has taken addiction to the extreme to examine it in close detail. Sure, Latha is alive, but what kind of life is this, and why isn’t anyone doing anything to help her?
Perhaps the best thing for her is to force her to go out into the world (I sense an allegory of the cave here). Fortunately, Part I does just that. Part II will depart from Latha’s life, and explore the world and its other conceits through different eyes. Will Latha be seen again, or is she gone for good?