Browser-based/flash games have come a long way in recent years. Go back a decade or so, most of them were either watered down rip-offs of established games, or some ropey hentai affair. Thankfully, with the rise of "altgames", and engines like Twine, there's a great wealth of talent making something other than "Ultra Violent Pong" or "Vampire Schoolgirl Fingerer 2.0". One of these talents is Squinky, who has produced an excellent social awkwardness-simulator, "Interruption Junction".
Interruption Junction (IJ) doesn't mess about- part of it's beauty is in it's simplicity- a brief loading then BANG! The title screen appears and screams the title at you (so maybe don't have your ear phones in), then you get to pick your glossophobic out of a selection of four. The, overall presentation being somewhat reminiscent of 1990s, late night ITV, cookery show, "Get Stuffed". Then, like someone who's been suddenly forced to talk to a bunch of strangers "you'll get along with", you're sat down (always on the far right of the table) with three others, mid-conversation. They're talking about nothing particular- mindless chit-chat, tittle-tattle, bollocks- and all you need to do to talk is to tap the space bar.
Tap the space bar and your character chips in a couple of words. Someone will nonchalantly acknowledge it, then continues chatting with the other two. You have to tap the space bar continually to keep talking, then your character will change the subject onto something they're working on- like a visual novel about a gynaecologist dealing with climate change (it's different for each character). Talk for too long, and the rest of the table will start to get bored (as visualised by their drooping eyelids), if you continue to talk, they start to fade away, then everything goes dark and it's game over.
|Translation: "It's great you want to contribute, but shut the fuck up"|
Likewise, if you don't talk then you will fade away into darkness. So, you if you want to keep the conversation going, you need to balance out talking and letting everyone else talk. Tap a few times, after every other sentence, or whenever your character's eyelids droop, then the conversation continues on, and on (as far as I know, it doesn't end). Interjecting to make minor remarks, just so you can feel part of a group. A group that barely acknowledges you and blabs their way through a conversation where nothing gets really said. Essentially, IJ punishes you for succeeding.
I'm really selling you on this game, aren't I? But it's brilliant. And what makes IJ so brilliant, insightful and downright funny is how it so accurately portrays how it feels to be socially awkward. Take it from someone who knows.
What? The embittered video game blogger, who hides behind a pseudonym, has problems dealing with social situations? Well I never! For nearly all my life, I've been chronically shy, to the point of downright rudeness. You can count the number of times I've been (willingly) photographed on one hand; I have a phobia about answering the phone- even if I know you, I'll only text you or miss call at the very most; my normal speaking voice, outside of my social circle (or social microdot to be exact) barely reaches the volume of a mumble. Some think me rude, only because I've spent years refining a "don't fucking come near demeanour- which only works on 40% of chuggers and 2% of mentally ill people on trains. That's right, people that follow me on twitter, those late night yearnings to be a lighthouse keeper aren't a joke.
|"Sorry, jobs already taken"|
To someone who is quite socially inept, IR is hilarious in how accurately it replicates social anxiety. That your character is doomed to the two worst fears, someone like me has, being in a social situation; where you either fade into a corner, where you end up alone for the whole night, or worse, actually having to talk to someone, and the risk of boring people if you drop your social shield. Your only option is the balance out listening and talking- wondering what the point is to trying to be part of a group you don't care to be in, and a group that probably doesn't care for you to be there. That's how well IJ adapts the subject. If you're even remotely shy, you'll get this. And if you're not, you'll at least have an understanding for what it's like for someone who is.
The simple controls, the tin-pot rendition of "girl from ipanema" that constantly plays in the background, the Okami-esque sound effects used for the eternal chatter, the -bilnk and you'll miss it- geek references makes IJ my favourite new game of the year. Never before have I seen a video game use humour to get across the subject of social anxiety. And this well. Whether you get the humour, or not, will inform your enjoyment of IJ. And even then, you may only play it for a couple of minutes at a time, or just the once- it's not skyrim. But that's the great flexibility of alt-games at work. It can give you hours of entertainment, or just a few minutes- just keep playing as long as you want, it's free! And if you think being crap at social interaction isn't much of a setting for a game, Squinky has also put up the source code, so you can have a go yourself*
So hats off -or rather, a quiet nod of approval - to Squinky, for making an amusing gem of a game- who hopefully will make more games about socially awkward situations, like when someone blocks the thing you want, on the supermarket shelf, but you can't bring up the courage to ask them to move. The game is free, but you liked it, and Squnky's other games, then you can donate to their Patreon.
* I hereby throw away any responsibility if you end up downloading malware, or donkey fighting videos.