Krypteia post-comp notes

A post-mortem on Krypteia, in the form of an imaginary conversation, covering things that came up in reviews, and also things that did not come up. It’s mostly thematic, but if anyone wants to talk more mechanics, or anything else, throw questions at me.

First off: if anyone’s into it, the source code is here.

What’s the point of the “check for danger” option? Does it ever actually do anything?

[spoiler]When I was a kid, we had a fantasy board game called Hero Quest, where you explored a dungeon. Every time you entered a room, you had to choose if you wanted to search for traps or treasure, but you could only pick one. And if you picked treasure, and the room had a trap, you’d take damage. But if you never picked treasure, you’d never find anything. At one point, I was going to make it a choice like that in Krypteia, but I changed my mind.

I liked the idea that checking for danger all the time means you’re so busy doing that you miss out on opportunities. But I didn’t want to assign any actual benefit to checking for danger. Krypteia is about being made to feel scared all the time, and being told to constantly check for danger, but whether you do or not, shit happens anyway. You can’t really predict it. You just make yourself paranoid. Check for danger doesn’t “do” anything, but it does have a purpose. It’s the paranoia button.[/spoiler]

Is this a satire of video game conventions? You DO start with a Zelda misquote.

There is a light dusting of that kind of thing, yeah, but it’s not a game about games, it’s a game about someone occasionally borrowing games imagery to fantasise about ways to survive, or be powerful. The Zelda quote isn’t about Zelda per se, which I’ve not even played, it’s just to contrast the adventuring instructions girls might get with the ones boys get. You don’t get a sword in Krypteia, you’re gonna have to find another way. Something safer, or perhaps something less “honourable”.

Why throw in all the Greek stuff, when you don’t really use it? I was hoping for a game set in Ancient Sparta where I get to hunt slaves.

[spoiler]Yeeeeeeah… no, sorry. One thing I learned when I set up a twitter alert for “krypteia” is that a LOT of people use it as a name-brand for weapons manufacture: guns, knives, all kinds of hypermasculine terror apparatus. It’s still relevant as a symbol, I think.

I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on male initiation rites in Ancient Greece. You kinda have to write about male initiation because there’s not nearly as much data on female initiation, mostly because it wasn’t really a thing. If you’re a girl, you get married. That’s your initiation into everything that’s ever going to matter for you.

If you’re a boy, you get the interesting stuff. You get the lycanthropy-themed rites, you get to transgress social boundaries, murder, rape, you face down the Other and learn to master it. You enter the liminal wilderness. You become Other for a time yourself - learning it, so that you know what to avoid in future, when you break from youth forever. Eventually, you are reincorporated into society, as a man.

We don’t know much about the actual Spartan krypteia, beyond the Plutarch quote I use at the start, but everything we know sounds pretty awful. (Helots = super-oppressed Spartan slave-class, btw.) Teen boys are taught to run around at night, attacking people with even less power than them, and apparently this is a really great way to learn to become a man. My point is that yeah, in some ways, nothing’s changed. And can we talk about the people who get sacrificed to serve men’s initiation rites and heroes journey’s - the helots, the women, the monsters?[/spoiler]

Why is there no middle path between wolf and shadow? Why do I have to pick an extreme?

In short, because it’s a game about power fantasies, and fantasies tend to explore extremes. Let’s face it: most of us live in the middle way - trying to balance self-expression and safety. We know what that’s like. I wanted to push two opposing fantasies and see where they led.

Did you really have to use such cliché hyper-feminine imagery, like stilettos, for the wolf path?

[spoiler]Yes. It’s absolutely key to what I wanted. Not because they are in any way essential to femininity, but because I wanted to transfigure items of clothing I had been taught to be afraid of wearing. Things that the “wrong” kind of woman wears: ridiculous heels, leopardprint, flashy jewelery. Stuff your dad forbade you from leaving the house in. Because, when you think about it, and try to strip out the legacy of the male gaze (which is the nice thing about a text game, where the protagonist is invisible, it’s easier to attempt that) how is it not inherently badass to wear blades on your feet and animal skins? How is it not badass to cover yourself in jewels and go half naked, secure in your conviction that anyone who touches you will die?

The initial spark of the entire game is owed to a brief twitter exchange I had with Eliza Gauger about high heels. Stilettos are named after daggers, of course. I’ve played RPGs when I found “stilettos” as loot drops, and had to remind myself they were a weapon, not a shoe. I wanted to make a game where they were both, and just as deadly. Plus, I don’t wear a lot of them in real life. They’re hard to walk in! But again: this is a power fantasy.[/spoiler]

It’s just I can’t relate to any of that as a power fantasy, stilettos and stuff really isn’t me.

