IFComp ’12: Eurydice

Anonymously submitted, Eurydice aims to explore loss through the context of the classic Orpheus myth. Given the subject matter, both mundane and mystical, it’s remarkable how grounded the game is. How many times have we seen IF attempt to tackle big emotional themes like death or suicide only to fail because they were too schmaltzy and manipulative? That Eurydice keeps things toned down and tries to get to an honest place is to be commended. And yet…

And yet it can’t quite reach that human truth. It still has the taint of artificiality. Despite “being about grief” it lacks any profound observation on the emotional state and any true grace of execution.

The game is divided into two halves. The first is a realistic exploration of the effects of a suicide on the deceased’s close friends, and the second a metaphysical journey into the underworld by the PC to rescue his friend from death. Like some of the other judges, I found the first half more interesting, but I feel the second is more successful. Maybe because the second half can use things like setting, metaphor,  and allusion to create the emotional tone while the first part is constrained by realism. It tries to do it by (successfully) showing the relationship between realistically drawn characters and (unsuccessfully) straight up telling us how the protagonist feels. Said relationships was the part of the game I felt got closest to something real. The observations on how some people deal with loss flippantly or carefully or clumsily or by trying to be overly helpful or how some people’s presence is a boon even if you can’t talk honestly with them, while others, despite their best intentions, are a trial all feel right. These interactions made me say yes, the author has been here. On the other hand, one of the first actions available (and the first I performed) has the protagonist crawling inside the deceased’s wardrobe and caressing her clothes. Maybe this too comes from a true place in the author’s life, but this is by far too dramatic a gesture–akin to an actor dropping to their knees and screaming no to the heavens–especially, especially, especially at the very start of the game. Compare it to the similar scene at the end of Brokeback Mountain where Heath Ledger’s character simply takes a shirt from Jake Gyllenhaal’s closet and holds it. And that’s the movie’s climax.

I did like that in the second half the trip to the underworld, despite the mystical elements, was nothing more than a visit to a sick friend in a hospital. This too felt true to me. And not in a “ha-ha hell is like a hospital” way, but by capturing something of the banality and pain of a hospital visit. It was inspired. Also of note is how the game handles the TURN AROUND moment. In the myth, Orpheus turns involuntarily but how to you translate that compulsion to a game where typing that action is a voluntary act? At first the game describes the lack of footsteps behind you, the silence and lack of a presence. This is to be expected. But then it stops describing even that and simply prints the room descriptions as normal. This gives the impression that there hasn’t been a state change. It’s a clever trick and a serviceable solution to the problem of making TURN AROUND into something more than a conscious choice of endings.

Despite these strengths I can’t help but compare Eurydice (perhaps unfairly) to Terry Cavanagh’s Don’t Look Back. It too uses the Orpheus myth to make a statement about grief, and says more about our want to change the unchangeable in a single moment than Eurydice manages in its entire running.

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