Thoughts on Xanthippe

Let’s talk about Carl Gustav Jung. Of course he published about archetypes, and alchemy, and dreams, and synchronicity, and the anima, and frankly, a lot of that is very interesting even though rejected by psychology as a discipline. But I want to talk about a relatively early book of his: Psychologische Typen (1921), translated into English as Psychological Types. Even if you think you’ve never heard of it, you’ve probably heard of it in an indirect way, because (1) Jung comes up with the now commonplace distinction between introverted and extraverted people; and (2) this work is the basis of the popular Meyers-Briggs personality test.

What Jung does is importantly different from what Meyers and Briggs do, though. First, Jung only introduces four fundamental psychological functions: thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuition, and he tells us that one of these is dominant for a person, and that its opposite will be weak. (if thinking is dominant, feeling will be weak; if intuition is dominant, sensing will be weak; and so on.) Meyers and Briggs add the dimension of judging/perceiving, and they end up having 2x2x2x2 rather than 2x4 character types. But that’s not the most important thing. What is much more important is that Meyers and Briggs create a test, a piece of paper or a website where you answer a bunch of questions and then the algorithm tells you what your personality type is. Jung would have never dreamt of that! Rather, Jung writes a 700 page book that discusses… let’s see… Tertullian, Origines, controversies in early Christology, transubstantiation, the problem of universals, Schiller’s aesthetics, Nietzsche on the Apollonian and the Dionysiac, the nature of poetic symbols, the philosophy of William James, the concept of great men in history… and after all that, there’s also 100 pages in which the describes the actual personality types. If you want to know what psychology could have been if it had not been captured by the fake promise that using statistics makes something a real science, read this book.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that reading Jung’s book some fifteen to twenty years ago was a revelation to me. I started it already secure about my personality type: introverted thinking. It was obvious. Even though I love teaching, speaking to large audiences, having fun with friends, I can only handle that in short periods between longer periods of being alone, in my house, maybe with my family. I get my energy from being with myself, and that’s Jung’s idea of introversion. And thinking was also obvious: I mean, I studied physics, became a philosopher, I think think think all day. And then I read the book, and I realised I was wrong. I realised that in Jung’s typology, my dominant psychological function is not thinking, but intuition. I think a lot, sure. But my thinking is guided by unconscious insight. My thinking may get me somewhere, but it doesn’t tell me my destination. That comes from somewhere else.

All of that is a Russoian (get it? get it? ‘as Mike Russo does’, but it also sounds like ‘Rousseauian’) preamble which serves only to illuminate the following sentence: I am a very intuitive writer. I know that I’m onto something long before I could explain to anyone, including myself, what it is that I’m on to. I don’t have a plan. I don’t have a story outline. I have an inkling that something will happen. Or at least, that’s how it is with works like Turandot and Xanthippe, though it’s clearly different for a work like Kerkerkruip, which requires more purely logical thought.

Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates started as a throwaway joke. You can click the link, but I’ll just quote it in full. The context is that Andrew Schultz said he wrote Xenophobic Opposites, Unite! just because he wanted to write a game that started with an X. And then I said:

This dialogue does not appear in the final game, and it couldn’t appear in the final game, because it doesn’t fit it in tone and substance. But here the idea took hold of me. And I intuited – I really think that’s the right word – that there was something here. I didn’t know exactly what it was. But I felt strongly that if I started to write this game, it would work. Xanthippe and Socrates would start talking to me.

As I said, I don’t make plans. I can’t make plans. I need to write the characters in order to find out who the characters are. I knew only two things:

  • Socrates didn’t want to have sex with Xanthippe because he was paralysed by the fear of death.
  • Xanthippe would come up with an argument for the immortality of the soul while Socrates was performing cunnilingus on her, and this would cure Socrates of his fear of death, leading to the climactic love making scene.

Those who have played Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates may realise that neither of these things is actually true in the final game. But more about that later. What may be clear is that in my original conception, the piece was much more farcical. Socrates’s persona was fake; he was afraid of death and just trying to hide it! And the centrepiece of his philosophy was thought up by his wife as a prelude to orgasm! In a farcical state of mind, and early on in the development of the game, I hit upon the perfect way to write that cunnilingus scene. I would copy one of the worst game mechanics in existence, namely, the mechanic in certain porn games where the (usually male) character has to ‘last long’ by speeding up or slowing down his movements to keep his arousal between ‘flabby penis’ and ‘ejaculation’. It’s a conception of sex that is almost too bad to parody, but it seemed perfect to raise the farcicality of the scene to eleven. There’s Xanthippe, there’s her arousal meter, and the player has to tell Socrates to slow down or speed up in such a way that she can think up the entire argument for immortality before either getting bored or coming.

I axed this idea. Imagine my immense surprise when @Perry_Simm used this exact same mechanic with the same parodic intent in Citizen Makane. That would have been something for the ‘similarities between entries’ thread!

