Thoughts on The Baron
Although the player gets to help write the story (eg. in choosing future events at the end), I still developed a picture of the kind of man the PC is in this story … maybe because when a list of alternative answers was presented, it seemed as though all of them passed through his mind as real options (and he wasn’t just thinking of the answer I entered). So here is my view of the PC in this story.
The protagonist has a mess of conflicting images of himself, which makes sense for someone who is molesting their child. He is in deep denial of his guilt, but at one level he is aware of the kind of person he is and is in deep distress.
- The struggling human
- The victim
- The virtuous hero
- The guilty one
1) The struggling human
The picture is a mixture of hopelessness - “I cannot change” - and a struggle against it - “I hope that one day I will find the strength to act.”
Quotes from the conversation with the gargoyle:
“Again you come here, to fail once more. Do you still believe that it will once end differently?”
(4) “No, I cannot change. I have tried, as you well know. But the circle of fate is too strong: I am doomed to walk for eternity, and with each circuit I paint my soul a blacker shade.”
“But is it true that there is always another chance? How do you know that you haven’t been condemned to the eternal recurrence of suffering, like me?”
(1) “I know nothing, but I keep on hoping. Only when I have lost all hope will I have become a true prisoner of my deeds.”
“Then keep on to your hope. But remember that hope alone is not enough. At the hardest moment, you will also have to act.”
(2) “That is the problem–at the crucial moment I am not strong enough to act. But I hope that one day I will be able to find the strength to act.”
After the gargoyle describes his own actions:
(2) “Horrible! How can you do something like that?”
"Truly, it is terrible, and I have no excuse. All I can say is that I am too weak to resist my lust.
(This is not just the gargoyle’s opinion of himself - it is the PC’s).
Mistaking “lust” for “life”
The gargoyle expresses the protagonist’s own experience in a metaphor about “coming alive.” There is a deep confusion in the PC’s mind between “life” - freedom, casting off restraints, enjoying the pleasures life offers - and “lust”, which promises the same thing, but has different results (as seen in the story).
"I am made of cold hard stone, and I should be passive, immobile and without feeling …
I love life too much to remain as rigid as a statue … each night I have to make the choice between suppressing the life in me and remaining a statue, or spreading my wings and flying away …
"First I simply enjoy the wind past my wings, the rain on my face, the ability to think and experience, the opportunity of moving my muscles. In ecstasy I fly above the world. The forests go by below me, and in the distance I see hills and mountains. It is delightful!
"But soon I remember what I have to do …
“And as I do my deed a deep, deep hatred rises inside me, hatred for who I am and what I do. All my own joy withers and dies, and what remains is pure loathing for the monster that I am. I decide never to do it again, to resist the impulse the next night and remain a statue.”
The PC believes he only has the choice of either “remaining a statue” or “embracing life” (lust) - which doesn’t result in a lasting pleasure at all, but instead drains all of his own joy away (not to mention the self loathing and guilt).
Faced with only these two options, he justifies his actions …
2) The victim
Part of the protagonist tells himself that he is not to blame for his actions against his daughter, any more than a wild animal could be condemned for eating its prey - he was “made that way”, so it can’t be his fault.
(Gargoyle) “But even if I can change, can my deeds ever been forgiven?”
(5) “There is nothing to be forgiven, because there is no such thing as guilt. You have done what you had to do, to only thing you could do. It makes no sense to reproach yourself for that.”
(As the Baron) “Do you know that I, you, we both are quite guiltless, and should not be condemned for what we have done and what we will do?”
3) The virtuous hero
The part of the protagonist in the deepest denial is the “hero” who fights to save his daughter from the evil baron. This image of himself also includes a sense of invincibility, a mighty warrior who can sweep aside his enemy (the dragon / lust, or the baron / his own darkness) with ease.
You look heroic in your heavy suit of armour; furthermore, you are strong, quick and fearless. If anyone can defeat the dragon, it is you.
You gaze at yourself from the mirror, heroism shining in your eyes … A grim smile plays around the corners of your mouth when you think of the fear the baron will feel when you enter his castle to pound him into pulp with your strong fists.
This persona is faultless in his bravery and virtue - a fantasy constructed to compensate for the self-loathing that threatens to undo him:
attack dragon [second time]
… even if you have to pay for it with your own life, the monster must die.
There is also a measure of self-righteousness:
… Slowly you become angry at all your neighbours and fellow villagers. Where are they when you need them? Why is there not a single one among them with the guts to free Maartje? A lack of love–that is what enables people to ignore the problems of others. Everybody knows what has happened–but nobody does anything, because nobody feels responsible.
Self-righteousness is a tool for deflecting guilt; condemning others for what you are aware of and hate in yourself. He is angry that none of his neighbours have helped his daughter, but is the very one who is doing the evil act.
4) The guilty one
The face of the baron stares at you from the mirror.
This is the most realistic part of the protagonist - he admits that he is “the baron”:
Against his will, apparently, the baron rises from his throne and starts walking towards you. You open your arms to embrace ho,; he does the same, even though his face is a mask of pure terror. When the two of you fall into each others arms, you feel how his body, his spirit, his essence merges with yours…after a few moments you are alone in the room. The baron has returned to where he came from: your soul.
The pain of this reality is ever-present, but the protagonist is not always in touch with it:
[After killing the wolf]
(4) Howl a lament for his lost mother.
You lift your head and howl and howl, and it sounds exactly like the lament of a wolf. You never knew that so much pain and sorrow were hidden in your heart
But he sees the abuse of his daughter for what it is after each time:
(Gargoyle): “And as I do my deed a deep, deep hatred rises inside me, hatred for who I am and what I do. All my own joy withers and dies, and what remains is pure loathing for the monster that I am.”
From this place of realisation, he has several choices:
(a) Retreat into fantasy - “the virtuous hero” above
(b) Deny all guilt - “the victim”
© Keep on trying to change - “the struggling human”
A few other options are also presented:
b Stop by strength of will alone[/b]
Why do you walk to the landing?
(1) I have succeeded at restraining myself. I have conquered my lust.
Has the circle of lust been broken forever?
(1) Yes. This was the last night I had to undertake this journey.
I have a problem with this option … it doesn’t seem to fit the struggle in the rest of the story. There are issues that the PC has to deal with that won’t just go away because he has decided he has “conquered his lust”.
Maybe it would have been best for the future part (“this was the last time”) to be left out ?
b Punish (or sacrifice) himself through suicide[/b]
If the PC kills himself, the question is asked:
Was this the easy way out?
(1) Yes. I could not continue living with this guilt.
(2) No. It was the hardest sacrifice I ever made.
b Find forgiveness[/b]
“But even if I can change, can my deeds ever been forgiven?”
(4) “Yes. I understand you. I know you have tried to fight against it. I forgive you all your crimes.”
The stone man walks towards you and, to your astonishment, embraces you. “Friend,” he sobs, “you do not know how much this means to me.”
This is a deep desire of the PC’s heart - he hopes against hope that he can be forgiven for what he has done. (Pity there was no option saying “God will freely forgive you”).
He has the tiniest hope that his daughter might also forgive him:
Will Maartje ever be able to forgive you for what you have done?
(2) Yes … perhaps there will be a day when she will understand me, just a little, and when she will feel just a very tiny amount of pity–or perhaps, even of love.
In some ways it is hard to identify with the protagonist in this story, but there are also lots of themes that are “common to man” (and woman). I think overall it was very well done, and it was a good choice to let the player choose how the PC reacted rather than just saying which response was the right one.