Optimization may be officially dead to me. A bug introduced in the last iOS update has caused the app to freeze on the start screen, rendering it useless until a fix can be made. The ludicrous oversight by the developers (is anything tested anymore?) has made me realize that I don't really miss the tedium of activity-logging and that the benefits were short-lived. In the end, the only thing driving my progress in managing my time better, or at least in making more time for the activities I want to pursue, is simply my will to do so.
However, while trying to find a fix or explanation in the App Store, I instead stumbled on a little text-based game that has quietly risen the charts. As a fan of the old King's Quest games, I naively had something similar in mind when I forked over the $0.99 to download the game. I had seen the reviews calling it "disturbing", which I typically avoid -- I tend to let myself slip a little too deeply into these sorts of things to enjoy the horrific. Heck, even Minecraft can scare the bejeezus out of me at times. But the many reviews calling it "cerebral, emotional, and dark" and "deeply stirring" (while also carefully noting that the game isn't scary -- after all, it's text-based) intrigued me.
I can't say much about the game play here without spoiling it. It's certainly best to let the game reveal itself to you, layer by layer. The game doesn't give you much help in how to play it, but it's not difficult. You grope around and figure it out like a blind person might, always returning to your fire to keep it going. Then you start to notice things. At first they're small things that don't seem to fit. You wonder why she's so reluctant to build you a hut. You wonder why bits of cloth turn up in the hunting traps. Then you start to get an idea of what and who you are. Your actions in the game are disturbing, but they seem justified. Desperate times, after all, and dangerous ones.
Then the game has a way of connecting with you on an emotional level. There's one particularly powerful turning point in the game when you start to call characters you were protecting by another name. It was a shocking, "What have I done?!" moment for me, and I tried in vain to reverse it. I heard stories of others being brought to tears. But then you get used to it. You keep going. You do what needs to be done. It is just a game, after all. And then you start to wonder what you're capable of.
The game is addicting, but it doesn't take long. I went slowly, playing yesterday while I was doing laundry and other chores around the apartment, and I completed it in 297 minutes. The feeling upon completion was nearly profound. While the actions within the game itself cannot be called beautiful, the narrative, the way the story is told, certainly is. Seriously worth the $0.99, and I'd also very much like to see a movie made, if done correctly. Sorry, Androids, you can't play (at least not the official version), but the original game is available online for free here. However, I highly recommend playing the iOS version if able. The app developer, Amir Rajan, added some subtle but significant depth to the game play and fleshes out the narrative more than the online original does. Also significant is the support added for blind users, which had some fascinating side-effects on the game play for sighted users. If time is an issue, the iOS version also moves a bit faster and allows for easy pausing, which is only available on the online version by downloading the code into a text file, then importing the text file into the game when you wish to resume.
Anyway, the current challenge, once you've finished the game for the first time, is to go back and play it again without building any huts. You'll know what I mean when you get there. Until then, try seeing just how dark that room can get.
(Update): It does take significantly longer to complete the game without huts, which also makes it less exciting, but I slogged through it as a matter of principle. As a small reward, there is an alternate ending.