IFcomp 2016: Cactus Blue Motel

We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.

“Cactus Blue Motel” is next on my playlist. Let’s see what it has to offer.

“Cactus Blue Motel” is a lovely story which owes some inspiration, I think, to “Hotel California”; it’s even referenced at one point when you speak to a band of musicians about whether or not the place is a trap.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story is that we and our two friends are on a final road trip from Houston to Santa Monica; after this, everyone will be going their separate ways for university. We stop at a motel for the night; it’s unremarkable and deserted, but when darkness falls, the place comes alive with denizens who’ve checked in over the years–the manager says he stopped here on the way to California for the Gold Rush–and never left.

I’m not sure it’s very clear why we want to join the others here, but it hardly matters. Our friends have, seemingly against their character, decided that they want to stay as well. And just when it looks like everyone’s agreed, the final guest tells us he believes this place to be a trap, that nobody who’s checked in has ever checked out.

Already, you see that this thing has a pretty large cast: our two friends, plus enough distinctly-drawn motel guests to make the place seem properly populated. I thought the characterisation was pretty strong, especially considering that a good deal of the story hinged on the characterisation of the two friends. Lex is all cut-and-dried business, control, plans, and schedules; Becky, more emotional, is all about connecting with others. Their desire to stay seems to go against their character, but probing a little deeper could not only help you to understand why they decide as they do, but possibly convince them to change their minds.

And the plot is just as nuanced. Is the motel a trap or a haven? Could it be both? Speaking to the various characters, one gets multiple different viewpoints. I’m inclined towards the “trap” interpretation, incidentally: circumstances surrounding the character Dean, fingered by the one paranoid guest as the mastermind, make me suspicious of his motives, and I do get the impression that the “refreshing break” promised by the motel is more “stasis” than “break”. And yet … the temptation part is convincing enough to make me question if, after all, the motel is a gift of temporary rest in the middle of the turbulence of life.

That’s pretty hard to do, I think. One issue with a lot of morality games is that temptation is so clearly temptation, and so distant from the player, that it’s laughably easy to simply pick the right answer no matter how the protagonist has been characterised. Here, the temptation is more subtly drawn, and even though there seems to be hardly any assertion that we are tempted, we wonder if, after all, staying might be the right thing to do … and in the end, it really is up to the individual player to decide whether one ending is any better than another. Well done.

Breakfast is about new beginnings: it’s in the word itself, the “breaking” of a “fast”. With “Cactus Blue Motel”, we’re doing it with something cool and refreshing. A fruit crepe, light but not insubstantial, multiple flavours in harmony; cold orange juice. Take your time, but not too much, or the world will have moved on without you.

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