In the interactive fiction game The Act of Misdirection by Callico Harrison, you play as The Great Meldellevo, a woman mastered in the arts of misdirection and slight-of-hand, performing a show in Victorian London. Once you figure out how to get the show going you amaze the audience with your magic, all the while taking note of the fact that they’re only seeing what you want them to see.
I suppose for anyone who’s used to playing interactive fiction that this game is pretty intuitive. However, I’m still very new to all this and couldn’t get the show started. Turns out: when in doubt put it in your hat. Speaking is also a good way to try and move the story along. I had to follow a walk-through, but I felt that this in no way diminished my surprise at the turn of events in The Act of Misdirection. You see, while it’s listed under the fantasy and historical genres, it’s also listed under horror as well.
The Act of Misdirection is similar in narrative structure to games like Photopia, Shrapnel, and Shade. However, if you know what you’re doing (or follow the right walk-through like the one I linked to) you can avoid your unfortunate fate. The game gives you clues and hints at what you should be doing to make the story progress, unfortunately for you they lead to your untimely demise.
The narrative structure of the story is another form of misdirection. You end the first part in a very compromising position, the scene is set up in a manner that make you believe your only choice it to run. (Although there seems to be a hint towards the end that perhaps there’s something else you could’ve done.) The second part of the story drops you into Meldellevo’s past when she went by Sarah. You must play to find out how she went from a simple serving girl in a bun shop to a very famous magician. The non-player characters that you talk to all give you clues to head to a mysterious hat shop where you meet David. This 15-year-old wants to show you something in the cellar (that’s not weird), so, of course, you follow him down there. David is willingly telling you what to do next, step-by-step as you go. Gee! he sure is helpful, thanks a lot, David! But that’s the misdirection. David want’s to help himself, not you. See David is really REALLY bored and there’s something off about him and this hat shop. What you do here actually affects the first part you already played. So if you follow David’s kind advice, part three is a continuation of part one and about your death (but are you really dead?). If you know how to escape your darker fate, part three can be a re-writing of Sarah’s life as less fortunate, but still a living magician.
It’s the different levels of misdirection and the play on words that makes this interactive fiction so interesting to play through. The story’s ability to manipulate the player is intriguing and very shocking when you fall prey to it. Definitely worth playing multiple times to try and catch what you aren’t supposed to notice the first time round.