Javy Gwaltney and Kitty Horrorshow’s Twine game, The Right Side of Town, is my favorite kind of cyberpunk.
While it’s plot is set in the futuristic, technological dreamscape of Asphodel City orbiting above Mars, its themes are in large rooted much more in the societal concerns of modern-day life. Viewed from the eyes of Naomi, a 500-year-old android disguised as a human, it feels in many ways less of a warning for the potential dangers of sentient technologies, but more an exploration of the lengths we’ll go to be accepted by society.
Though the races in question may be more binary, there’s the sense that TRSOT is posing questions not of how we view robots, but the differences between us. How racism and fear can scare us into abandoning who we are so as to avoid the discrimination and danger of belonging to an oppressed group.
TRSOT avoids painting its world as black and white however, with both human and android being flawed and dangerous, but in ways that don’t quickly cast the entire populace as evil or righteous. It’s complicated and dirty, often forcing me to pause for periods of time as I was torn between choosing what I felt was right, and what I needed to do to survive.
The concise, focused wording used to flesh out the world and its characters created a rolling momentum with each passing screen, as the interspersed information packets fed me further insights into Naomi and her attempts to remain undiscovered while still living her life. Every line is very deliberate and intentional, eschewing long sequences of elaborate prose for considered, moving sentences that create a mental image (and in some instances actual illustrations) as much from what is said as what is left for you to fill in yourself.
The Right Side of Town’s somewhat abrupt ending and slightly self-indulgent sequel teasing cause it to finish with somewhat less pizazz than it began, but by the time I’d gotten that far I was so wrapped up in the outcome of Naomi and her cohorts it was hard to be too annoyed that some plot details were left up in the air for a future follow-up.
Whether as a witty cyberpunk detective tale or a deeper commentary on our tendency to conform to society’s wishes and expect the same of others,Gwaltney and Horrorshow’s Twine excursion gave me cause to think and further appreciate a genre which seems unequaled in its ability to simultaneously exist as entertaining escapism and thoughtful commentary when given to the right artist.