I wrote a game for Ludum Dare 34 called Rape, Pillage, Makane! It’s a very short game, but more thought went into it than players might realize, which is why I’m providing this commentary. Light spoilers will follow.
Normally I’m happy to discuss the mechanical elements behind my games (what few mechanical elements there are) or my overall conceptual intentions, but I hesitate to mention what I intend for any game to “be about.” I want to leave that up to the player.
This game is different. It occupies a more dangerous territory than others I’ve written. So I think it will benefit from an author’s note, similar to something like a card that would be stuck next to a painting at an exhibit. What I’m going to talk about isn’t hidden information, and my hope when I wrote the game was that my stance about its content, as its author, would be obvious.
Rape, Pillage, Makane! has a two-button mechanic that was inspired by Kristian Kirsfeldt’s Rape, Pillage, Galore! Your only options in both games are SLAY and LAY. From my understanding, Galore! was written as a parody back in 2002. An attempt to boil stereotypical fantasy down to its basest components, and then spit out randomly generated text at the player. It was essentially a one-note joke (or maybe a two-note joke). But once I’d heard about it, the idea stuck with me. I kept turning it over.
The more I thought about it, the more I came to feel that the SLAY/LAY mechanic did more than boil down stereotypical fantasy. It boils down many games across many genres. No matter how glossy and complex a combat engine might be, when you strip away the trappings you’re left with SLAY. The player wants to kill something, and that thing is supposed to die when the player presses the right buttons, manipulates the right variables. If it doesn’t die, then the player has been cheated by the game.
LAY works the same way when it comes to relationship or romance options. Just like a combat engine will have different cogs clicking away to bring about a death, something like a dating simulator will have different cogs clicking to bring about a romance. And again, if the player presses the right buttons, manipulates the right variables, then they feel that they’re obligated to kiss or date or have sex with whatever non-player character they’ve targeted. There’s no more consent involved than there is when players gun down enemies in combat games. Whatever consent might exist is just another variable to be manipulated and thereby overcome.
Of course not all games with combat and romance are like this, but Rape, Pillage, Makane! is a reaction to the games that are like this.
When you reduce those games, you’re left with SLAY and LAY as the main goals. When you reduce the mechanics, you’re left with two buttons. You get what you want in Rape, Pillage, Makane! You can never be wrong. The game exists to serve you, and it never says no since you know how to press its buttons. For that reason, although it’s text-based and quite brief, it must be understood as a game and not simply as an interactive story in order to function properly.
This dictated how it was written. Although Sir Makane does indeed murder and rape people in the game, the narrator is always on his side. I suspect that some players might not realize that I’m not on the narrator’s side. It’s possible to breeze through the game and laugh and think there’s nothing more to it, and the game is meant to be funny. But a close reading will reveal that its humor is more bitter and critical than it may seem at first glance.
Sir Makane is of course Stiffy Makane in yet another incarnation. Recent Stiffy Makane games have salvaged the character from his juvenile first appearance in The Incredible Erotic Adventures of Stiffy Makane, in which he was an unrepentant sexist murderer. In Rape, Pillage, Makane! he is an unrepentant sexist murderer again (although his expanded sexual appetites from the later games have been preserved). But at this point in time, Makane is a liberated character. Now he can go into horrible places and he will always have a little light to shine in the darkness. That’s why he seemed a natural fit to address the issues in Rape, Pillage, Makane! Served cold, the game’s content would have been intolerable.
I’ve been discussing abstract ideas about how games deal with sex and violence. However, I didn’t write this game just to make one more game about games in the growing pile out there. I wrote it as a direct response to American police brutality and rape, and specifically in response to the Daniel Holtzclaw case.
Earlier I said that I wouldn’t be talking about “hidden information,” but nobody would’ve known that Holtzclaw was on my mind unless I had mentioned it. This is the only piece in the development process that you can’t learn firsthand by playing the game yourself, and that’s fine. The game is about more than Holtzclaw. It’s about more than the American police. It’s about any authority figure who uses that authority to inflict abuse. It’s about where such figures derive their authority from.
Whether the game is successful, I don’t know. It runs a great risk by pretending to be light-hearted on the surface. But as its author, I’m at least satisfied with what I’ve produced.