So why did I axe the idea, as well as the entire cunnilingus scene and the farcical Socrates? Well, what happened is this. I started writing the game. The characters started talking. And it turned out that they had something to say. They turned out to be so human, so poignant, so vulnerable, so lovely, so real… Readers, when I thought I was going to write a farce, I was badly mistaken. I found out during writing that Xanthippe’s Last Night with Socrates had never been and could never be a farce. At some point, roughly where they have talked about infidelity, I realised that I had to rewrite all the earlier passages, because Socrates wasn’t afraid. He couldn’t be afraid. He wasn’t a fake. He wasn’t a fake, and Xanthippe could have never loved a fake. It made no sense. He was real, she was real, their love was real. To put in a farcical porn parody would be to betray them and their love; or, to put it in other terms, it would have been an aesthetic disaster. And so I changed a lot of things and with every change I became happier with what I had written. I started writing a farce, I ended up writing something that I – and some of the reviewers – found moving. And although I can’t prove it, I believe that I unconsciously knew that that was going to happen, and that that is why this idea refused to let go and managed, among all my other unfinished or unbegun projects, to get turned into a real game.

(Despite the insights I got while writing, only my beta tester Mike Russo prevented me from making the capital mistake of spending too much time on Xanthippe’s relationship to Plato and too little on her relationship with Socrates. The entire ‘allegory of the cave’ scene was totally rewritten based on a single line of criticism of Mike’s, making it the most impactful single line of criticism I ever received.)

I don’t think I want to say too much about the game itself, though I’m definitely willing to take questions. AMA! (Ask Me Anything.)

Maybe one thing I’d like to comment upon, which I haven’t seen in many of the reviews, is this. There are only a few choices in the early game that have consequences later on, and more or less all of them have to do with establishing the language of intimacy between Socrates and Xanthippe. Does she call him ‘honey’ or ‘big man’? Does he call her ‘Tahippy’ or ‘Xanita’ or ‘Xanthara’? What kind of food does she bring him? What’s her physical technique of seduction? These things don’t matter at all, and yet they matter the most. The weird little nicknames we have for our spouses, no matter how stupid or unoriginal, are among the most powerful everyday ways we have for reinforcing the bonds of intimacy. It’s not important what you share, it’s important that you share. And Xanthippe comes into the prison cell speaking this language of intimacy… and Socrates does not speak it back. There’s too much between them. There’s too much tension, too much misunderstanding, too much distance. Speaking the language of everyday intimacy would be fraudulent, it would be fake – and Socrates is never fake. Even though he makes the terrible mistake of comparing his wife to a bovine in heat, Socrates is fundamentally correct that Xanthippe’s approach is wrong. And of course she knows, deep down, that it’s wrong; and he knows he’s wrong to react the way he reacts; and they’re big enough people to get past the wrongs. And then, at the very very end, the language of intimacy returns. But now both of them speak it.

For one more night.


Thank you for sharing this! I just played the comp version for the first time, and I love the changes.


Interesting! :grinning: To give credit where credit is due, that bit was heavily inspired by the delightfully ludicrous massage minigame in Yakuza 4. Of course I tried to make it even more ridiculous by including the fact that this of all times is when you’re suddenly flooded with random flashbacks of your past, constantly spiking or tanking your meter (until you level up your skills and improve your ability to relax, which in turn gradually decreases the amount of those pesky distractions).


Fascinating, thanks for sharing. Very interesting to hear how the idea evolved over time (although I suspect I liked the game you ended up with more than I would have liked the more farcical take). From this side of the keyboard sometimes the concept seems so complete that I assume it must have arrived at the author in its final form, so this is a very interesting explanation.

You mentioned that not very many people had commented on the consequences of the early choices about nicknames, food, etc. I have no shame so I’ll report that I didn’t notice any of those things having consequences (of course I only played twice) :thinking: (if I’m understanding correctly you mean the consequence later in the game would be more than a cosmetic difference)

The listed choices struck me as just bits to develop color and I’m still kind of surprised if they determine the plot! I think that doesn’t match my expectation that there will be greater variation among choices as they affect the plot more, if that makes any sense. (for example, when I was trying to change the outcome of the game, I played around a bit with how rude to be or how mad to get or trying to leave the room, but it would have been very far down my list to play around with the nicknames. Now if there had been an option to you know, do the classical equivalent of fullnaming Socrates versus saying “big man,” I probably would have seen that as potentially shaping the rest of the conversation, but not choosing among similar nicknames). Perhaps because it strikes me that the player has no basis other than aesthetics to select between nicknames, so it feels less “fair” for that to be significant. Anyhow, this definitely gave me something to think about. Chalk another one up to the sometimes surprising distance between authorial intent and player experience, I guess!


Neat to see these thoughts on the genesis of the game, Victor – I’d totally forgotten that thread about titles, though I clearly read it since I liked the post. So I was floored when you mentioned it and I realized that was the germ of the idea; definitely a triumph of intuition leading you to the nut of why this was actually a great premise, not a throwaway gag. And thanks too for the kind words on my bit of feedback.

…though, speaking of criticism, I have to say that while I really enjoyed your discursive introduction – I’m often self-conscious about whether I’m banging on too long in solipsistic navel-gazing, but now that I’ve seen someone else do it and found that actually I really like it when other people do it too, I feel emboldened to write even longer, even meandering-er intros! – per @rovarsson, the correct term is Russovian, not Russoian.


