Life... don't talk to me about life. Instead, let me talk to you about life... yours, as a matter of fact. Not the life you have right now, but the one you could have had. Have you ever really stopped to think about the choices you've made, and why you made them? Well, you just might after giving this a try. Alter Ego is a text-based rpg-like life simulation, originally published way back in 1986 for some very old computers, and now available to play online for free. Please note that to save your progress, you need to sign in with a Google account.
Play is simple. The game takes you through seven stages of life, beginning with infancy, and progressing to the next once you've had a certain number of experiences. Rather than detailing every single thing that happens to you (nobody wants to know how many hours you really spent updating the Transformers Wikipedia), you're presented with a branching tree of icons, each representing a different experience; social, physical, emotional, family, and, later, vocational. Clicking on one presents you with an opportunity; opportunities detail formative events in your life, and could be anything from your first kiss to time spent with a family member. You're given a choice of how you feel about what's happening, and how you'll react to it; simply choose a feeling and an action, and click "next". You'll be presented with a bit of text that details what the outcome was, and that will effect your statistics... everything from aspects of your personality, to your life, to your intellect, and so forth.
There's an entire page given over to your various statistics (accessed by clicking the graph icon), but trying to micro-manage them can be incredibly frustrating. For the best, most "realistic" experience, only spare your statistics a glance every once in a while and instead just concentrate on experiencing the game. After all, most of us don't come with a set of numbers that tells us when we're low on gentleness. (My numbers are always in the gutter. Er... pretend I'm talking about the game.) It's important to realise that there is no real "right" choice to make in any given situation. Just beware of dangerous risks; it is possible for you to die or become seriously injured.
Analysis: Although it was originally featured in a 2007 Link Dump Friday article, Alter Ego came to my attention recently after some fine folks (i.e, you dudes) plopped it into our submission box again. Despite having been written originally in 1986, Alter Ego is vague enough in its setting that it still manages to feel relevant. The narrative focuses mostly on human elements and examining our actions; why we do the things we do, and what impact those things have on us. (Whether we realise it or not.) It can make for some surprisingly introspective moments. The biggest problem for some players is that the game's age means it isn't necessarily going to be particularly "modern" in its thinking; you will not, for example, find any option to engage in a same-sex relationship, which is probably going to be disappointing for some players.
There's also an issue with the quality of writing, in that it can feel a little erratic. Sometimes it's extremely funny (particularly in early infancy). Others? Not so much. It can also be difficult to really bring yourself to care about the supporting cast; admittedly the game seems to be trying to get you to project your own family and friends onto the blank slates in the narrative, which is doable, but it does make it hard to find yourself invested in your fake significant other, should you choose to have one. Oh, Fake Husband... I love so much about you. The way you never pop up in any scenarios unless I click on your icon. The way you have no personality at all. The way I immediately forgot your name... but not the time you tried to snooker me into paying for dinner all the time we were dating.
For those of you looking for something slow to sink into and play for a good long while, Alter Ego offers a massive amount of replayability. You can't experience everything in a single lifetime, and you'll find that taking different approaches and attitudes to events will yield drastically different results. While for me the gameplay was more entertaining than enlightening, what I can say is that the game made me think a little. Less about the sort of life I might have had were I to have gone right instead of left one morning, but instead about my own motivations, and why I do and say the things I do. And here I always thought it was just 'cause I was rad. Huh. There go all my precious self illusions.
Thanks to Pakman5500, Jessica and Megaera for sending this one in!