P2: The Future We Deserve — You Are A Rabbit

This game is text-only and best played blind; see the end of this write-up for content warnings.

You Are A Rabbit

You Are A Rabbit is about belonging — about acceptance at the expense of repression, authenticity at the expense of alienation, and the unease of living in a world not built for you.

I would venture to guess that “Be yourself!” is one of the most popular and uncontroversial morals of all time, but those stories that preach it rarely acknowledge the uncomfortable corollary that, sometimes, authenticity comes with a price. The boundary between a charming misfit and a freak is not always so easy to see until you’ve crossed it, and there may be no comfortable place in society for a self that’s a bit too wrong. In that spirit, each of the game’s four endings comes with tradeoffs, leaving the player to decide which sacrifice they’re most willing to make. The game’s goal is to caution against cultivating a society that creates such dilemmas by believing too strongly in a “correct” way to be. This idea was primarily inspired by recent conversations I’ve had with queer and neurodivergent people who struggle with alienation; although the details vary for every person, the shape of such a feeling is often the same, and it’s one I am familiar with.

The journey to this version of the game was very rocky. My initial game idea was an escape room completely unrelated to this premise, but I scrapped it about halfway through the project because it did not have a clear enough learning goal. I then pivoted to a version of the current idea that had a much more involved storyline — the player was going to leave the Rabbit Kingdom to wander from kingdom to kingdom populated by other animals; find themself unwelcome in each place for a different reason; and finally choose to leave the kingdoms behind and take their chances on their own, accepting that they don’t know what sort of creature they are and that’s okay. This version’s goal was to warn against defining society’s categories too strictly, with an eye toward queer identity labels in particular. However, I ended up needing to scale down the story for time’s sake, resulting in the current version and a revised learning goal that better suited the enclosed setting.

Feedback received on this version of the game largely validated my riskier choices, which I was pleasantly surprised by. I wasn’t sure how the dissonance between dark imagery and uncritical narration would be received, but playtesters enjoyed it, one even saying she wanted to cry when she reached one of the endings. This final version of the story improved upon the others in achieving its objectives in that my playtester for this version was actually able to identify the objective and seemed to experience the emotional arc I was hoping for (endearment in the beginning, a building sense of unease in the middle, and horror at the darker endings). Positive feedback on these aspects also led me to commit to the tentative decision to leave the characters unnamed and give the player character no dialogue outside of the text of their choices.

To be honest, the biggest thing I learned from this experience (as well as the thing I would do differently) is not to totally overhaul an idea halfway through a project with a deadline. If I had started with this version earlier, the scaling down of the story might not have been necessary. I also learned that there is real value in writing the ending first; doing this gave me a clear goal to shoot for while building out the middle, and I was glad I structured it this way. Next time I do a project like this, I’d want to commit to an idea from the start, make a clearer outline (the middle part involved a bit more feeling around blind than was probably efficient), write the endings first, and draft loose so I can get the shape of the story down quickly before worrying about the prose.

Content warnings: mild body horror, brief mentions of surgery and self-harm, vague/highly abstracted themes of gender dysphoria/euphoria

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  1. This game focused around themes of self-identity and expression in the face of social acceptance and community. In the context of Values At Play, the values encoded in the game seem to be teaching of empathy as well as enabling greater understanding. While one cannot ever truly take on and understand another person’s identity and accompanying social experience, this game tackles putting yourself in someone else’s shoes in a very creative and effective way. By utilizing the second-person point of view, common in interactive fiction games, the game inherently prompts the player to empathize; you are the one making decisions and thus everything in the game happens to you, the player. Additionally, by approaching the topic through the use of fantasy, the player is made (or I felt at least) more open to immersion and in the story and thus susceptible to empathy. This is to say it can be harder to immediately empathize with human protagonists that are not similar to the player; by making the player a rabbit, I think it forces a ludic and open mind state that empathizes better.

    Regarding the rubric, I’ll first start with how well the game got me to care about the given topic/cause. Honestly, I did miss the metaphor for neurodivergence and queerness during my playthrough. I had a general sense that the game was about identity, belonging, and acceptance, but as most young adult fantasy fictions have a protagonist who doesn’t fit in in some way, I did not expect the focus of the game to be on identity. I was anticipating a longer story (like Jasmine mentioned they intended to do) to see how the protagonist would evolve and feel in their new identity with wings (but given the time frame I think the shortened version was executed beautifully). Having read the description and seeing the thought process afterwards, Jasmine’s cause becomes much clearer and the game becomes more poignant.

    The medium fit the story very well. Initially, I was worried that the game would be too linear, as the first few prompts only have one possible choice to advance the story, but later, the storyline branched considerably. The game’s choices were definitely consequential. To take flight among the butterflies and live your truth as a bird-rabbit being, or to remain in hiding and longing forever? I initially chose to fly, as that’s what I thought I was “supposed” to do, and then returned to see the other endings, which were heartwrenching. I did not anticipate the darkness in one of the endings nor the sadness in another, and to create three different endings and have each deliver a punch was very impressive.

    One thing to potentially improve upon is the world-building earlier in the story. I had no clue what kind of environment it was set in and was very shocked to see the phrase “people in the street,” since I thought it was set in a forest floor. And then also extending the story if possible, though the endings are already great as they are.

    Great work, Jasmine!

  2. You Are A Rabbit is a compelling short story about the tension between two conflicting values: tradition and the desire to stake one’s independence. The game shows the pitfalls of both approaches through the choices presented to the player. For example, we can decide to remove our wings, which seems like a bad thing, but it results in the comfort of conformity. We can also lie to our mother about flying, which seems morally incorrect, but allows us to stake our independence. I appreciated that the game didn’t strictly profess that the value of independence is greater or lesser than the value of tradition. Instead, the player gets to decide for themselves whether or not to uphold their “rabithood” or forge their own path. Ultimately, two other values the game exhibits is autonomy and agency—players are the ones who get to choose whether or not to stay or leave (shown by the game’s two different but equally “good” endings).

    I thought the story was incredibly well-written. It’s artistic and poetic, which aided the story’s whimsical premise. The game also took advantage of the medium well, presenting players with interesting choices where both branches seem equally compelling, and resulting in two different endings (that I could find) that are determined by the player’s choices throughout the game. IF is a particularly rich medium for a game that teaches the values of agency and autonomy, so I thought the author was apt to pick these values to teach. I don’t think it’s really a story that makes you “care” more about anything one topic or cause specifically, but it does provide a good lesson about the importance and the bravery of being independent while being honest about the sacrifices that come with that choice.

    If this project were to be expanded, I would like to see more than the two endings I was able to find through a few playthroughs. Perhaps the nuance of the independence vs. conformity choice could be expanded along a different axis (rather than just two endings, you could have four). Maybe a good/bad axis could be an interesting choice! i.e. what does it mean to achieve independence “well” vs. independence “poorly” and the same for conformity.

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