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.





8 responses to “Saturday Spotlight: Does the Sneaker Have to Matter?”

  1. @sw0llengoat Avatar


    *Disclaimer: This game doesn't suck. I did play it though. And the achievement wasn't added to my gamerscore. So maybe it does suck**.

    ** It doesn't.

    I can't in all honesty say that I confidently understood the underlying point of the game (if there is an intended particular interpretation), but then I didn't play Bioshock Infinite so that might be to be expected. Without reading your article first, I would have almost certainly interpreted it very differently.

    1. ShaunCG Avatar

      My interpretation may not be 'correct' (death of the author and that) but it makes sense to me! :)

      But yeah, this is certainly a game that rests on both having played Infinite and having read the eponymous article/interview.

    2. richardgoodness Avatar

      I'm sorry that the achievement did not get added to your gamerscore. If you can send in a photograph of the achievement to the mailing address in the manual, and allow four to fourteen weeks to go by, your achievement points will be mailed to you. Please include the original packaging UPC.

      For interpretation/meaning, there is a bit of an obnoxious "but I don't wanna color your interpretation, maaaaan, and I mean, it's about whatever you WANT it to be about", so yeah. There was a lot about Infinite which bothered me–it was kind of the moment where I was just Done With AAA. I commented about this here on the miner dig deep article–aj's article brought that to my attention–but Infinite was just loud and horrifying. I was one of those for whom the violence mitigated any good moments in the game. That particular achievement — lost weekend — is given when you kill a number of enemies when drunk, and that's just really stuck at me. So mostly these are intended to be a series of scenes that are in or implied by the game, but skewed–Elizabeth gets a range of possible feelings about the people around her rather than the plot-centric ones forced by the game, the guards are violent and scared and turning to substance abuse to handle their dangerous job, and the player character is a brutally violent sociopath who is regularly condemning people to some of the most torturesome and disturbing deaths all in the name of cheevos.

      I still feel like I haven't gotten quite to the heart of saying what I want to about the game, but this came close. Anyway thanks so much for playing and enjoying. The game I'm working on has a whole cheevo system–I believe I've planned eight plus a "you got all the cheevos!" cheevo.

      1. @sw0llengoat Avatar

        It's the violence in Bioshock Infinite that prevented me from playing it.

        Not that I am opposed to violence in games – I have no moral objections to it, I don't believe that it's base or crass by nature, and I thoroughly enjoy violent games. A few of us at AR made a list recently of our 'Games of the Generation' – looking back at that list now as a form of introspection, I see that 13 of my picks are exceptionally violent, 6 are casually violent, and only one features no violence of any kind (1 vs 100 was the bomb, yo).

        It's more that Bioshock Infinite seems to me like the kind of game that doesn't benefit from it. I'm interested in its world and its story and its politics. I imagine it as being like the newest Tomb Raider, which to me would have been improved ten-fold by an approximately 90% reduction in the number of enemies you are expected to fight.

        The choice of text adventure for your game is a good platform for the point I think you're making – the written word has the potential to be much more disturbing and 'real' in its depictions of exceptionally violent acts than the quick, repetitive, visual medium of an action game.

        Re: The achievement issue, I am obviously disappointed that its come to this, but I do appreciate you taking the time to offer support for this problem. I am currently unable to take photographs of abstract concepts due to the constraints of current scientific advancement, however I am capable of providing a photograph of myself crying next to an image of a number which could potentially be a higher number. I hope that this will suffice.

      2. Gregg B Avatar
        Gregg B

        So… was the substance abuse responsible for the death of his buddy? Or was it a possession vigor attack (hence his lack of control, the questioning of his actions and the inevitable 'Kill yourself')? Kudos for cornea milk too. Ick +1.

        I would have loved for you to address Elizabeth's reaction to Booker rummaging through bins and eating chocolate from them. Just after butchering someone. I totally wouldn't trust anyone who does that.

        Richard, you should include an option to disable cheevos and when you disable it you get a cheevo.

  2. richardgoodness Avatar

    Oh motherfucker I wrote this really lovely comment, then went to take a shower, and in the meantime I think the cat closed the browser window.

    The moral of this story is don't shower.

    I'm very sorry. I gotta go to work now.

    (In the shower I got an idea I'm using in my next game, so it isn't a total loss?)

  3. richardgoodness Avatar

    Okay, let's try again in a less longwinded way:

    Swoat, I think that's a great way of putting it, like, it's fine if they want to make a game about troubled rogue Booker DeWitt who has committed violent acts in the name of the lost causes that he finds himself embroiled in–and the storyline might focus on *him*, but the shock and the violence and the horror he inflicts upon the enemies brings it into Booker DeWitt, Fucking Psychopath territory. Have you played Drakengard? The first level, you slaughter a billion guards, Dynasty-Warriors style…and then in the following cutscene the other characters comment about how fucked up it is that someone they all know just slaughtered a billion guards, and they remain terrified of him the entire time. It's a remarkably serious treatment of an RPG protagonist, and it's one that Binfinite doesn't even really touch.

    Gregg–it's intended to be the possession vigor, which is what the slow taking over by the green text is representing. The substance abuse was kind of a riff explaining the equally extreme violence of the citizens–EVE is given the iconography of heroin addiction, and salts are a powdery substance, and I just pictured two bouncers snorting coke off each others' fists to make a quiet Wednesday night go a little faster. I still find that suicide thing disturbing.

    As for eye milk, so the two scenes of extreme violence–bashing the guard and bursting his eye, and getting the guard to kill his friend and then himself–this is about the fourth or fifth time I've tried to write an extended piece about Binfinite and the closest I'll come, and those scenes, in much longer form, actually, were there since pretty much the first version. Yeah, you're right, Swoat–in the interactive format, a little actually does go a LONG way, I originally had them as long, flowing paragraphs within a piece that had otherwise somewhat choppy writing, but just a couple of scenes in the Twine got the effect across. But anyway–eye milk, which freaks me the hell out as well, ended up becoming one of these recurring motifs, there was even a boiling variety during an extended description of the fireball vigor, and I remember there was some sort of VERY specific payoff that I had in the end but I'll be damned if I can remember what it is. Anyway, it is very good for the world that I decided against it.

    As for the cheevo issues: The solution of the photo of a number is an excellent suggestion, but I'll caution that numbers less than 5 actually aren't covered under your warranty, and actually if it's a 9, we aren't gonna send you a new one but we're just going to repair the original cheevo, which will take up to six months; in the meantime we can give you a loaner cheevo.

    And I like that: I'm actually gonna be putting a full-on cheevo system into the thing I'm working on now for FEAR OF TWINE which is the twine exhibition I am holding that you should enter or at least have some interest in (reference:, and I kind of like the idea of the first thing being "Would you like cheevos yes/no", and you hit "no" and then a cheevo pops up. Either that or I'm going to make a settings menu with that as the only setting. (I think one-option settings menus are hilarious).

    1. Gregg B Avatar
      Gregg B

      Thanks for the response, very interesting! Nice to know that about Drakengard too. Always found it amazing how Liz could take Booker so seriously when he was killing people left right and centre (and sometimes so violently), eating stuff out of bins and gallivanting off in random directions with a total disregard to the matters at hand.