By Adayan Munsuarrieta
Michael Lutz’s game, The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo, is definitely one of the most dynamic iterations of a Twine game that I have played during my time in college, considering the limitations of the medium. The implementation of replayability as a key mechanic that creates a sense of intertextuality between each playthrough is something that felt as though it lent itself to Twine pretty well, since looping is one of the easiest things to do on the platform. Because of this, I want to think about the replayability in this game in three distinct ways: as it relates to the horror of the game, as it relates to reading the game itself, and as it relates to my own childhood. My goal is to flesh out replayability as not just a mechanic, but as a form of critique. As a reading practice. As a memory.
Michael Lutz’s game, The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo, is definitely one of the least terrifying games I’ve played. The implementation of horror within the game was most salient in its first playthrough, where the loud sounds were startling and I was not anticipating to “lose control” of the end scene through the Uncle seemingly taking over the game. But perhaps, there is something deliberate within the loss of fear within the game. The familiarity that is built over time through the visuals, the narrative, and the mechanics serve as a way of situating the player alongside the child visiting their best friend. Of course, the space would feel familiar and you would be able to guess what your friend would say, you know them. There is something powerful in the ordinariness of the game as it progresses, that I don’t necessarily think is captured by the ending where one finally overcomes the uncle because the mundaneness overpowers any affect that is evoked. And it is this unremarkable familiarity that makes the game stand out within the genre, because horror is evoked from suspense and the unknown not from what you do know. Because of this, I see the game more so as a critique of horror and our fixation on fear. Why do we crave it? Why are we critical of it? Why is it often indicative of the success of horror media? Why is it a genre that is tied so closely to affect? Why do we rewatch our favorite horror films? Why are we not frustrated by the lack of fear in our subsequent screenings? Why is there not a genre or term for horror that loses its ability to evoke fear through replay or rewatch?
Michael Lutz’s game, The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo, is definitely one of the games I’ve had to replay the most in my life, admittedly this is due to my inability to properly execute the steps in the guideline… But thankfully this allowed me to sit with exploration within the game longer. There is a tension that is brought to the fore through this replayability insofar as it does create this feeling of familiarity that detracts from its horror but also a sense of defamiliarization of the narrative. And by defamiliarization, I am referring to it as a reading practice that involves paying attention to the smaller details of things that would otherwise be performed without thinking. I believe that the specificity of distinct game paths through each replay conditions you to do this, as you try to track the changes that emerge from ending to ending. Oftentimes, not leading to much beyond expanding options and flavor text through the interaction with your friend’s inactive parents. Here, the replayability of the game pushes you towards wanting to feel estranged from the familiarity it evokes, as a form of making an otherwise boring experience feel interesting. This form of active defamiliarization as something the game conditioned me to do felt like a challenge from the game to see what would give: my desire to completely understand it or the content that it had for me to play through.
Michael Lutz’s game, The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo, is definitely a game that reminded me of my own childhood. Particularly, it’s position as being a game that contends with accessibility and affordability within the gaming industry. I can say that as a child, there was always a part of me, like any other gamer, that wanted to constantly keep up with the newest releases of popular games. Though this was not possible for my family and it was something that stuck with me as I grew up. As I began to be more cognizant of this reality, I found ways to reinvent how I related to videogames that I did have. This was often through replay, as a form of queering normative playing experiences to make the game stretch in between purchases. My replay was driven through my own desire for a new challenge, but also perhaps from a feeling of indebtedness to my parents; a feeling of making the most out of the game so that they know they didn’t waste their money on it. Therefore, replay is a key mechanic within the game that itself can be reread in multiple contexts, that can be a movement towards reflection and care, that serve as a reminder that there is no end to replay.