Impostor Syndrome

Impostor Syndrome, an entry in the 2013 Interactive Fiction Competition, tells the story of a female presenter at a technology conference. Within the first few pages I knew this is something I wanted to write about.

The Impostor Syndrome is an actual phenomenon where one cannot internalize their accomplishments and, despite any proof to the contrary, constantly believe they are frauds. Deirdra Kiai, writing as Georgiana Bourbonnais, constructs a compelling narrative around this phenomenon that I believe many women in the technology field can relate to. Aside from the experience of feeling like a lesser person due to your gender, Kiai also presents a realistic depiction of anxiety. I immediately connected with Georgiana through this shared experience. (Also, playing this game keyed up my anxiety so warning to anyone this may affect.)

You really get into the head of Georgiana and I believe this is an excellent medium through which we can show how harmful sexism in industry can be. I think that someone (read: a man) could get a better feel of what it is like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry through this game. You constantly doubt yourself and feel like nothing you say or do is good enough simply because you have been repeatedly told you are inferior. You are made to feel like an “Impostor.”



The first line of the game is “You don’t belong up here.” From the very beginning you are under the impression that you are somehow not up to par. As you continue with your presentation you are reminded of all the reasons you don’t deserve to be a speaker at this conference. Your code is never good enough. You’re not as knowledgeable as some other people are. You were laid off because they thought you weren’t skilled enough – and they’re right aren’t they? They’re right about everything they’ve told you. You’re nowhere near as good as everyone around you. You’re a fraud. But you could have it worse right? So why are you even complaining? You’re so selfish.

The self-doubt is pervasive. It spreads from Georgiana to the player. I found myself wanting to get the game/presentation over with as soon as possible just to get out of an uncomfortable, albeit fictional, situation.

The game does end on a somewhat hopeful note; you commiserate with two other women in the industry and are told that there are people there for you. Yet this hope is diminished at the final screen that says “Some things never change.” For anyone questioning whether the technology industry is sexist, I would show them this piece and say that, sadly, the ‘Impostor Syndrome’ is an all too common experience.

  6 comments for “Impostor Syndrome

  1. mstough
    February 16, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    I thought this was a very interesting piece and I think what you said about it is very accurate. It seems that a lot of the pieces we’ve been interacting with for class have been constructed to make the reader anxious. I wonder if this is the only way creators think they can get a point across to people? I know it’s a good sign if an author is able to bring out a strong reaction in a reader, however, I wonder if there are other ways that points can be made and reactions can be brought about that don’t in turn heighten anxiety?

    • Cameron Hodge
      February 17, 2014 at 12:51 pm

      I think a lot of pieces try to invoke uncomfortable or negative feelings more as proof-of-concept that the technology can be used to accomplish more than the intended rote. Things like ARG’s make a habit of twisting normal artifacts like webpages into anxious, time-sensitive puzzles as a means to subvert the nature of their proverbial canvas. That is to say, if you want a comfortable experience using a computer program, most computer programs already strive to do that (to varying degrees of success.) A digital artist, on the other hand, will probably want to set him or herself apart from normalcy if s/he wants to deliver a memorable message. Some of the games we’ve seen and played, for instance, are mechanically simple but memorable due to their subversive aesthetics.

  2. nbemis
    February 16, 2014 at 10:19 pm

    While I do enjoy the simulation of anxiety and the process of panicked over-thinking that this piece presents, I think it’s important to talk about it as a work which employs hypertext. More than that, as a work which employs hypertext well. The story could totally make sense without following the links, but the links add information which deepens the story, exactly like the ideal footnote.

    • Robert
      February 16, 2014 at 10:51 pm

      I agree with nbemis. The hyperlinks create a sense of branching to Georgiana’s thought process, which is honestly pretty familiar to me. The branching, that is. One thing reminds me of something different, and in that there’s a reminder of something else, and before I know it I’ve gone from Caesar Salad to Metallica. It’s interesting how the hypertext creates a sense of realism, when I feel like in other cases hypertext created a kind of surrealism.

    • star
      February 17, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      This is a cool IF. I agree with nbemis too. The hyperlinks are very significant to the IF. I went through the interactive fiction as if I was Georgiana. Every link I clicked revealed my insecurities and doubt within myself because it symbolized Georgiana allowing her mind to wonder towards her insecurities. Out of curiosity I went through the game a second time without clicking on anything except for the slides. In the end the interactive fiction forced me to look at what the audience was laughing about. The IF forced me to do the logical reaction in a situation of the sort. It also forced me to put myself in the shoes of a women who has to deal with the lack of women in her field and forces the reader to look at the difficulties women face as a minority in a field dominated by men. I like that It doesn’t bash anyone directly. We hear some names but there is no fixation, rather shows a critique on the environment as a whole.

  3. February 22, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Thank you for bringing this piece into our conversation. As other commentors have already noted, this IF is effective and relevant, and I think that’s partly because it does well at encouraging us, the reader/player, to experience the point of view of the author. I’m not sure exactly why Twine games in particular can do that so well, but perhaps, as star suggests, this

    shows a critique on the environment as a whole.

    In a related sense, Twine itself is creating an environment and asking us to experience it by making the kinds of choices available to someone in this situation.

    A lot to think about. Thanks for sharing this.

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