Fran Bow: To Play with Logic
March 31, 2023
There’s a key in the corner and a locked drawer center stage. The logic, it seems, is quite simple. A mechanism, a promise and so one goes to turn the bolt—expectant to find, in this drawer, answers. Or at least that’s what one thinks when they’re a child in this world—when the uncovering, the exploration, is less dreary. In the time when housed linens must cover cabinet’s curiosity, when beneath isn’t barren bottom, but priceless artifact. For those of us, however, who are on our thousandth drawer, and whose keys in hand seem heavy, mass-produced—the steps of thought, the legs of action, seem to slump, unused. We cross our rooms less and less, we dread the thought. But what if we could urge ourselves to renew the threads of thinking? To dress up before the gala, pregame the party of association? If one could for a time relieve themselves of all the practical foundations, and believe that a key in hand alone is something of great power, then perhaps they’d be driven to lands of logic yet unfound, as thought itself—the task would seem recharged.
“Fran Bow” by Killmonday Games takes a point-and-click adventure and adds psychosis. In doing so, it illustrates precisely the above—the effects of reimagining exhausted patterns of logical thought. It takes the simplest of steps—the path from A to B, the lock and key, the pressing of one button to proceed—but then confuses all context, harshes clarity and forces us to cling to its stylized logic.
It starts as psychological horror. You’re a traumatized young girl in an asylum. Your dubiously-prescribed pills muddle reality. And so you must click on objects to hear your own thoughts. You drug yourself, when you’re stuck, and see demons. To detach yourself from the world is a necessity, for through divination alone do you open doors.
Having escaped the asylum, you’re now in the house of witches. In the quest to find your cat, you’ve been learning—of new locks and new keys, new paths from A’s to B’s—and you’re certainly shaken, but have begun to understand your new logic. Now you’ve been given, by the witches, a recipe—and in completing it they know you’ll be sacrificed. But only because you have been so thrown, only because you wield new tools, can you flip the script, change the potion, dare to leave. You escape the confines of their dainty, devious house. You reunite with your cat and feel like a witch yourself. And so you harness, with creative glee, your refreshed logic. You escape on frog’s belly. You fashion your own doors.
And so you’re in wonderland—in this game, called Ithersta—and your troubles have become only joys. You’re concerned with attending a club filled with bugs and with watching a grasshopper dance. Your point-and-clicks feel powerful, you shift the seasons on your watch and father time now attends to your mood and reason. And so this is the peak. This is the promise. It’s like a great short story with you as the driver. Your actions still have logic, but new consequence. There’s no boredom, there’s no grind and there’s no hassle, as each conclusion itself feels like magic.
Yet your doubts only continue to build. You stumble upon a cryptic journal, and it’s horrifying. The path here has been seductive—sure, new ways of thinking are always fun—but now the context you have formed no longer serves you. As you read of endless worlds in another language, you must confront how little you really know. For after all, it is delusion. You’re getting trapped in your own mind.
And so you must transition back. Your imaginary friend now guides you home. You’re out of pills, the doctor’s found you, you were just beyond the asylum’s walls. And so with context shattered yet again, you are an orphan, a walking loose end. You’re at the mercy of others’ motives. You’ve had quite the journey, but now struggle for resolution. And so it’s back to psychological horror; it’s the other shoe dropping. The game ends with you unsure, asking questions that have no answers.
“Fran Bow,” as a case study, is quite intriguing. It depicts both the danger and the joys of interactive media’s immersive trip. It lets you forsake context to play with logic, driven as you are by its abstracted aims. It allows you to throw away some hours to play a game. But to its daring credit, it reminds you of all that you’ve left behind. It shows you the fragility of its world and leaves you scrambling. Because with game as guide, with map discarded, you’re off the tracks, your train of thought derailed. You’ve taken apart, with the designer’s instructions, your mental engine. And as with all art, all entertainment, you’re left to hope the experience was worth it. Perhaps now, piecing the engine together, you can think of the plane.
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