You didn’t say “I wish you hadn’t said that so it would make me feel less bad when I throw your body into the blendocauldron and harvest your DNA for illegal, digital experimentation.
Not because you thought it’d be rude or anything, but because there’s no way you’ll feel at all bad upon doing that.
This entire review could be a discussion of cultural figures and the ownership we feel over them. In most works, even ones that claim a note of autobiography, the acknowledgment of a characters previously unknown sexuality and relationship rarely raises an eyebrow. After all, their being single or polygamous, queer or straight is important, but simply a facet of their character overall.
The element of autobiography is what complicates my feelings on Domain of the Cyberwitch. Not because I’m opposed to the open relationship described therein, but because I know of Anthony Burch. He is someone who, along with his wife, I have followed for years (mostly through the humorous web series “Hey Ash, Watcha Playing.”) I have seen him in person before, a peculiar experience because he was much shorter than I imagined (and isn’t that usually the case). This isn’t a slight to Mr. Burch, but merely an element of popular culture — because I do not know him, but only know a large body of his work, he is a concept rather than a person. I view him through a pre-made lenses, special made to fit all of my own personal criteria and imaginings. This wasn’t a decision I went through consciously, and I find it frankly embarrassed about it.
To clarify, Domain of the Cyberwitch is a story about an open relationship.
It’s not a secret hidden thing, I just wasn’t paying attention.
Not to worry, the rest of this review is not an ode to my primitive, knee jerk emotional response. Instead, it’s about the game itself. Domain of the Cyberwitch is a sweet, bizarre love story between a simple, perhaps pathetic man, and a cyberwitch. The story is not a straightforward tale. Elements from a classic weekend of a long distance relationship are relayed through a layer of weird, apparently full of in jokes, Evil Dead the musical and the world conquering desires of the cyberwitch in question.
As an example, you are given the task of picking apples. Instead of the standard orchard, however, the apples are full of razorblades that tingle when you bite down on them, the sound of the dying a slight symphony in the background.
These world specifics are highlighted by the dichotomous nature of the text. Half is written from the perspective of the cyberwitch, mostly in ALL CAPS and talking about murder and mayhem. The cyberwitch is a character pulled straight from science fiction, a creation cast from the world of reality and elements from popular culture at large. The male character is written a bit like a love sick fool, his tale written in such a standard way that it rises in sharp contrast to the rest of the Twine.
HE HAS AN ATROCIOUS MEMORY, BUT OCCASIONALLY PARTICULAR IMAGES WILL STICK OUT IN HIS MIND SOLELY BECAUSE OF HOW HAPPY THEY MADE HIM.
SITTING ON THE SANDS OF CIMI ISLAND, WATCHING THE WAVES ROLL IN AT NIGHT.
LYING IN BED WITH A WOMAN WHO WOULD LATER MAKE HIM TERRIBLY SAD.
Mechanically, Domain of the Cyberwitch is fairly standard. Your choices have little consequence ultimately. It felt like a story that would have benefited from having some text that rotated option, or some of the other tools that Twine authors have utilized over the years. But this does not make the game bad or boring. I found myself interested and continued to be engaged through the end.
An element of Domain of the Cyberwitch that stands out is the note of authorship. This is a tale of lovers, written from the perspective of the woman for the woman, by the man. There is a slight element in discomfort in a lover telling about their partners feelings and thoughts, even if they are deeply strange and possibly manipulated. Unless the “cyberwitch” actually sees herself in this manner, in which case, solid writing. Additionally, as this was meant as a sort of personal love letter (though admittedly posted online) it has elements that detract from a more universal experience (references to Burch’s own career working as a writer on Borderlands 2 comes up). This ultimately feels like a weakness as it pulls you back to the author rather than the story. As this is auto-biographical however, self-insertion is literally required.
The strength of Domain of the Cyberwitch is how sweet is it. Sure, at given points, the Cyberwitch wants to take him apart for his DNA, but it comes across as a real story with emotion and depth. Burch’s talent is to take this extravagant character and make her feel like a real person (because she is). It’s a game worth playing, and I’m interested to see what Anthony Burch creates in the future.