Puzzle and programming developer Zachtronics has announced their next project will be a visual novel. Titled Eliza, it stars heroine Evelyn Ishino-Aubrey, who works as a reader for the AI powered counseling application Eliza. But as a reader, all she can do is read back what the AI writes, not offer her own analysis or opinion.
Evelyn found her way into her job as a reader “after abandoning her high-powered tech career and a mysterious three-year absence”, the game’s summary states. She finds herself conflicted on looking at Eliza as something positive that helps people that could not access human therapists, and those that feel it is ineffective and just another way for tech companies to control and analyze people.
Eliza is written, directed, and composed by Matthew Seiji Burns, who previously co-wrote the game The Writer Will Do Something. Zachtronics founder Zach Barth serves as an engineer and executive producer.
Seiji Burns said that he came up with the idea in 2014, when he was working at a university and encountered research into PTSD. Aimed at American soldiers, he said that it used “a combination of computer vision, real-time analytics and virtual human avatars.” He based the name Eliza off of a program from MIT in the 1960s called ELIZA. Created by Professor Joseph Weizenbaum, it functioned as an early type of chatbot, which emulated a therapist via a script. Seiji Burns said that during his research for the novel, he interviewed Weizenbaum’s granddaughter, who is now an engineer at Google.
The novel’s main theme will be career burnout, and people wondering if hard work they’ve done is worth it in the end. “What did her effort eventually mean for the world? Was she building something worthwhile or wasting her time? Should she double down on her creation or reverse course and try to undo it? These aren’t simply theoretical questions; they are urgent considerations for anyone who’s contributed to the tech world and beyond over the last decade and a half,” the announcement said.
Eliza will launch on August 12 on Steam at a price of $14.99. It will be available for Windows, macOS, and Linux/SteamOS.