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Dreams, Hubris, and Getting Away with Both
Review by: Jonathan Rosebaugh
Game: Galatea
By: Emily Short

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Despite the fact that it was first released in the IF Art Show, not in a normal IF competition, Galatea has a plot or, rather, a couple dozen plots. Like its sister work, Metamorphoses, Galatea is an example of Multilinear IF, and a very good one at that. Both Galatea and Metamorphoses are intended, if I understand the author correctly, to demonstrate ideal simulationist design, but they are much more than demos.

Galatea is the first work since So Far and Photopia to take me prisoner, to capture my heart. So Far did it with its marvelous worlds and sheer mystery, Photopia did it when the pieces finally tumbled together, and Galatea does it, well, with Galatea. I should explain.

This work begins with you, an art critic, standing in a forgotten corner of an exhibition with Galatea. She is a statue, standing on a pedestal. She greets you and, from there on, the plot is different for everyone. Emily Short has written forty-odd endings, each of which can be reached in myriads of ways.

Over the course of one possible conversation, it is revealed that the exhibition is a place where makers of artificial intelligences will show their skill and, one possible ending (which I found only using txd, when I was looking for something else) shows Galatea as one of the computerized creations. I never found how to get it in the game. I didn't want to -- this type of ending I did not seek out. Fortunately, there are many endings that are not like that. I could choose. And because I could, I chose the paths that made Galatea a person, if not a human. I chose the paths that showed her her humanity, her freedom.

Why? Because I could. Because it was the decent thing to do. Because, absurd to even think it, I had fallen in love with her. By that time, I had forgotten the existence of Emily Short, of my computer, of the game. Absurd, I say. And so it is. I was worse than Gatsby! Understandable, perhaps. The point of this work is to show the power of realistic NPCs in realistic games. That, it does.

So why did the author write so many possible endings? Why did she open the door for a naïve teenager to anthropomorphize? Why did she give some responsibility for writing the story to the player? Upon reading some essays from the author's site, an answer appears. Ironically enough, she did it because of me and because of everyone else that plays the game. The aim is to give the freedom to do anything that is reasonable (reasonable in the game world, I mean), to give the ability to have the game respond to the player's wishes. That is, she did it because she could.

When this happens, it means that the player has an active role in the act of creation. What we make may well be a judge of what we are. I am reminded of the concept that arose around the time quantum mechanics was first becoming well-known. It arose from the fact that the observer was an integral part of the experiment and said, basically, that "wishing makes it so". This also led to some interesting interpretations of Schrödinger's Cat, but I digress. The author has written one scenario which she calls Eliza, where the PC bares his soul for Galatea, but the game itself serves as a psychiatrist, forcing us to see and try to understand some of what we are.

So, what do I make of Galatea? What stories have I decided to form? Good question. I don't know. There are endings such as the ones with Dionysus that leave me fearful, but wanting to follow. There are endings that are happy, endings that are not. I have brought her into mortality, or followed her to immortality. I remain cautious. I -- again, the absurd, perhaps justifiable response -- want to help her be.

I can't. She's a quarter-megabyte bit of code in my computer. The only existence she has is inside my mind and the minds of everyone else who plays the game. I can't affect what they do with her; She's not real dammit! I overreact. I anthropomorphize. A good sense of fantasy is healthy, but when you can't tell the difference anymore, that's insanity. Madness.

That's in the game, too. Madness, given by the gods. Hubris, sometimes punished, sometimes rewarded. For what is the idea of art, if not an intrusion on the gods' monopoly on creation?

But let's turn the tables about and become somewhat paranoid for a moment. I remember a certain ending: Galatea as daemon, or god. I remember that no one has actually seen Pygmalion, we have only Galatea's word for his existence. I remember something Emily Short wrote, in a different context that suddenly seems much too similar: "Greek myth is full of such moments, when a god among mortals, disguised and mocked, suddenly turns with eyes shining. Terror follows, and madness." This certainly can explain almost all of the possible endings, if one has a taste for such an idea. I don't; it's way too frightening. This is the sort of time that I reassure myself that it's only a game, and maybe half succeed.

If we continue this sort of mind exercise, we come presently to Platonism and again to quantum mechanics. If everything we perceive is but a shadow of some higher plane, and everything that is, is only in the mind, then we can affect reality directly, as opposed to the sort of everyday changes we make to the world. Here we drift dangerously into semantics and religion, but it's worth taking a look at, anyhow.

And so perhaps we have a trinity collaborating on this work: the Author, the Reader, and the Subject, Galatea. We affect her by what we choose to write and what we choose to read, but she affects us too, when we see what story we have written and ponder what it can mean.

In closing, just in case you're still with me, (as opposed to having quit halfway through to download Galatea) I'd like to say one thing: Play this game. Then, write your own. Pour your heart and soul into it. Cast it upon the waters, and you may indeed receive it back a hundredfold.

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