IF Comp 2015: Darkiss: Chapter One: The Awakening

darkissDarkiss: Chapter One is an old-school vampire story (sadistic lords in remote castles, rather than leather trenchcoats and high-school angst). The PC was killed and sealed in his lair by vampire-hunters, but has somehow survived; his memory has been somewhat impaired in the process, so you have to search around for ways to escape the barriers left behind against your escape.

Actually, you’re almost glad to have been murdered so horribly because, now that you are alive again, you can plan a terrible revenge.

The game’s puzzles are mostly an very traditional parser bunch: you search around the crypt, looking for clues and puzzle components. Macabre though they are, they mostly have a familiar feel: make a torch and light it, find some numbers and combine them to open a combination-lock, find a hidden passageway. The difficulty is rarely a matter of ingenuity: it’s about whether you find stuff or not, and there’s a passable hint system to direct you around if you don’t find what you need.

The content is tropey and bloody: the PC is a pulp Gothic villain, reveling in torture and wickedness for its own sake, with a special taste for blonde ingenues. His enemies are similarly sadistic. For all the Grand Guignol, however, the tone isn’t all that dark; I’m not sure whether this is an artefact of translation, but Voigt seems quite chipper about everything. He’s certainly not brooding. And this, together with the conventionality of the work’s elements, makes it hard to consider the game as having any real thematic point to make: yes, it’s a world of extraordinary cruelty, with blood, torture and creepy D/s relationships aplenty, but it doesn’t feel as though they mean anything other than ‘stuff you’ve got to have in a vampire story.’

The old-school Gothic mode had some problems.

Every day you ordered the gipsies which were at your service to take care of her, making her recover the energy lost during the past night with banquets and transfusions, so that you could drink again at the delicious spring of her jugular, when the sun set.

Exercise: whenever you encounter ‘gypsies’, substitute ‘Jews’ and see if you still feel good about it.

Overall, this is fine, but there’s not a lot to get excited about. In story and puzzle design, it sticks closely and uncritically to genre conventions; and while the execution isn’t bad, nor is it so consummately amazing to make it stand out.

Score: 4

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24 Responses to IF Comp 2015: Darkiss: Chapter One: The Awakening

  1. Wade says:

    The exercise felt like one of those moments where someone drags Hitler in apropos of nothing. I’ve decided I’m not going to flagellate myself right now for pretending to be a gypsy-commanding vampire.

    • I’m not asking anyone to self-flagellate. I’m asking people to notice when they repeat ugly tropes, and then please not do it again. The point is: there are kinds of culturally-inherited racism that we have gotten better at recognising, and there are some which we still tend to overlook, even though one is no better than the other.

      If there’s some flaw with the analogy that I have overlooked, I’m all ears. But I don’t see how invoking Godwin really applies here.

      • I know well Dracula, and I don’t think the trope of the gypsies as servants of Dracula as a racist one. It is like to say that the use of Chinese army of villains by Fu manchú is a racist trope. Or like the use black slaves in Conan comics. Maybe some tropes are generated by the inherent racism of the society where the original writer were born, but I think they are necessary because the universe where the story is happening. The contrary would be to fill the story with only white and heterosexual occidental people, and that is other kind of problem on white, heterosexual occidental people, to forget that the are more variety in the work than ourselves.

        If you think the use of gypsies as a work labour force in the 19 century is a problem, maybe you should add colour and context to their culture in a Dracula’s kind of story, instead of removing them all

      • Well, Fu Manchu’s a really racist character, regardless of who his cronies are, so that’s probably not the best example.

        maybe you should add colour and context to their culture in a Dracula’s kind of story, instead of removing them all

        That would be a fine approach. Perhaps a worthy approach, depending on execution. But simply adopting a trope, unexamined, and reiterating it – that’s a completely different matter.

      • marcoinnocentiif says:

        Honestly, changing the word to “Jews” doesn’t make me feel worse. “Gypsies” are enuf to make me feel bad. But, then again, the PC in this game is not our usual kind of hero. One could argue that using racist tropes was intended to make the protagonists look even worse.

