Charm reviews the Love/Violence Jam

As promised, I’ll be reviewing all of the qualified entries to the Love/Violence Jam, except for my own. I’ll be going in a random order, as generated by itch.io. First up will be My Girl, by @sophia !

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My Girl by Sophia de Augustine ( @sophia )

His first love is the Sea. She is the only woman who would never disappoint him.

Sophia has taken Bluebeard and made it genuinely tense again. I forgot, while reading it, that I knew how the story ended—had in fact written a version of it myself—so engrossed was I in the characters and their stifling dynamic. The well-known tropes of the Bluebeard story (the bodies, the key, the blood) are understated here, which allows the centering of a different aspect of the horror: the violence simmering under even the tender moments in an abusive relationship.

Santiago makes for one scary Bluebeard. Physically imposing, sexually aggressive, and socially controlling, he epitomizes just about everything that makes a man dangerous. His aloofness and preoccupation with the sea mixed with his possessiveness of Carmilla make him unpredictable and difficult to get a read on. This effect is only heightened after Carmilla finds the corpses of his previous wives, when she joins us in questioning the motive behind his every word and action. Does he know? Surely he must. Surely it must be written all over her face and he’s just biding his time, waiting for the most painful moment to strike. As the heat increased, I found myself holding my breath before clicking each link, even though I knew he would die and she would not. The story had me entirely invested.

For me, the story never quite reaches a boil. I loved every moment of it, but I ache for some catharsis. All of the physical violence happens offscreen, and our protagonist never quite manages to claim her own victory. I know this is true to the original story, though, and I recognize that Carmilla’s powerlessness is part of the horror (and very Gothic, for which Sophia and I share a love).

The prose is beautiful, as usual for Sophia. It elevated the story for me, and I found the overall experience to be a tense, enjoyable, heart-pounding ride.

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Cicatrix by Amanda Walker ( @AmandaB )

Cicatrix is not a game, but a poem written in Inform 7 code. I’m reminded of some of the work from Event One in The Second Quadrennial Ryan Veeder Exposition for Good Interactive Fiction, especially Caduceus. However, I think Cicatrix achieves its goal more deftly, especially with the more varied ways it utilizes the Inform 7 syntax to tell its story.

Something can be breakable.
A child is a kind of breakable person.
Yourself holds the past. The past is a child.

Forgiveness is a male monster in childhood. Forgiveness can be such a burden.

There is a bar to entry here, as you have to understand how standard Inform 7 syntax works to really pick up on all the clever tricks and subtleties Amanda has worked into the prose. Especially in the final section, where everything really comes together, the “At the time when things change” rule may be difficult to parse if you aren’t used to staring at long stacks of if/otherwise nested statements. Once you puzzle it out, though, it makes for a serious gut punch.

The story it tells, about the things we carry with us, is I think to some degree a universal experience. Amanda has captured it beautifully and hauntingly.

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Thanks, Charm!

This is what inspired me. Sarah’s is certainly much more fun than mine.

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Endings by Grim

This is a game about painful miscommunication. The divide between our two characters is represented visually by the screen being split in half—one of them speaks in black text on a white background, the other in white on black (I’ll use the colors of their respective backgrounds to refer to them—White and Black). From the beginning, their viewpoints are intentionally diametrically opposed. They offer contrasting perspectives on the same subject: from journaling to safety, they disagree on just about how everything is to be done.

White has hurt Black, and Black loves them anyway. Black helps White change into something that won’t hurt so much, but White chafes at the constriction. In the end, they even disagree about how to proceed with their relationship: to cement it into a future, or end it outright.

The prose is lush, the words carefully chosen for maximum impact. Every sentence brims with both affection and old, scabbed hurt. The melancholy that suffuses the piece is only heightened by the fact that we’re not invited to identify particularly strongly with either party. We experience and empathize with both of their perspectives at once, which only compounds the grief. Well done stuff.

One small note: there’s no scrollbar in the iframe, so if you’re not playing in full screen it’s possible for the text to disappear past the bottom and be inaccessible.

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How Dare You by Tabitha O’Connell ( @alyshkalia )

EDIT: Having now played Cycle, I’ve updated this review with Tiel’s correct pronouns.

This one is rough, emotionally. Your partner (Heron) is breaking up with you (Tiel), and you are NOT taking it well. Your goal is to change eir mind. There are several implemented strategies to try, ranging from the desperate to the manipulative to the despicable.

The world feels deeply implemented. Of particular note is that taking inventory gets the response You are carrying nothing but a broken heart. You can then examine the heart. That’s the kind of detail work I love in a parser. “Undo” also has a poignant response in place of its usual function. There are a few disambiguation moments that could be smoother—both your and Heron’s hands are implemented, and doing something to “hands” doesn’t default to Heron’s, unlike most other actions.

One thing that didn’t quite work for me was that trying one of the “game ending actions” precluded trying any of the others. The picture I’d built of Tiel in my mind was of someone who wasn’t about to take ‘no,’ and that he takes one particular ‘no’ over another doesn’t quite hit for me. On my first play I tried to kiss Heron, and then after ey rejected me finally I tried crying—a reasonable response in my mind’s version of Tiel’s mind. But I was told I couldn’t do that and must simply leave. I know the suggestion does risk a bit of combinatorial explosion and a less tight form, but unique responses for those kinds of pathetic or petty reactions after the goal is already lost would go a long way for me.

It’s a very short game, and worth playing multiple times to explore all of the options. It knows what it wants to do and does it well. The author’s notes say it’s based on a game from last year’s Anti-Romance Jam—I may have to check that one out next.

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