from the gaming-like-it's-1926 dept
We’re nearing the end of our series of posts about the winners of the fourth annual public domain game jam, Gaming Like It’s 1926. So far, we’ve looked at The Wall Across The River, The Obstruction Method, Dreaming The Cave, and Mr. Top Hat Doesn’t Give A Damn! Today, we move on to the winner of the Best Digital Game category: A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle DECODED by Anna Wu.
Throughout these jams, we’ve seen so many different ways of utilizing public domain works. There are direct adaptations (with varying levels of parody and commentary), remixes of individual elements, games designed to foster a deeper understanding of the original work in the players, and more. But there’s also one very direct and personal approach that can be extremely effective in the hands of a good game designer: telling the story of your own engagement with a work. Anna Wu (a.k.a. LadyOrTheTiger) does exactly that in A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle DECODED, a straightforward interactive story built in Twine that captivates the player with its subtlety and simplicity.
As the title suggests, the game is about “decoding” Hugh MacDiarmid’s 1926 poem written in the vulnerable Scots language. The title caught the designer’s eye while perusing lists of 1926 works for game inspiration, but preliminary investigation revealed that it would be no easy read: though a sister language to English and full of recognizable words with meanings that can be intuited, Scots is still very much a foreign language to English speakers, and not one readily translated with Google or other tools. But rather than move on to other source works, Anna decided to make a game about the process of understanding this intriguing poem, or at least its first few verses.
I won’t spoil the details of the story, which starts with some self-interrogation about the reasons for wanting to explore the poem and then moves through the difficult steps of trying to do so. It’s mostly told in text, but makes excellent use of audio and visuals that elevate it, as well as some basic interactivity that has the player revealing the definitions of individual words just as Anna did using a translation dictionary.
By the end, you’ll be surprised just how immersed you are in what started out as a very simple and somewhat arbitrary story. The game showcases many things: the creative potential of pacing and structure in an interactive story, the way moments of interactive freedom can subtly enhance a linear narrative, and of course the beautifully recursive nature of art and culture, where one’s engagement with an old story can become a new story of its own which also breathes new life into the original and encourages players to experience it for themselves. It’s also an example of one of the reasons we love these game jams, as it was the search for eligible public domain material for the jam that not only inspired this game but inspired Anna’s curiosity the poem in the first place! For all these reasons, but above all because it is a narrative experience that simply succeeds in drawing the player in, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle DECODED is this year’s Best Digital Game.
Congratulations to Anna Wu for the win! You can get everything you need to play A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle DECODED from its page on Itch, plus don’t forget to check out the other winners as well as the many great entries that didn’t quite make the cut! We’ll be back next week with the sixth and final winner spotlight.