“Creating a powerful work of art is like running and leaping across a chasm. It takes all of your strength and you’ll be dashed on the rocks and fall to your death. Being a craftsman is like sitting in your woodshop all day carefully building a chair and when you are done you sit on it.” – James Kochalka, The Cute Manifesto
Fuck games that are shiny and flawless, polished until there are no sharp edges left. I want games that look like they were made by someone with a sense of how short life is, how urgently we need to connect with and understand each other, not by some lifeless robot. Nina Freeman’s Mangia is one of the most human pieces of interactive fiction I’ve ever read. It is emotional, relational, and inescapably rooted in the body.
Nina’s prose is direct, and the subject matter – eating disorders, family dynamics, chronic illness – hits hard. The choices themselves reflect that; options like hanging up, hiding the truth, and having sex all emphasize emotional needs and reactions.
Though personal, the narrative often turns outward. The protagonist is almost always positioned in relation to others: her mother, boyfriend, even strangers on the subway. One can’t do much to alter the narrative. There is no Good Ending for the reader to strategically discover. All we can do is reach out to others, or pull away, and feel the consequences. Our relationships are as important as what goes on inside us, mentally and physically.
Mangia often dwells on the physical: chewing, crying, cuddling, vomiting. Physical health relates to emotional health, and neither exists in isolation. About halfway through my first reading, as I was trying to choose the least dangerous meal I could with anxiety muddling already cryptic information, I began to feel it. The stomach turns. The throat tightens. What a horrible thing, to look at food as if it were a posionous snake.
The body can be unappealing. But Mangia doesn’t need Appeal. Products need Appeal, so they can be marketed and sold. Mangia is pure unflinching expression.
“Either the artist expresses the meaning, emotion, and power of their vision or they do not … The notion of quality is meaningless.” – James Kochalka, The Cute Manifesto