IFComp 2019 review: Eye Contact

spoilers follow

Eye Contact, by Thomas McMullan, bills itself as an experimental game, and it’s obvious why. The bulk of every screen is occupied by a close-up, black and white photograph of a woman’s eyes. Her expression changes with every line of conversation, and the experience of the game consists of the text and image together, very closely intertwined.

The woman’s large, expressive eyes and bold eyebrows are visually striking; the game is genuinely beautiful in spite of its otherwise default Twine styling.

The game consists of a single conversation, and when you first discover its subject, it feels trivial: the woman is upset because her brother has insulted her cooking.

But the game goes beyond the fucking samosas into deeper territory and handles it with wonderful subtlety and realism. It feels like a real conversation, and the unswerving eye contact makes it impossible to disengage your empathy.

It reminds me of a study that came out a few years back, which demonstrated that people can identify the six basic emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise) from the expressions of the eye region alone. It’s incredible how much information is conveyed in such a narrow slice of the human face.

Playing the game makes you become hyper-aware of even slight changes in the woman’s expression, forces you to read meaning from the images in addition to the text, and makes you think about what is going unsaid. For such a small game, it accomplishes something quite ambitious.

Eye Contact is a very small-scale and indeed experimental game, but it succeeds beautifully at what it’s attempting. Very much worth playing!

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