Individual Work

Submitted as a portrait to the 2007 Interactive Fiction Art Show, rendition is a self-described “political art experiment” that assumes the form of a text-based adventure game. The work is interactive - but avenues of interaction open to the player are limited to performing violent actions on a single prisoner.

rendition begins by establishing a context: the “coalition” has captured Abdul, a would-be suicide bomber, and he has been sent to you for “questioning.” The next screen is a text interface with a bar at the top tracking Abdul’s condition and the player’s score out of 48. The goal is to break Abdul’s spirit by finding abusive verbs to apply to his body parts. These verbs are typed in by the user in the indicated field. A verb may be used only once per body part, with a maximum of three applications before a new verb is requested. The verbs range from physically abusive (scraping Abdul with sharpened finger nails) to cruel and unusual (defecating on Abdul). The game allows for odd combinations such as punching exclusively Abdul’s left little toe, and vomiting solely on his right eye. As the player reaches the score of 48 (the verb DIAGNOSE can be used to list the body parts available and their condition) Abdul moves from “defiant” to “destroyed.” At any point QUIT can be typed to end the game. To open the option of leaving the room in-game, the player must first “defeat” Abdul by obtaining 30 points. If all 48 points are acquired, the end-screen will offer “some suggestions for AMUSING things to do.” When typed, AMUSING will elicit suggestions such as tickling, abusing, killing, or performing sexual acts on Abdul, yourself, or inanimate objects. These commands provide flavour text of limited insight (into the interrogator’s fetish for inanimate objects or the limitations of performable torture) but they do not affect the progress of the game. For most of the game, Abdul will speak only unidentified and untranslated phrases. Once Abdul is “delirious,” he will speak phrases of broken English, such as, “My... name... Ab... dul,” “I... go... school,” and “You... go.... school?” If Abdul is “destroyed” he will no longer speak, but will remain “lost in his own mind.”

Thematically, rendition engages with the problematics of complicity, dehumanization, violence, and communication. In its original showing, rendition garnered mixed reviews. Mike Roberts commented on the simplicity its structure: “I think the problem is that the story's mechanics are too obvious and too game-like - after the first couple of turns, the piece become[s] a puzzle to be solved.” Jon Ingold objected to the subject of the work and its imperative for user involvement, stating, “I don't want to read about violence; but moreover, I don't want to be responsible for it.”

The rules of IF Art Show, listed on its website, are “designed to try to exclude traditional ‘game elements’ from entries/exhibits.They also try to lift any narrative frame (plot) as much as possible.” Although rendition follows these rules, the emotional effect of the user’s complicity in brutal torture is diminished by the work’s form and its mode of interaction. The initial impact can be very powerful, but once the game progresses past the first few exchanges, the mechanics become obvious; this reduces the remaining play to an exercise in substituting verbs and body parts toward acquiring 48 points. The oversimplified characterization of both Abdul and the interrogator may be responsible for a user’s waning interest. The narrative limitations and restrictive mechanics of rendition dampen the sense of a user’s complicity in barbarism, since complicity requires choice.