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Femininity, magic and maleness, March 22, 2021
I came across Triune while playing ten random games from the IFDB; and this fact itself is somewhat astonishing. For here we have a game that did fairly well in the IF Comp and is about exactly the kind of themes that I would be exploring just a few years later in games like The Baron and Fate. Why did nobody every draw a link between my work and Papillon's earlier piece, or recommend this game to me? One thing we need to become much, much better at as a community is to keep the conversation going, to keep talking about games beyond the momentary attention they may get in a competition environment. We always need more IF, obviously, but what we need even more is more writing about IF.
As the above indicates, Triune deals with some heavy issues. The game starts when you, a teenage girl, are fleeing into the bathroom to escape the violence of your alcoholic father. Very soon afterwards, you find yourself in a fairy tale country -- no doubt both a representation of your own fantasies and a archetypal map of womanhood -- which offers you several destinies to pursue, all of them linked to a particular image of what the feminine can be like in a world that is dominated by maleness.
In terms of vision, Triune offers us a lot. Some reviewers have called the symbolism heavy-handed, but I don't think that's a totally fair complaint; we are in the realm of the fairy tale, we are incarnating Jungian archetypes, so of course the symbols are in some sense obvious. They have to be. What matters more is the daring of the vision, and this, I think, is where Triune shines. To have us (Spoiler - click to show)literally repeat the sin of Eve, burn down the entire forest, marry a prince who kills unicorns but is totally asexual; that is glorious stuff.
Whether the player will get to enjoy it is another matter. It also seems that most reviewers relied to a large extent on the walkthrough, as did I. There are some real implementation issues that decrease our confidence in the game; a few puzzle solutions are hard to discover; and the heavy use of a keyword-based conversation system leads to many places where the player can get stuck. While I did not encounter any bugs per se, Triune could have benefited immensely from more play-testing aimed at a smoother play experience. In fact the very reliance on puzzles seems a mistake: surely this game is about choices much more than about finding solutions to problems!
As I played the game, I saw three endings corresponding to three different visions of womanhood: (Spoiler - click to show)the Earth mother, dominating the male but totally lost in the world of sensuality; the fairy-tale princess, pampered and sterile; the vengeful witch, craving a revenge that lays waste to everything. None of them were portrayed by the game as particularly satisfying. One assumes that the real message and the canonical ending are (Spoiler - click to show)when we return to the real world after the forest has burned down; and we quit the game and are told that this was just a story; that in reality there is no message announcing that you have won; and that every game, while it can be played and replayed, may also be ended when one has had enough. What does this mean? I don't think it's about suicide. Is it about stepping out of an abusive situation? About refusing to meet the world on its terms and instead dictating your own? Or instead about facing reality rather than escaping into fantasy and dreaming of magic? Surely somehow it must be an indictment of the very way of thinking womanhood that leads to the three archetypes mentioned. But how?
I feel that my uncertainty about the point that the piece is trying to make is indicative of the game's greatest weakness. For while I do not demand a game to have a message, let alone one that is spelled out in detail, I feel that Triune ends up being too diffuse. How do its different narrative threads relate to each other? What do all of them have to do with the piece's insistent meditations on the nature of magic? We can certainly understand all the narrative strands; but can any sense be made of the whole? Still -- the very fact that my criticism is on this level shows that the piece is well worth experiencing.