Selfie: Sisters Of The Amniotic Lens released a week ago on Steam. This is not a review.
I don't know if I'll ever write one, to be perfectly honest. Rail Slave Games' Dylan Barry tells me that it's "not really a game as such," and though I always hate to see developers dressing down their creations and limiting what the term can refer to, I concede that he has a point. Half virtual confession booth, space simulator, social network, psychological horror, text adventure and artistic statement, Selfie is unlike anything I've ever experienced.
As such, reviewing might be counter-productive. Analysing how it works, what it does and what it stands for will undo much of the game's impact and rob you of the surprise. More to the point, I'm also not entirely sure I understand it myself.
What I can do, however, is recommend that you buy it. Even if I know that many of you will absolutely hate it. If the purpose of art is to elicit an emotional reaction, Selfie is a formidable work, because it invites you to strip yourself bare and feel... things.
Selfie starts by asking you to create an anonymous profile and poses a single question. "What tears do you cry that are worth bottling?"
It's seemingly an invitation to confess your sins, your darkest desires, embarrassments, shame or worries. Or to write something completely random. It's an uncomfortable start to the proceedings as you have no idea what the question really means or what the answer will be used for, but playing along with a fairly guarded statement, I pushed on.
You'll then find yourself in a bad place, years after a free love cult went their separate ways. A squalid bedsit. Thick putrid clouds of swarming flies. Blood. A mannekin. The atmosphere is choking and unpleasant, pregnant with threat and the very real feeling that something has gone horribly wrong. A feeling confirmed when I looked to my left and saw something so utterly vile that I instantly tried to forget about it and nearly quit the game entirely. No screenshots. It's deeply disturbing and saying any more will be incredibly unproductive.
The flies are the key to the amniotic lens, though. There's a knack to it. Thick religious symbolism. You'll tune the teletext, flicking through hilarious and worrying homages to Dylan Barry's Noxious Pines setting (in which N.P.P.D. Rush was based), and then eventually find yourself playing a vector graphics space sim.
No, really. Floating through the cosmos, you'll seek out pulsing red objects, some of which grant you money. I think. However, you'll then discover a series of floating bottles... that contain the answers that other people wrote to the starting question. Their shames. Their desires. Their sins. The occasional hilariously random non-sequitur from a troll. You then have the option to "condemn" their message, robbing them of their money, or "redeem" them by donating some of your funds and leaving a reply. It's asynchronous and a two-way process, so you'll also start to receive replies and bank balance dings of your own.
On a basic level it's halfway between Mirrormoon EP (one of my favourite games of 2013) and Facebook, but it reminded me of nothing quite so much as an intimate show I saw at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe festival: Red Bastard. What started as edgy slapstick descended into something threatening and wonderful as we were systematically cajoled and browbeaten into revealing truths about ourselves to the entire group, and then even take action right there and then. Someone called a friend who betrayed them and thrashed out their pent-up grievances. I admitted something to the group, shouting it out loud in unison, and to my surprise complete strangers clapped me on the back and told me that everything was going to be okay. The feeling was... complicated.
It's exactly like Selfie. You can lie, troll or evade, but if you open yourself up, you'll receive real advice in return. Or gibberish. Or abuse. Or reassurance. It's uncomfortable. It's difficult. But if you make yourself vulnerable, you'll make the most of a truly unique experience.
I think I know what Selfie is actually about, but only because I follow Barry on Twitter, and like any work of art you can interpret it in many different ways. I'd invite you to do so.
As such, Selfie is challenging, unique, raw, harrowing, life-affirming and excruciatingly difficult to quantify. In fact, I'm convinced that some of you will hate it with a passion. But for £3.99, I'd recommend it wholeheartedly. What tears do you cry that are worth bottling?