[spoiler]Yeah, I hear you. It’s not me either, to be honest. I wanted to explore my own ambiguous relationship with femme stuff. I noticed that I felt less safe, and less powerful the more stereotypically feminine I dressed, and I hated it. I didn’t hate the femme, I hated how it made me feel vulnerable, which was largely about other people’s perceptions. Or my perception of their perceptions, anyway. I don’t actually find what I’m wearing makes that much difference to how much I’m harassed, but it does affect how I feel. I tried to take that feeling and twist it around into something better, something I could use to fortify myself when I’m walking alone at night in heels.

But yeah, the protagonist of Krypteia isn’t entirely me, and doesn’t have to be you either. It’s okay if you don’t agree with the fantasies, or their implications. It’s just me working through some stuff, and I’m interested in hearing other people’s reactions, even if they’re negative.[/spoiler]

If it’s a fantasy, why aren’t any of the endings very happy?

[spoiler]Well, that depends on your view. All the endings can be taken as happy, if they contain the sort of thing that makes you happy. Different people like different endings, too, I’ve had a number of different responses from players.

OK, so some of them are more “successful” than others: Subterfuge, the shadow-path ending where you retain your selfhood but return home, is the most materially successful, but involves a lot of compromise. Invisibility is safe, but you can’t affect the world in the same way.

Sisterhood, the full-on-wolf path is the high-risk, high-reward ending, as co-dependent relationships can be that way. Independence, where you take the wolf-path, but reject Lyka at the end, is ostensibly not very happy or successful, but it’s the least compromising ending. It’s the one where you tell everyone to accept you for who you are or go fuck themselves, and there’s a glory in that, isn’t there, even as they burn you at the stake? Knowing you never backed down, never let them scare you into compliance.

Sanctuary, the surrender to the shadows, is the ending I had to rewrite several times, till I was less worried it might tip a suicidal person over the edge. It’s the happiness of numbness and peace and sleeping and safety and not having to deal with people ever again.[/spoiler]

OK, so… is this game a trans thing or what?

[spoiler]I’m intrigued and surprised by the number of reviewers who’ve assumed that it is, and I have various theories as to why. To answer the question, though: If you want. It doesn’t have to be, though. I wanted to write something that could be taken in different ways, with regard to the gender of the protagonist. The only constant is that they are feminine/fem(me). Being cis myself, I don’t have any authority to describe trans lives, and I don’t claim to be doing so. I wrote about things I have personally experienced and felt and feared and fantasised. What I tried to do was to leave space for others (trans or cis, male, female or nonbinary) to identify with the protagonist if it felt relevant to them. I don’t know if I succeeded, but that was my aim.

It’s true that many of the people I love most, and am closest to, are trans, and I hear about the fraction of the abuse they receive that they feel like sharing with me. And that part of the inception of the game was my rage and pain on behalf of Cece McDonald, who survived a vicious attack on the street, only to be punished for that survival by a racist and transphobic justice system. But I didn’t want to directly compare my experiences of street harrassment and gender policing as a white cis woman with theirs, because it IS NOT comparable. Fat people get another special category of street harassment, too. In many ways, I have it easy.

However. While the experiences of all femme people on the street aren’t necessarily comparable, I admit I deliberately conflated/obscured the exact reasons the protagonist is attacked in Krypteia, because I think the cause can often be the same. Certain people believe that they have the right to police the streets and pass judgement on others. Masculine is default, feminine is “other”, it’s seen as a soft target, and is punished with varying types and degrees of verbal and physical violence.

Krypteia is for anyone who fears this violence every time they leave the house. And a reminder that for some, home is the most dangerous place of all, even if they’re taught to believe otherwise. maga had a great line in his review :“order and chaos can be mutually-supporting aspects of the same oppressive system, that officially-tolerated kinds of of lawlessness should be understood as the left hand of kyriarchy rather than a separate influence.”[/spoiler]

Oh… this is the wise men’s secret thing, yes?

[spoiler]Yeah, and there was an interesting split between people who thought this part was too obvious/sledgehammer approach, and those who never quite seemed to catch on to what was going on. Oh well, at least nobody called me out on ripping off dubious Shyamalan film, The Village! Which would probably be a fair cop, if accidental and unconscious.

In short, for anyone still confused, the general point is that patriarchy has no interest in making the world safer for women/queers, because the entire point is that they get to use this as an excuse to scare and control them. What maga said, basically. And the fact that the krypteia was almost certainly as much a method of controlling the helots through fear, and keeping them from going at night to organise rebellions as it was for training boys.

