Trust and Betrayal: The Legacy of Siboot

Tagged: Game

Videogame (1987). Designed by Chris Crawford. Platforms: Mac.

Siboot is a rare example of an attempt to make use of emergent narrative techniques in a Videogame (see Interactive Narrative). The player takes the part of an Alien religious acolyte competing against a number of other Aliens for the "shepherdship". Each individual in the game has variable amounts of three different "auras" – tanaga, katsin and shial. Every night the acolytes fight in their dreams, setting their auras against each other in a Telepathic contest resembling the game of "scissors-paper-stone", where tanaga defeats katsin and katsin beats shial but shial trumps tanaga. Dreamers must choose which auras to use; the winner of any combat keeps the one selected by the loser. Since the shepherdship is awarded to the first acolyte to possess 8 of each type of aura, it is helpful to know how many tanagas, katsins and shials an opponent has, and thus be able to predict which type of aura they might select in dream combat, based on what auras they most need. Discovering this information is the heart of the game.

Every morning each acolyte wakes up knowing the quantity of one type of aura (tanaga, katsin or shial) possessed by each of the others. During the day the player can visit the other acolytes and talk to them in an iconic artificial language which accurately mirrors the limited reality of the game world, making it possible to offer to exchange information or betray others' confidences. These arrangements are not purely mechanical, however. Every Alien has three basic feelings for each of the other acolytes: fear, trust and affection. Players rapidly build up relationships with the simulated personalities of the other participants, becoming friends or enemies. Betrayals are taken seriously, and can result in lasting enmity. Players can also find this affecting, feeling a sense of personal injury if a trusted ally reveals their aura count to their worst enemy. Another innovative aspect of Siboot is the use of micronarratives tailored to the player to add flavour to the world, as in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (1999). However, the text-based interface used for these does not always combine pleasingly with the iconic language employed elsewhere, especially in the occasional metafictional moments when Chris Crawford appears in person to lecture the player on the correct way to approach his game. Siboot is certainly an unusual game, and was not commercially successful. While some of its innovations have been used in later Videogames, many represent roads not taken in the history of game design. Most regrettable, perhaps, is the general absence of other games which use simulated personalities and a carefully designed world to generate narratives algorithmically. [NT]

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