        But the one arguing is not me, because this is obviously a heavy-on-tropes puzzle game, in which double reads are uneventful and one shouldn’t search too much between the lines as there is no heavy social meaning in this particular Vallarino’s work. (Also: keep in mind that, in Italy, IF is still back to where guess the verbs are an accepted puzzle by themselves).

        This said, I understand Sam’s point, and can relate. In the end, he did not judge the game by THIS problem but for the evenly-distributed lack of what he looks for in IF, which sounds reasonable to me. The racism problem is fair (and deeply discussed elsewhere, don’t ask me for a link: it was in IntFiction.org) but, maybe, addressed in the wrong venue. There will be stories which will delve into the problems of representing slaves during the ages: this is not one of those.

      • Wade says:

        I don’t know what Godwin is. The obvious flaw is that you have decreed that what was written to have been unacceptable. Unacceptable to whom? To even exist, or to exist in future.

        I am tired of arguments on intfiction where people say ‘Your character can’t do X, say X or be X.’ And what you said here is exactly that again. Even in a non-revisionist Dracula game, you’re saying that Dracula can’t command gypsies and talk about them like that because it’s a racist trope. It was racist in Dracula and is racist now, but with context and by very obviously not being of importance in this game, or to this game, it is also obviously not a prominent endorsement of racist behaviour today which people will take away from this game. It’s a single line that fits just fine into this story.

        If someone were to listen to your order to ‘please don’t do it again’, they can’t or shouldn’t write Dracula commanding gypsies ever again, right? Listening to absolute rules like that is about as wrong as fiction writing can go.

      • Even in a non-revisionist Dracula game, you’re saying that Dracula can’t command gypsies and talk about them like that because it’s a racist trope. It was racist in Dracula and is racist now, but with context and by very obviously not being of importance in this game, or to this game, it is also obviously not a prominent endorsement of racist behaviour today which people will take away from this game.

        Yeah, here’s the thing – I don’t think that non-revisionist Dracula is even possible. Every modern Dracula has quietly dropped physiognomy – the idea that most criminality is inborn, and you can identify criminals-from-birth by the ignoble shape of their face – even though it gets prominent mention in the original. There are lots of reasons for this, but what it comes down to is that to Bram Stoker’s audience it’d be a respectable piece of pop-science, and to moderns it really, really isn’t.

        I completely agree that it wasn’t meant as a racist thing. But racism doesn’t have to be actively, consciously malicious to be bad. A great deal of racism is about unconscious assumptions that we pick up, and pass on, as repeated cultural tropes. It doesn’t need to be in the foreground, precisely because it’s about the stuff that gets taken for granted, that we end up believing without ever really thinking about it.

        If someone were to listen to your order to ‘please don’t do it again’, they can’t or shouldn’t write Dracula commanding gypsies ever again, right? Listening to absolute rules like that is about as wrong as fiction writing can go.

        Sure, you can write Dracula commanding Roma. Hell, with the right treatment you can remake Birth of a Nation. But, no, you shouldn’t do it without revisions. I’m not even specifying what those revisions would have to be – there might be lots of ways to go about it, and that’s the artist’s job! It just has to have a certain effect: to not reinforce harmful stereotypes.

        Like, is the issue here that I’m not being clear enough about what precisely what the problem is? Is an Introduction To The Gypsy In Western Culture going to help here? I didn’t go into depth on that, because I wasn’t aiming to make a huge thing of it, but if that’s the problem…

  2. Peter Piers says:

    English is a language that’s easy to misuse. From the excerpts I’m reading here and there (haven’t played the English translation yet) I do have to say that, somehow, the Italian version reads better. Though the translation is pretty spot-on, it’s a good translation. I never saw Martin Voigt as chipper, exactly – he’s pretty much an evil power, unredeemable, unstoppable, devoid of regret or remorse or anything positive. In that light, sure he seems chipper – he’s alive and well again and plotting revenge. But more than that, there’s a *determination* that I’m not sure comes across quite so well in this English version… unfortunately, what would in Italian be a flowing sequence of long, musical words, becomes brutally to-the-point in English, and that’s hard to control.

