Saturday Spotlight: Does the Sneaker Have to Matter?

Does the Sneaker Have to Matter is a Twine game based on Bioshock Infinite written by Richard Goodness. Goodness has, of late, been creating quite a few small Twine games, mostly designed to pass commentary on this or that aspect of gaming culture or industry.

Twine, for those not in the know, is a relatively new platform for the creation of text-based games. I’ve only played half a dozen Twine games but in my experience they’re much like hypertext-based choose your own adventure games; interactive stories, basically, that allow players to explore stories via branching paths and sometimes looping narratives.

Does the Sneaker Have to Matter takes advantage of the latter trick to pass commentary on Bioshock Infinite’s striking tonal dissonance. It’s among the more concise responses to the manner in which Infinite’s narrative attempts to impart an emotionally affecting character-based tale at the same time as Infinite’s gameplay is imparting what nowadays might be described as a visceral first-person experience.

This brief game is of interest to anyone who has been exploring the (substantial) critical response to what will probably be the most discussed game of 2013. Any readers who count themselves among that grouping may recognise the title as quoting Tom Bissell in a Grantland interview with Ken Levine:

I love that you can keep adding details, keep adding detail in a way that in a movie — because in a movie, you basically have X number of frames at the end. If your movie’s an hour and fifty minutes, you’ve got to use every frame of that. And if you know anything about films, you know one of the worst things — I’m sure you’ve had this experience learning about screenwriting and the structure of films — is you realize that if they show you that sneaker in the corner of the room, that sneaker’s going to matter. They don’t have any time for it not to matter. It has to matter. And that’s depressing. Because you’re like, “Oh, shit. I guess that sneaker’s going to come into play.” Whereas if you don’t know film, it’s like, “Oh, a sneaker! Cool.” Games are still in a place where you can say, “Oh, a sneaker! Cool.”

A brief spoiler warning feels obligatory at this point, because I want to mention what I read as Goodness’s response to this comment from Levine in the context of Bioshock Infinite. It’s not something that takes long to explain. In essence it is that alongside small details like sneakers we apparently count the blood and bone and gore of the hundreds and hundreds of human beings whom the player’s avatar slaughters on their route through Infinite, but we do not count their internal lives, hopes, fears, loves and friendships.

This is of course not something unique to Infinite, but it undermines any attempt to place the game amid a pantheon of Gaming’s Great Narratives.

You may disagree; do try Does the Sneaker Have to Matter for yourself if you’ve not already.