Hinterland is a game about language and cities – amongst other things. The poem is divided into four cantos; each canto is both a segment of the poem, and a quest to be completed. Having picked up a canto booklet from the Hinterland Waystation – a manned checkpoint that serves as a ‘base’ for the game – players venture out into a city and seek answers to questions from strangers. Not random strangers; strangers who meet specific criteria, unique to each canto. Speaking a particular language, for instance, or being engaged in a particular profession.
The player and their new acquaintance answer questions together, and then turn those answers into to the “Operator”, an automated, robotic voice at the end of a specially-created phoneline. Shortly after the completion of each quest, a canto of poetry is returned to the player – either in text, online, or in audio, to be listened to on a phone. The poetry varies dependant on their answers. Some of the answers might appear in the poem directly, but it’s not all “fill in the blanks”: many of the answers lead to branching segments and meaning, and some may be less significant than they appear.
The player must return to the Hinterland Waystation to move onto the next canto, pick up a new booklet of questions, and advance an avatar they’ve made to represent themselves within a sculptural installation depicting the Hinterland. As the poem progresses, the player finds that their answers to all the Operator’s questions have increasing significance, and that the poem is not just being customised for them; it might turn out to be all about them.