While grad school used to be a common setting for interactive fiction, it’s much less common now. “Roads Not Taken” is a serious game about dissatisfaction with the experience and whether it’s ultimately worth it.

Gameplay: The game is choice-based, with (after an introduction in a slightly different format) the protagonist determining how to spend his time at regular points in each year. In addition to those decision in the present, the narrator also describes medical problems he had as a child and the corresponding isolation he felt. Although grad school is no longer a common theme, it is fairly common now to have a depressed protagonist dealing with childhood traumas, and there’s not that much to distinguish this particular character from similar ones besides the setting. 6/10.

Mechanics: By deciding how to spend his time, the main character can successfully complete his thesis or leave grad school, whether voluntarily or by getting kicked out. Obtaining the first ending requires dozens of research actions, each of which has a random chance of failure. That’s not an unreasonable simulation of the unpredictability research, but it’s not very interesting to the player in a game where there’s little else to do. Even finding the first ending is not particularly satisfying, since the character ultimately decides that it wasn’t worth it. It’s never exactly clear why the protagonist is interested in grad school at all; the interviews in the introduction suggest that he’s only entering it because it’s the next thing to do in life, rather than from any real interest in the field he’s pursuing. Avoiding that situation is fairly common advice, and it’s unclear (even given the flashbacks) why the protagonist is bothering at all. It’s ultimately not satsifying as either as a slice-of-life game or as a character study. 5/10.

Presentation: The text in the game is solid, despite a few minor typos (e.g., “itenerary”). I didn’t find the flashbacks particularly compelling, especially since they occur before becoming familiar with the main character at the current time. 6/10.

Tilt: Like everyone else who was interested in interactive fiction in late 90s, I have a PhD in math, and the protagonist’s isolation and complete dependence on the unpredictable outcome of research was not entirely dissimilar to my own experience with grad school. +1

You might be interested in this game if: You’ve also had to deal with being dissatisfied with grad school.

Score: 6

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