    As for the gypsies thing, wow, that came out of nowhere. Since this is a genre piece, it makes complete sense for it to use genre tropes, and well, that’s pretty much what I have to say.

  3. Emanuil says:

    Coming from a country where the gypsy problem is a serious one (on both sides of the barricade), I’d say that the “evil gypsy servant of evil” is up (or down) there with the “evil swarthy/black servants of evil”. The latter is clearly not acceptable anymore, so why would the former be? I don’t get it.

    • Emanuil says:

      Also, it’s lifted wholesale from Dracula, almost word for word, and apart from any political implications, it’s aesthetically lazy, if nothing else.

      • marcoinnocentiif says:

        Well, of course this is very personal. I have a much more bad taste for people trying to change a rooted, successful trope into teen-age s**t just for the sake of “originality”. I definitely prefer Draculas to Ewards. And calling it “lazy” if probably unfair, as it could pretty much have been a stylistic choice rather than “random wholesale lifting”.

    • Peter Piers says:

      Black servants of evil is acceptable. To me, at least. So are white servants of evil, and yellow polka dot servants of evil. Since the colour is irrelevant (isn’t that qhat equality means?), any colour/race is acceptable. Martin Voigt, the transylvanian vampire, terrorising gypsies seems as acceptable as wealthy landowner south from the Mississipi, pre-Civil War, torturing african-americans into submission.

      I mean, is it worth all of this? Martin Voigt was a vampire. He terrorised gypsies in particular because there was a large abundance of them in his geographical area (who was he supposed to terrorise? Asians? Australians? Dolphins?). In fact, isn’t all this attention creating a problem where it isn’t?

      No, seriously, let me go back to my previous point – in folkloric Transylvania, who WAS he supposed to terrorise and enslave if not the gypsies?

      • Emanuil says:

        Terrorized? So he terrorized them into servitude? How so? It’s not there in the text, is it?

        And what’s this “folkloric Transylvania” that you talk about that’s somehow just chock-full of gypsies? Is it some sort of trope-convenient version of Transylvania that Western people hold in their minds when they read about such stuff, like we over here read about “folkloric North Carolina” full of idiot Bible-thumping rednecks and nothing else? Would an American like to read anything like that? I’m sure you can see how wrong and superficial both of these notions are.

        By the way, I do agree it’s really not worth the discussion here and now. That’s why I dismissed it as lazy, boring and simplistic in purely aesthetic terms. What’s the point of simply reiterating cliches, changing nothing? But then again, given how tongue-in-cheek the whole thing came across for me, I didn’t care that much.

        @marcoinnocentiif, I definitely don’t believe this (and else) was lifted wholesale *randomly*. But lifted wholesale it was. (Yet see my last sentence in the paragraph above.)

  4. While I stand by my point that Darkiss is not the right project in which to look for novelties in narrating settings, it must be noted that Marco Vallarino has read and understood the point of this conversation and has removed the word “gypsies” from his game, substituting it with “minions”. A new version has been uploaded tonight, showing great feeling, overall. Two thumbs up, I guess. A small step for a man…

    • Peter Piers says:

      Absolutely. It was princely of him to do that; it had nothing to do with the game (just everything to do with a review) and he felt compelled to (bullied into?) remove the offending word so that it would not taint the actual game any further.

      Respect, man. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

      I won’t continue the discussion any further, naturally.

      • Peter: if you want to discuss this, that’s fine, but getting passive-aggressive about it is not OK. Similarly, if you don’t want to engage in a discussion, that’s also OK: but in that case, try to actually disengage, rather than trying to get in parting shots.

      • Peter Piers says:

        I’ll bear that in mind for the future. Cheers

  5. Peter Piers says:

    (I don’t know why I can’t reply to your last comment directly, there aren’t “reply” buttons for comment. Ah well, I’m sure you’ll know where this goes)

    Eek, I kept wanting to edit “terrorise” out, but of course I couldn’t. You’re right, I got carried away there. I’m sure he did terrorise the gypsies and everyone else, it being Martin Voight and all, plus there’s the context in which this whole thing came up where the mention of Jews brought up a definitive issue of terrorising… but, I’m not sure the game does go so far as to say Martin Voight terrorised them. I’m certain he did – but no, the game doesn’t say so.

