Joseph Domenici’s game Coyotaje begins on an interesting note: “This is not a game.” It’s one of the first links you click after “Play,” and it stuck with me while i continued to interact with his story. It ended, at least on the path I chose, in a very similar way. In crisp blue letters it asked me if it was worth it.
Coyotaje is a game about people attempting the crossing of the US/Mexican border. You play a Coyotaje — a felon and a savior. Over the course of several days you lead a group of pollos (the name given to the people being taken over the border) on a long hike to a tall fence. Among the group is Gloria, a woman you have long cared for. In a sense, the game reminded me of Oregon Trail. You navigate river crossing, risk losing pollos every time you make a decision. These people are dependent on you for their crossing and their future is in your hands, and while you don’t lose any of them to dysentery the similarities are there.
There are a few weaknesses to Domenici’s work. For starters, occasionally blue links will not lead you further into Twine but rather opens other windows for tiny pictures of cows or Google image searches. Every time a link breaks you away from the cream pages of Coyotaje, it wrecks whatever immersion had been created. Also changing the story to an image when a description would do reeks of weak storytelling. Domenici is a talented writer, and his prose carries weight, but his characterizations of the pollos (beyond Gloria, that is) are so weak as to dehumanize the figures. This action could be intentional (does a coyotaje care about all of his passengers?) but it simply feels poorly executed. At the same time, the conversations with Gloria are rich and the manner in which they are delivered – line by line – gives the weight of reality to the interactions.
I keep coming back to that first link: “This is not a game.” In many ways, Coyotaje plays like a traditional Twine game. There are hyperlinks to further passages and occasionally clicking on blue links takes you to descriptions rather than a further story progression. The “game” factor is then, perhaps, a reflection on the reality that Domenici intends to create. The stories in Coyotaje are evidently scripted based on reality, on first person accounts of the events. This reality however, does not mean that the Twine cannot be a game. Then again, maybe “This is not a game” is meant for the character you play. For this coyotaje, this is not a game, this is his life.
I managed a play through in under 10 minutes, and there appear to be other options. If you’re interested in the subject or simply looking for a decent Twine game about illegal immigration, you should certainly check out Coyotaje.