Will let Victor confirm, of course, but for what it’s worth my reading of the above is that the differences are cosmetic – like, all they change is the names the two characters use for each other later on, not the actual details of the plot – but that a) there are few other choices that even have that level of gameplay consequence (even as the choices you pick might significantly shift your understanding of the narrative!) and b) this responsivity helps play out the love-language element of the piece.


See, I’m willing on a hair trigger to assume I missed pretty much any % of a game . . . :wink:

if your reading is correct, then yes, I did notice that the same nicknames I chose, etc. got used later in the game, and I did think it was a nice grace note of showing the game was keeping track/ indicating that Socrates was ready resume the easy familiarity he and the player character presumably had before. So I may not have mentioned it but I enjoyed it!


I’m glad I was able to be a catalyst for getting this out when it did! Though I more-than-suspect if it had been submitted for IFComp 2024, people would’ve enjoyed it, and it’d have had a lot of the same ideas.

I’ve been the beneficiary of something that shoved an idea in my face, and at first I wondered if I deserved it, or if the idea could really be good if it dropped in my lap like that, or if I could develop it properly. But then once I start writing I forget about all that and it feels good whether or not I’m writing well.

It’s also neat (and a bit sad) to look back on the chunks that started a joke/story/project and realize they don’t fit any more, or maybe they gave a bigger laugh than the humor that made it in, but they didn’t give a better or more thoughtful one. All the same I think XLNS was best as not a gag-fest. (I liked the ones in there! Well, the ones I didn’t let cluelessly whoosh over my head.)

My review in the authors’ forum seems to have missed a whole ton of what was described here. But I’m glad I worked through before I read your postmortem–it’s always a neat feeling to say, oh, perhaps I could’ve seen that if I’d had the right perspective.

Yet I still felt I got a lot out of XLNS completely unrelated to marital relationships or intimacy. I think that says a lot positive.


‘Consequences’ is doing a lot of work in that sentence! While it may not materially effect the STORY, the flow of conversation topics, or even be stored anywhere as a variable, I felt like the choices were the centerpiece of the story! The consequences of the choices were to build a three-dimensional, fully functioning adult personality for X as a collaboration between author and player! In a much more natural and affecting way than ‘what is your eye color?’ I have not seen it done more effectively.

The fact that you don’t mention it above makes me think I used your story in ways not intended by the manufacturer, but still got a great experience!



Yes, absolutely. We are on the exact same page, don’t worry! I like to think about in terms of performance: you get to perform Xanthippe, and shape both her and the story in the process. (Admittedly, I started thinking in terms of ‘performance’ when I was writing Turandot, and that game is about performance in ways that Xanthippe is not. Actually, in ways that Xanthippe is also – see the allegory of the cave scene – but Turandot is about it much more relentlessly. For Turandot, life is performance.)

And of course I don’t need to track that stuff, because it’s not mechanical, and making it mechanical might actually undermine, in a subtle way, our collaboration. So when I talked about ‘consequences’, I was looking for a word that conveyed ‘consequence in terms of which text you will see’, and perhaps not choosing the right word. :slight_smile:

Yes, it’s certainly not the case that… what’s that Infocom game where you choose a colour in the beginning and it totally changes the murder mystery? It’s not like that. Nothing you do in the game changes the options you have in the medium to long term. Though I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘cosmetic’… these choices have meaning, you know, they’re not just at the surface.


Maybe they’re aesthetic choices?


Yes, but that’s a pretty broad characterisation. It would be nice to be able to be more specific about it!

Let me add that I don’t think that choices which change options or text are thereby more important than other choices. I just talked about them in this case because few reviewers had done so. :slight_smile:


Yeah, I was thinking that could be part of a taxonomy? Like:

  • Consequential choices: choices that impact the plot, often by creating branching or changing the game’s state.
  • Expressive/performative choices: choices that allow the player to have the protagonist respond to the game’s events.
  • Aesthetic choices: choices that help define the game’s themes or mood.
  • Cosmetic/customization choices: choices that allow the player to shape the details of the protagonist and the story to their liking.

I know there have been many other attempts to theorize kinds of choices - and there’s overlap between all of these. But it does feel like the word “aesthetic” maybe helps capture something that’s not necessarily substantive but is nonetheless significant - like, there’s the big “what can change the nature of a man?” question in Planescape Torment, which to my knowledge doesn’t alter anything else regardless of what you pick, but is clearly more about engaging with the meaning of the game than about role-playing as the Nameless One.

Caveat: I know nothing about aesthetics as a discipline so all of this is probably dumb.


Tangent: I don’t recognize this description but if anyone does please let me know. That would be a great case study for the Rosebush article I’m working on (slowly but surely).


It’s Moonmist!


Moonmist. Nobody remembers it because the mysteries weren’t interesting and the “room descriptions in the feelies” idea was a total washout.


An obvious “now that we have the source code” project would be to rebuild Moonmist with normal-style room descriptions. Maybe buff up the rest of the game as well. I haven’t looked at it in forever, though.


Moonmist may have been my first introduction to IF… saw my cousins playing it at my grandma’s house…