Personally I feel that, yeah, the secret bit, and also the ranger/cop bit, is not remotely subtle, but I realised pretty early on that Krypteia didn’t seem to want to be subtle, and I let it roll with that.[/spoiler]

Speaking of the cop… considering you’re a white cis woman, how can you say that cops are dangerous to you? Try being a black man.

[spoiler]I totally agree that I am in the lucky bracket of people whom the police are most likely to protect, rather then harass. The experiences of black men at the hands of the police, and society in general, is not something I am qualified to comment on, or make art about, but something I would love to see art from them about. I want to play their games about this.

Again, though, the Krypteia protagonist isn’t me, isn’t necessarily white or cis, and depending on presentation and circumstances (e.g. if they think we might be a sex worker, for instance) anyone can find cops scary and hostile. Being scary and hostile is a standard part of their arsenal. You have to be the “right” kind of woman to deserve protection from patriarchy. You have to express femininity in precisely the right way, which is a very narrow band. If you’re black or trans, that band doesn’t even seem to exist, and there is literally no way to win. I know how deeply conditional my protection is, and I can still despise the system and fantasise about immolating cops. (P.S. if you like games where you can destroy cops through your own fabulousness, please also play Squinky’s Quing’s Quest!)

Sorry if you find this attitude juvenile and unrealistic and your dad/uncle/whoever is one of the good cops. I’m sure he is. Unfortunately, Krypteia is my space for being juvenile and unrealistic, and I need it to help me deal with the real world in a more sensible manner.

Thank you to everyone who came to visit.[/spoiler]

Oh yeah, this was a pretty frequent one:


[spoiler]I’m really sorry! I had a lot of testers, but I should absolutely have done more to check visibility on more screens, and specifically for accessibility to colour blind users. Certain text being hard to see was a stylistic choice, and I thought I had balanced it with readability just about right, but I can see that was a mistake. A high-contrast version is on the cards.

Also, I never thought that anyone would be trying to access this via a touchscreen device, and I have no idea how that affects things like mouseover highlighting, which I thought made navigation easier. There are a lot of ways that might break twine formatting, hmm.[/spoiler]

Re. “is this a trans thing?”:

Part of the reason I read it that way (or possibly as a story of genderqueerness) rather than as a cis woman’s adulthood was that early text in the game implied to me that the protagonist had been punished for e.g. wearing nail polish; in other words, that a femme gender expression had been punished by the wise men. I can see that it would also work if what was punished was sexual expression, though. (This also makes Krypteia the second game in which I drew major conclusions about the protagonist based on their attitude to nail polish. Hm.)

[spoiler]I added that passage about the glittery makeup for a few reasons actually. Mainly, though, I was concerned that in setting out certain mechanics in which femme gender apparatus are powerful and masc ones are concealing/defensive, people who LIKE those masc things and take different interpretations of them might feel attacked/misjudged. I needed to do something early on to state outright that the protagonist wasn’t completely user-defined and malleable, and had their own pre-existing feelings about these things that the mechanics were an expression of.

But yeah, it was also an excuse to add ambiguous hinting about exactly why the protagonist is being forcibly discouraged from fabulous OTT makeup, whether because it’s seen as gender-inappropriate, or Conservative Dad freaking out that his little princess is making herself look like someone he doesn’t approve of and growing up into someone he can’t recognise or control. I mean, it’s all on the same kind of spectrum of behavioural control, IMO, which is why I obfuscated the exact reasons. Same reason I did for the exact reasons for the subsequent harassment.[/spoiler]

I was thoroughly impressed by the presentation. Especially the slick front end that made it seem like a professional game from an App Store.

Was I the only one who consistently hit a pop-up error partway through? (Not saying this as a critique – more as a question of whether it would be helpful for me to try to get you the exact reproduction steps, or if it’s something you’re aware of.)

I was one of the people who didn’t like the stilettos, because I completely forgot it could also mean dagger and missed the pun – I felt like all of the other objects worked on the pseudo-classic-fantasy-RPG level and on the real-world level. Oops. Very clever.

Check for danger as a paranoia button worked for me, but perhaps it would work better if it occasionally gave you a point boost, since it’s healthy paranoia IMHO.

I’m not aware of this, no, so any details for reproduction much appreciated, thank you.

I thought about doing having it add shadow points/remove wolf, but never found a way that I was satisfied wasn’t unbalancing. I also considered having the enemy encounters a lot more difficult/randomised/complicated in various ways, and generally making the stat/progression aspect more of a challenge, but in the end, I erred on the side of simplicity and accessibility.