Eliza is a fascinating game about tech start-up culture and mental health. It also contains a devilish Solitaire game that I can’t stop thinking about.
Eliza is a visual novel about a woman named Evelyn who works as a proxy for an app called Eliza, which is a machine-learning based therapy service. Her job is to sit in a chair with a headset on and read Eliza’s responses to her patients. I’m only a couple hours in, but I’m fascinated by the world depicted in this game, which is not too far off from our own world in a lot of ways. I am also fascinated by Solitaire app on Evelyn’s phone. I keep playing it.
It’s not the same as the version of Solitaire that I grew up playing on my parents’ computer. Instead of organizing the cards into suits, you’re organizing the cards by their type in groups of four. You can only move a card if you are placing it on top of a matching card. There are four empty slots at the top of the screen that can hold a single card, and if you manage to clear any of the other slots on the screen, you can store cards there temporarily as well. When you get a stack of four matching cards and put them in an empty slot, that slot is locked and can’t be used for anything else.
It’s just different enough from the Solitaire I grew up playing that it really tripped me up when I tried it out the first time. I saw it first when I took a look at the apps on Evelyn’s phone early in the game, which are mostly related to the plot. You can read her emails, her messages from her boss, and her chats with her friends. She has a few games on her phone, but Solitaire is the only playable one, at least so far. The first time I fiddled with it and didn’t get anywhere, I figured I’d just never play it again. But then I thought, what the hell, learning how to play couldn’t hurt, could it?
The more I played, the more dedicated I became to getting better at it. I started noticing how I made certain games unwinnable by trapping cards beneath each other. I took more time making my moves, checking what was beneath cards to see if one change could open things up. Then I realized that I’m still only in the beginning of Eliza, a game that I genuinely like but am not getting any closer to finishing.
Although Eliza is riveting, when I’m not playing the visual novel I find myself thinking about strategies to finally win Solitaire. That kind of idle distraction doesn’t hurt much—except for my progress in the game. Soon, I’ll unravel the mysteries of Eliza’s version of Seattle, which is persistently beset by rain and ominous clouds. But first, I want to beat at least the first of four difficulties on this solitaire game. I’ll have to stop myself before I go much farther than that.