    Don’t bash folklore so. It is a rich environment, that grew from a local consciousness over the space of hundreds of years. It’s a fascinating little window into the past. Those tropes that you so quickly condemn are a reflection of what life used to be, of what people used to fear. It’s *fascinating* to go over earlier and earlier versions of folklore and fairy tales. Fractured folklore is very much in vogue, but it’s not because folklore has been deemed irredeamably shallow and offensive; it’s the folklore itself adapting itself to modern times yet again, as it always has done, except that somehow this time around the switch to modern times seems to involve too-modern elements. It causes a nice effect where we have a modern version *alongside* the folklore, and both can co-exist separately.

    There is a difference between using genre-based tropes in a genre-based piece (especially a folkloric piece!) and using tropes in an otherwise modern setting, or even futuristic. It *is* possible to write alternative past histories, but if that’s not what the author wants to do, why bash the author for it? I mean, the exercise proposed was just mean. Why not replace “gypsies” with “well-paid and cared for English butlers”?» Or replace Martin Voight with a random religious leader? Or replace any given character with the invisible pink unicorn?

    It pains me when people enforce a view into a work, by drawing strange comparisons (as valid as the ones I just made), and thus make the whole work leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth.

    So, who *was* he supposed to enslave? Gypsies (the ones in this story and folklore) were wanderers, most likely barely tolerated by the local populace; if they disappeared no one would much give a damn; they were numerous and probably just trustworthy enough for Martin Voight’s purpose; who else was he supposed to enslave?

    The crucial bit is being able to differentiate these views from modern reality. One thing is folklore; another thing is documented past; another thing is modern reality; a final thing is sanitised (for the time being; some decades ago, the same “sanitisation” procedure would have women in a very pliant and submissive position… these things keep changing) reality with a view towards a more encompassing future.

    It’s fine to strive towards the latter. It’s a little bit less fine to shoot people who aren’t doing it alongside yourself.

    • >It’s fine to strive towards the latter. It’s a little bit less fine to shoot people who aren’t doing it alongside yourself.

      How do you get from complaining about a racist (or borderline racist; I haven’t played the game, so I don’t know whether Roma characters show up outside that quote) trope in an IF game to shooting people for not being as enlightened as you? SKA isn’t even advocating censorship, let alone any kind of violence.

      • Peter Piers says:

        Please don’t put words in either my mouth or SKA’s mouth. He wasn’t complaining about racism, at least not as far as I understood when I read his review; he was complaining about a well-worn trope that might potentially be damaging to repeat, and making a comparison to (I presume) give people a more modern (and showy) example so that they saw how he felt about it. I do not see anyone calling anything racist in this discussion, and I’d prefer to leave that can of worms firmly closed.

        And as for my mouth, the bit about “not being as enlightened as you” is definitely not what I said. I said “people who aren’t doing it alongside yourself”. I’m sorry if you read it as some form of enlightenment or superiority, but I meant it referring to a clear artistic choice. The author can choose various paths, and I feel it unfair to shoot down (but, again, don’t put words in my mouth by bringing “violence” into this; the phrase “shoot down”, AFAIK, is equivalent to “putting down”, and if it isn’t, then I apologise for my lack of English. I know it’s important to get terms right in this sort of discussion, and I occasionally do slip) an author who, as it happens, does not travel the same path as yourself.

        And SKA, if you were complaining about racism more directly, then I’m sorry I misunderstood you. My arguments stand, though.

  6. Peter Piers says:

    Allow me to rectify my previous comment – SKA does bring racism into this directly in a comment. However, I’m staying well away from that and keeping in the “damaging tropes” cathegory without further specification.

  7. Peter Piers says:

    Oh crap, I just realised that I actually wrote “shoot people” instead of “shoot down people”! Wow! I’m really sorry, Christina, I see where you were coming from. An honest mistake on my part! Not a Freudian slip of any sort! I hope!

  8. Pingback: Tutto il meglio e tutto il peggio di Darkiss 1 all’IF Comp 2015 | Marco Vallarino

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