Fate is interactive fiction by Victor Gijsbers, the author of the rather disquieting The Baron. Gijsbers is very interested in play (either in computer games or in role-playing games) that challenges the moral decision-making of the player, often by setting a series of difficult choices related to the same theme. In The Baron, this was about how a person should behave when he finds himself to be something monstrous. In Fate, the questions are about what you (as an expectant mother) are willing to sacrifice to save yourself and your unborn child.
Fateis in many respects a more traditional form of game than The Baron. The Baron is essentially puzzle-less, with mostly menu-based choices to make. In Fate, most of the options available to the protagonist are through the practice of magic (presented here as a morally dubious tool of people with few other options), and the player spends a bit of time working out how to cast new spells and then performing the appropriate steps. These steps usually have a cost, often in blood; and the more sacrifices you make, the more the game demands of you. Problems escalate, as the author tests to find out exactly where you choose to draw the line.
It's an ingenious and challenging mechanic. It doesn't work perfectly.
One problem with Fate -- as the author himself would admit -- is that there isn't enough time, within the scope of the game, to get to know the other characters well. There's little opportunity to develop emotional history with them before being asked to decide the outcome of their lives. And that means that they are often more like tokens than real people, abstract markers in a philosophical question. I never felt personally sad about a character I'd decided to betray; there was no affinity built there first. That difficulty could be overcome in a longer game in which the player has more time to interact in non-crisis scenes with the other characters.
Another problem, though, is what this mechanic does to the plot. Because the story is designed mostly as a linear progression of tests on just how much harm the player is willing to do in order to save her child, there is eventually a sameness or predictability about new challenges as they arise. Never (that I found) does the story turn a sudden left -- as static fiction often does -- to enter new territory both thematically fitting and unexpected. Again, this may be due to the game's brevity as much as anything else. The plot doesn't really have enough scope to present a series of very different scenes.
All that said, Fate is a piece I come back to again and again in my thinking about the interactive potential of narrative, because it attempts something rarely done: It allows the player to craft a character who is not just "good" or "bad" or "aligned" to one or another ethical philosophy, but the representative of a more complex morality, one without labels. And there are a few strong moments where the player comes face-to-face with the cumulative implications of her choices, and they surprise a little.
Fate has also been released as open source by its author, and he has said he is eager to see other authors' revisions or re-envisionings of the work -- so if you've ever been tempted to tweak a game you were playing, here's one where you can.
N.B.: Fate was built using the Z-machine, an interactive fiction engine originally created by Infocom. To play the game, you need to install a Z-machine interpreter on your machine, and download the game file. We link to Z-machine interpreters for PC, Mac, and Linux above--you can probably find them for other devices, too.