Chat bots are becoming an increasingly more common part of our lives, and game designers have been exploring the technology as a new way of videogame storytelling for a few years now. (Most notably with Kara Stone and Nadine Lessio’s Sext Adventure, a game about a sext bot that can actually chat with you on your phone.) Chat bots can easily make a game experience more intimate, taking place in the palm of your hand on your phone instead of just on a computer screen or TV, and simulating the feel of a real conversation. (If that is in fact what the game’s creator is going for.) Humani: Jessie’s Story was launched last month as a game that players can play through Facebook Messenger. Start by creating a conversation with the bot, and all you have to do to get started is say “hi.”
Influences for Humani include shows like Broad City and New Girl, and it’s about a young woman in the middle of a quarter life crisis. PullString, the developers of the game, are aiming for something a little more light and comedic with Humani, so the story is fairly simple and universal: Jessie is having something of a crisis of identity, which is pretty common for a young woman in her twenties, but she also needs to find a boyfriend, a job and a new apartment – all by the end of the day. As you can see, this is a pretty basic set-up for things to go wrong, shenanigans, as we writers may call them. As the player, you have to help Jessie get that job interview, find that boyfriend, by giving her advice on what to do. PullString has done a fairly good job at making Jessie talk like a real, breathing, human girl (I was pleasantly surprised!), which makes it kind of feel like she’s one of your friends. The game feels like you’re talking with your friend who is notorious for getting into the weirdest situations (we all have one). Of course, making the game part of Facebook also ads to the experience, since Facebook is a platform that lends itself to that kind of digital intimacy in the first place.
Of course this does not mean Jessie is not without limitations, as all chatbot games are. If you stray outside the prompts, she can’t really do anything with that. But there is still enough wiggle room to really let the player customize their experience. There’s a road map, but the road map isn’t obvious, and there is a lot of player freedom. However, PullString didn’t want to make the game feel too realistic, and purposely chose to only give the bot a fanpage, not a personal Facebook page, and use illustrations instead of photographs. This is a decision I find really interesting, given how women are often treated online. PullString is very emphatic that they want to create a lighthearted experience, and it’s possible that if Jessie was made too much like a real girl that players could deviate too far outside the script (I’m talking abusive or overtly sexual), and not experience the game at all.
You can play Humani: Jessie’s Story on PC or your smartphone now, provided you have the Facebook Messenger app installed.