Game Chef 2011 – Reviews Coming In

Last year, the review process was just “hey, general public who don’t care! Read and vote!” which totally didn’t work. This year, much more brilliantly, the condition of entry is reviewing four other entrants. This not only helps whittle down the list of 66(!) entrants down to a more manageable pile of the truly noteworthy, it also allows people to get feedback. Because it’s not just “pick the best of the four and write down its name”, you have to provide a few paragraphs of comment. Which is ridiculously important because not only does feedback inspire (like the point I made about fanfic) but because designing without an audience is meaningless, if not impossible.

I’ll put my reviews of other games up in a sec. First, here’s some lovely lovely reviews about Daughters of Exile. I’ll put my response in the comments below.

 

“I thought it would be about how Shakespearean female characters often threaten to step out of gender roles but never actually manage it, and repairing that issue,” I said to my mother, “and it turns out that while it is that, it’s also Blade Runner.”

What strikes me most vividly, and what I like a lot about this game, is how ripe it is for both tragedy and irony. The Daughters are desperate not just to live but to live on their own terms, but living on their own terms is the one thing they cannot do, which will ratchet up their programming violations until they snap. The sense of longing and needing and being forbidden – of wanting to touch something under glass – is simply redolent in the rules. There’s never any question of the feel it will evoke. The mechanics of automatic success under most circumstances really worked for me. With the question not being ‘can you do it’, but rather ‘will you do it’, the game focuses right where it should; on the Daughters minds, not their bodies or adventures.

The only thing that bothered me, reading the rules, was that constant problem of exploring a situation where people are trapped by gender roles – the game sometimes seemed to be shooting itself in the foot. The potential for tragedy wouldn’t be nearly so grand otherwise, of course, but the fact that the Daughters’ rebel against “being forced into total submission in an arranged marriage” and end up either “being forced into total submission in a chosen (with hard-to-avoid elements of duress) marriage” or “mad” is particularly bleak. This could, of course, be dealt with by giving the Daughters some way to buy off programming violations… or it could be dealt with by leaving it exactly as it is, because there’s no doubt that the sense of inevitability adds a lot to the atmosphere. On that note, a couple of bits of language, while excellent Lady Macbeth quoting, also seem to imply that to be like the Daughters is to be feminine, and that women really shouldn’t step outside their role, or that stepping outside their role makes them less womanly… It’s a mild moment that makes things slightly difficult – is this simply a simulation of a flawed world, or is the rulebook on the flawed world’s side?

That said, the simple mechanic (in which the single score is both good and bad) is exceptional, and the game is skillfully and interestingly written, with strong worldbuilding drawing things all the more interestingly,,, in. But the strongest point of this game is by far the atmosphere, and the emotional reaction that it evokes. The sense of tragedy, inevitability, rage and despair at being denied what one deserves… it’s rather like King Lear, if Cordelia was in Lear’s place, and not a crazy person who’s basically wrong to start with.

– Patrick Phelan

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3 thoughts on “Game Chef 2011 – Reviews Coming In

  1. Obviously I like this review, and I like that I was really able to communicate a sense of tragedy. I wasn’t actually thinking the game was that bleak, however – there is always a Petrucchio solution if your GM believes there is one. That is to say, I saw it more of a race against time, that if you can find the one man in the universe who will never abuse your programming, you just have to woo him before you run out of Violations. Perhaps in the end I’ve revealed my own dark view of human relationships: that by trusting others with our hearts we open ourselves up to total abuse or domination, and can only hope the person with our heart doesn’t squish it.

    Patrick, with laser like focus, also spotted the issue I most wrestled with. I did NOT want to make a sexist game, and I ummed and arred a lot about how to describe hitting 20 violations. I wanted them to lose the possibility of love and lose some humanity and the way Shakespeare talks about and the way the game modeled those things is that those things are associated with being female. Lady Macbeth wants her womanly heart torn out, to be unsexed, Beatrice begs to be a man so she can get revenge on Claudio. Of course, Tamora the Goth Queen in Titus needs no change of sex to be as vile and vicious as she desires. Perhaps I should have just used a different metaphor; becoming inhuman and cold would have done just as nicely and would not have violated the shakespearean feel at all. Something to fix then!

    I’m also frankly stoked that there are gamers in this world who can discuss stuff like this with their mothers. I hope she liked it. Indeed, I hope ladies like it.

  2. “becoming inhuman and cold would have done just as nicely and would not have violated the shakespearean feel”
    I am a Shakespeare ignorant, but I know some gamers. And for us more or less geeks, ending lonely, remain single, with no lover nor descendants, is a threat too close to real life to be fun to happen to our characters.
    I’m not a woman, but I guess it would be worse for female gamers, since reaching “Level 20” means the end of seduction and maternity.
    Regarding the (likely) bleak issue, (ending as a slave of as a bachelor virago), we come back to day 1, when you asked “are RPG wherein the protagonists are powerless the least fun idea?”. Call Of Cthulhu is like that. “is DoE where you can’t win in the long term fun to play?” and again, CoC is like that, and your character becomes an NPC also in this game. So we’ve got to break our mental boundaries “character progresses = mainstream games ; character ends badly = indie game”. Gamers are more intelligent than that.

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