IF Comp 2017: Eat Me

eatmeME (regarding game list): I… guess I’d better play the vore game.

CHORUS: Lord-a-mercy but that vore game is A Lot.

ME: Yes. Yes it most certainly is.

Eat Me (Chandler Groover) is a limited-parser Inform game. The main verb of action is EAT. You are a child-prisoner in the dungeons of a castle of food. In the castle, everyone is made of food and fixated upon producing or consuming it; you are no exception. With a bottomless pit in your stomach, you have to figure out how to eat everything that isn’t nailed down. (No relation to Eat Me, the lesbians-made-of-food smut comic by Megan Rose Gedris.)

It is mildly puzzly, albeit with minimal inventory and very few verbs. Puzzles are generally straightforward but non-trivial, with a lot of emphasis on relative position on the map. The castle itself is torn apart in places as you go along; the ground is rarely stable under your feet. Underneath the stylistic shell, it’s an orderly parser puzzle structure, with some light gating and an emphasis on sequences of actions rather than verbs or inventory – close to a point-and-click adventure. But the structure is, uh, very much not the most prominent feature here; it’s highly capable, but inconspicuous. The rest of the game, by contrast, is horror of the unrepentantly gratuitous school.

The prose is not merely purple, but throbbing and bioluminescent. It doesn’t take long for it to start feeling like Too Much, which feels like a calculated effect. The following lies towards the milder end:

“Thou villein!” says the gruyère guard. “Hie back into thy cell!”
>eat guard
My valiant knight, here’s a battle you’ll lose. He’s overwhelmed. He’s never fought a hunger such as yours. “Avaunt! Avaunt!” he cries, but you’ve no intent to avaunt. Sumptuous gruyère, his flavor suggests rich earth, ripe fruit, piqued by his panic as you swallow him, armor and all.

I’ve heard a lot of people describe their response to the prose in terms of being over-full, bloated, and that seems right – this is rich, fatty, overseasoned prose that comes in immoderate heaps, a Christmas dinner in a place where party-size Snickers count as a salad ingredient and it’s impolite not to finish your brandied eggnog.

I mentioned vore above, and, well. For all that it avoids obvious sexuality, this is unambiguously a kink piece – not necessarily smut of the kind that is designed primarily as a wanking aid, but absolutely kink-inspired horror. The narrative voice is a little too close and breathy, addresses you as dear and darling and slides imperatives in among the description; insofar as there’s a plot it’s a seduction/corruption plot. There is much lingering on the act of swallowing and gorging, of sliding down gullets, of degradation and disgust, of the savour of merciless cruelty and things pitiful that go unpitied. There is a puzzle where you basically snowball shit. So in addition to the saturation of the prose and the description of lots of gross stuff, there’s the awkward feeling you get when a work invites you to inhabit someone else’s fantasy that you’re not really on board with.

Elephant in the room aside, the thing it reminded me most of was Gargantua & Pantagruel – exuberant, grotesque, and excessive. I love Gargantua & Pantagruel, but much of my memory of reading it involved getting worn out and taking breaks. Rabelais was entirely happy to spend pages and pages on lists of joke names, or on the war between the chefs and the sausages; Rabelais never saw a joke that he wasn’t willing to beat into the ground. ‘How many times can you drown people in a torrent of piss before it stops being hilarious?’ is not a question Rabelais would have understood. Eat Me has that kind of immoderate approach.

The thing about Rabelais, though, is that his iconoclasm has limits. He piles scorn on official incompetents, bad rulers and rude mechanicals, but remains assured of the essential noble generosity of his knightly Pantagruel. He lambasts the Catholic hierarchy, but is firm about the importance of being a good Christian. The ship of fools may have no particular direction, but it has a rudder. Pantagruelian adventures end up restoring stability, even if that stability is the Abbey of Thélème. By this token, Eat Me is more of a vision-of-hell piece – it doesn’t acknowledge anything outside the feeding-frenzy. There is no way out of the castle, only deeper in. You cannot eat your way out of Vore Town, any more than you can consume your way out of capitalism.

It’s 2017, so it’s probably no coincidence that the comp contains two games about a castle, corrupt and ridiculous, which the protagonist subjects to a rampage of mayhem and destruction. This is not new territory for IF – witness Adam Cadre’s vile kings, Porpentine’s monstrous queens and corporations. But this isn’t just a malign world, a charnel-pit; it’s a ridiculous one, with a Boschian blend of horror and stupid butt jokes. The guard who falls through the privy and ends up with his legs sticking up out of the midden is an extremely Bosch kind of moment. I don’t want to overread here; it’s too self-contained to really be a polemic piece. But it fits pretty clearly into the politics-of-disrespectability genre, of avenging monstrosity, of bacchanal and saturnalia and carnival, of of feast days as enacted apocalypse. There are definitely Masque of the Red Death echoes in parts, of the castle as a polder of predators who end up consuming themselves.

This is a hard one to score, the kind of thing that has me running back to my standards and finding that they don’t help much. It is extremely itself, and it is not a boring retread of safe territory, and it is very much a piece consistent with the Groover ouevre. I mostly didn’t enjoy myself but I don’t think I was meant to. I would not recommend it without a ton of caveats, but those caveats aren’t due to flaws so much as the inherent nature of the thing; on execution it’d be hard to give it less than a 7, probably higher. On the other hand –

 If I didn’t respond in some significant positive way – I didn’t learn anything, didn’t have fun, and wasn’t moved to any emotion more beautiful than annoyance – then the absolute maximum score I’ll assign to a game is 5, no matter how worthy it is in other respects.

I wouldn’t call my experience fun, I didn’t really come away from it with any new knowledge or perspectives, and I’m doubtful that ‘uncomfortably bloated’ is a more beautiful emotion than annoyance. And it’s difficult to see it fitting into the 8-and-up category of things that I really dig; this isn’t one of those games that I’m just really happy about the existence of. I suppose it makes sense that I wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable about any score that I might give this. Fine. Preliminary 7.

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