Invisible Apartment is a visual novel with a few choose-your-own-adventure elements littered throughout. The creator, Milan Kazarka, was inspired to create Invisible Apartment by another visual novel called Juniper’s Knot. Kazarka has also made a game called Ten Years of Sleep, and is currently working on a prequel to Invisible Apartment called Invisible Apartment Zero.
I was torn after reading Invisible Apartment, having both enjoyed it and found certain aspects quite disappointing. The nice thing is that disappointment can be rectified, and probably will be eventually (especially with a prequel on the way). The overall story is pretty interesting, and the characters that drive it are compelling enough to pull you through the 30 minutes or so of game play.
The first aspect of the game that got me thinking was the titular concept of the invisible apartment: a place within the ubiquitous surveillance society that manages to go unseen. It is protected by algorithms, proxies, and security software, which prevent it from showing up on the government’s radar. I found this concept compelling and quite enviable owing to my personal discontent and discomfort with our current state of affairs (i.e. a world monitored by the NSA and reigned-in by corporate surveillance). If you want to be invisible to state apparatuses, it is clear that you have to put in the work to learn to use proxies, VPNs, and encryption programs. And, of course, as Invisible Apartment illustrates, the powers at be and the powers that see are not infallible. If Bunny (IA’s protagonist) can find it, so can the government. But the point is that they actively have to come looking, and this is expensive to do, so someone who makes the path more labyrinthine and costly will inevitably reap more privacy and autonomy.
The second aspect of the work that really piqued my interest was Bunny’s back history. (Spoilers to follow.) As a teen, Bunny was convicted of hacking, and has since had to live with this black mark on her record. It has prevented her from getting honest work, and essentially forces her into continuing to pursue illegal activities simply to survive. Her primary motivation is to doctor/eliminate her criminal record from the system so that she can live a normal life. (This element of the story troubled me greatly, seeing as how this is a problem faced by many adolescents and teens who are haunted-for-life by their early misadventures or failings. I feel that this is not fully-explored in the mainstream media, and is therefore elevates the importance of this text.) Bunny isn’t just some criminal. She has value and we care what happens to her. This is true of real people who have to deal with these issues, and is a serious problem with the US justice system, but I assume it is a problem in other parts of the world too.
Now for the disappointment. The story is bereft of both an ending and any sense of climax. The characters get to the point where they are ready to act, given the culmination of what they’ve learned, witnessed, and experienced, they are given no opportunity to do so. It reminds me of the movie Push, where the oppressed protagonists go into a government building at the end of the movie to face off with their oppressors and then we don’t get to see it go down. It’s bad storytelling to end a narrative just short of the most interesting part (or if not bad storytelling, then frustrating abusive storytelling). Then of course there is the aftermath, which is also neglected in this story…
I mentioned earlier-on that the issues I’ve identified and deemed disappointing could easily be rectified (and that they probably will be). Kazarka has stated that he intends to write several more stories in the same universe, and is currently working on a prequel. I presume that a sequel will come around eventually, providing Invisible Apartment the conclusion it deserves. All grievances aside and all future publications considered, I think the game is worth playing because the ideas are compelling and it is, after all, a great deal of fun to play.
Invisible Apartment is currently available to download for free on the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Mac. Kazarka has stated an interest in making the game available for other platforms in the future, but as of this writing that has not come to fruition. However, if you are Apple productless (as I am), then you can experience the game through the YouTube walk-through.