Before reading this, I strongly suggest playing Deirdra Kiai’s Interruption Junction, which is freely accessible.
At the Different Games conference back in April, I had the chance to play a game that still sticks in my mind. Interruption Junction by Deirdra “Squinky” Kiai (you can follow them on Twitter at @thesquink) is a short game that drops you into a social situation. You get to pick an avatar and then settle into a four-person conversation at a table. Sitting down with no instructions or idea of what to expect, I read through the various snippets of the discussion, occasionally clicking the mouse or holding it for a bit to have my character talk. When you do this, you interrupt the other speakers. Pay attention to the dialogue, because it will make you laugh. The result of this chat is a series of randomly generated and hilarious sentences that stand in for the casual chitchat friends might share among one another.
I approached the game free of constraints or instructions. Entirely self-directed, it took me more than a few minutes of playing and enjoying myself before I began wondering if I was supposed to do something different. Was I playing wrong? Did I miss something? Would this chat simply go on forever? What was supposed to happen? What was the goal?
For a couple more minutes, I kept butting in, kept reading funny statements, and then let the friends have a shot to share their stories. That the game made me laugh kept the whole experience entertaining regardless of the creeping doubt in my mind. This process repeated, with me, the player, finally wondering if I was doing something wrong, wondering what was expected of me, and again, if anything would happen.
These are the thoughts of a lifelong player of games, trained to look at play as guided and goal-oriented, to expect something and to doubt oneself when, despite continued play, there’s no expected change or sign of progress or gratification. Despite embracing and playing games of all types from mostly text-based experiences like the emotional works Porpentine puts out via Twine to single scene, personal games like how do you Do it?, I was still thinking conventionally in my approach to Interruption Junction. And once I stopped doing that, the game revealed its secret.
I decided to take a different approach by doing the thing I hadn’t tried yet. I would keep talking. I decided to interrupt, to keep clicking and hold the conversation, to run the hell away with it and make it my own.
Many women, in girlhood, are still sent messages that we should be nice, likable, friendly, and polite, and definitely not interrupt. Studies also show that women are more likely to be interrupted by men than vice versa, but we’re also more likely to interrupt other women. Socialization has put us into this position where not only do men tend to interrupt women, but our respect for other women has also eroded in ways that are repeatedly reinforced and often undetected.
I grew up as one of those polite “good girls,” and there are certain behaviors that come naturally to me at this point, such as not interrupting others. So in that room, sitting before that screen, it was a controlled risk, a subversion of not just how I learned to behave in life, but also a challenge to think not like a gamer expecting something to happen and doubting myself when my input didn’t render a result right away. I walked away from Interruption Junction thinking about the challenge to myself as both a gamer and a woman. While being a good listener, being polite, respectful, and not interrupting others are all good traits to nurture, the reality can often be different, especially as a reflection of how society overtly and subtly sends signals out to children of various genders.
After the decision to interrupt in a constant stream, the change I was looking for presented itself. Interrupt the conversation long enough, and your friends begin to become transparent. Stop talking and they become less opaque and the whole thing continues repeatedly. Keep talking, however—dominate the whole damn thing—and they all fade away and you get the title screen. I felt a bit silly after I realized that was all I had to do, and the takeaway for me, even weeks later, is that sometimes the challenge in a game isn’t in doing what is expected after all.