The Land Down Under is part four of a series of interactive stories entitled “Mrs. Wobbles and the Tangerine House.” Mrs. Wobbles lives in a magical home and takes in foster kids. The Land Down Under is about three of those children who have an adventure after entering a part of this magical house they hadn’t visited before.
The Land Down Under is rather didactic, and it’s quite up front about this. The blurb even says, “Lin must pursue [her foster siblings] into this world only to learn the price of perfection.” There are also asides from the narrator like “people who have to talk about what a great time they’re having are usually trying to wallpaper over their misery” as a way of explaining a character’s treatment of the PC and “A relationship is like a never ending conversation. The only thing that can hurt it, can kill it actually, is when you just don’t feel like giving a reply.” Both are worthwhile observations. With this telling-vs-showing aspect, though, The Land Down Under is aiming itself at children.
The main message in The Land Down Under is, as the blurb indicates, about perfection. Lin feels some insecurity at being different, the odd one out, and the perfection offered by the land down under initially seems enticing. Yet she soon discovers that what appears to be perfection is just boring, two-dimensional sameness.
By this point I was thinking that the game would be going for a message along the lines of “It’s good to be different because differences are interesting,” a message pretty common in children’s literature. Instead, it veers in another direction, one that is more of a standard American left-style critique: The uniformity in the land down under is caused by people in power who are afraid of change. Realizing this, Lin joins the resistance forces and helps to overthrow the government. In a nice touch at the end, though, those who are afraid of change aren’t irredeemable. They can learn to embrace change, and when they do so, they find themselves transformed.
As I played The Land Down Under I found myself comparing it with another work that features a conformist society: Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. In Wrinkle, the uniformity that protagonist Meg finds on the planet Camazotz is also enforced by its ruler. Unlike in The Land Down Under, though, the mechanically demonic IT’s desire for uniformity isn’t caused by a fear of change; it’s caused by an inability to love. Without love, Wrinkle says, we can’t grant other people the freedom to be themselves in all their glorious imperfections. Meg’s victory over IT at the end of Wrinkle comes when she realizes this and embraces her flaws, rescuing her brother in the process. The Land Down Under pulls a somewhat similar narrative move: Lin herself always does what she’s told, and so joining the resistance is quite a bold act for her. She’s embracing change, and by doing so, transforms herself. She also comes to understand her foster siblings better.
The storytelling in The Land Down Under is a particular strength. It’s interesting and imaginative, and the writing is good. I wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen to Lin.
A few small critiques: The war scenes seemed a bit disjointed to me, jumping back and forth between battles and dialogue between Lin and Wanda. There was also a reference to something I didn’t actually do; perhaps the game was trying to stitch together the consequences of several actions I had chosen earlier and didn’t quite manage to sew them up properly. More seriously, at one point the game hung. This was when I, as a giant balloon snake, tried to talk to a young boy. Fortunately, it was a matter of only a few minutes to restart and return to roughly that part of the story.
Overall, I’d say the The Land Down Under is a good game for kids. It’s well-told and features messages worth pondering. It’s probably too up-front with its main moral for adults, though; we generally prefer our lessons taught more subtly. Still, this adult enjoyed The Land Down Under anyway.