IFComp 2020: Congee

IFComp 2020: Congee

congee

Congee is a Twine game by Becci.

The protagonist is a working adult in the UK, originally from Hong Kong. They become ill and text their friend, Allison, who advises them to have some congee, something they used to have in Hong Kong when they were ill. However, despite checking numerous delivery sources, the protagonist isn’t able to find congee, and soon retires to bed feeling wistful for home. Awoken by a doorbell, they open the door to find Allison with a plastic bag of homemade congee, which the two of them share.

You probably noticed the ambiguous “they” in the previous paragraph; the gender of the protagonist is indeed unstated. I assumed from the name of the author (whom I assume is female) and the fact that the protagonist has a close female friend that she is herself female, but on a second reading, I realised it’s possible for the protagonist to be male, as well. Nothing in the game confirms either possibility. It’s just as likely for a man to fall sick, to feel out of place in a foreign country, to miss home, to call his mother, and to be on close terms with a female friend. There are no explicit references to gender-exclusive phenomena, nor do the main characters use any gender-specific pronouns to address one another.

There could very well be significance in this — it’s possible the author deliberately aimed for gender neutrality, so as not to give the impression that these “soft” feelings are limited to, and permitted to feel by, women only. It could also be an oversight, especially if the relationship between females was an intended theme; all the characters, if the protagonist is included, are female.

Unfortunately, the game is too short for the player to become significantly invested in it. By titling her work “Congee”, and describing it as “cozy”, the author likely meant for it to be a simple, digestible, bite-sized game that warms the player’s heart, and I think she was quite successful in this regard. But while I appreciate that the game’s simplicity is instrumental to the heartwarming effect it produces, I feel that the latter is compromised somewhat by the former, as well. The player is given no details regarding the protagonist’s job, merely told that she moved from Hong Kong to the UK a year ago. More importantly, her history with Allison is unexplored, making the act of kindness Allison performs less impactful because less meaningful. If the act of bringing congee to the protagonist had instead come at the end of a chain of events involving the two of them, it would have held more significance to the characters and therefore to the player, who would also be more invested in them.

Furthermore, to put it a bit harshly, the description of “cozy” is a little apologetic. The game makes the player feel good by giving them something familiar, but because this is its sole aim, as implied by the lack of other descriptions, it only gives the player things they have seen before and does not challenge their expectations, limiting the gratification they obtain. It’s cozy, but it’s not jarring.

At the same time, I like that the author tried to undermine the banality of the plot by simulating a chatting app on the protagonist’s phone, both in the messages themselves, and in the speech bubbles they are presented in. There are pictures too, which I think are beautifully drawn. There is even a handwritten list of things the protagonist finds funny about the UK. The distinctiveness of the writing, as opposed to a mere font, helps distance the character of the protagonist from the next immigrant and realise her as an individual in her own right.

ICE CREAM FLAVOUR: Hibiscus sorbet. Light, sweet, and visually gorgeous, but I wish it was a bit more substantial.

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