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Perspective gives enlightement, if not happiness, August 21, 2023
What They Don't Know, as part of the Single Choice Jam, gives the player three options at the start: that of Lady Highchester, who controls the Highchester family fortune, or Chelle, her daughter, or Ara, daughter of the late vineyard keeper, recently brought in as an alternate heir. This bit is as ominous as it sounds: it all but says "I'm not saying you're not fully adequate, I'm just saying." The reader can see each of their stories and piece together what happens.
WTDK is a short, tidy piece, but it's rather discomfiting for all that, which given the content warnings seems like the intent. It's not overdone, though. You might say, who cares about rich people's struggles anyway? Usually not me. But we see nuances in the characters behavior. Shelly and Ara have grown to like each other, and they both wonder why Lady Highchester is doing this. Each would feel discomfort in leaving the other with less than she deserves.
I chose Lady Highchester's path last, and I think this would be the best way to get the most out of the story. She's the one with the power, after all, and I think it's most tense to see the reveal of what she is doing and why. There are unintended consequences.
On reading the three characters stories, it's pretty clear to me that Lady Highchester really had no chance of getting what she wanted, or seeing what she wanted, and her meddling was the sort of thing that messes up basic happiness for other people. Though she doesn't lash out, no response would really have been good enough for her. It reminded me of times I've been in friendships or in groups, where they might say, hey, this really is better than those old bums, right? Or even in an honors class where we don't associate with them there regular-class rabble. And I felt there was no good answer, or I would get nailed for being too enthusiastic or not enthusiastic enough. But of course nothing was ever enough.
That's a danger of having power and using it casually, of course. You use it, and any positive response you get, you don't know if people are really doing out of the goodness of the heart, even if you try to construct things that way is an experiment. Lady Highchester's power play is far more subtle than, say, the classic scene from Goodfellas where Joe Pesci's character says, "What, do you think I'm haha funny?" Or when Henry is applauded for not snitching, but of course there's still distrust throughout the crime syndicate. But it's tough to tell which hurts worse, if you're the target. Under-the-hood stuff leaves no immediate intense burn but lasts longer.
From the character sketches I suspected that Lady Highchester never really considered that her experiment might cause unwanted effects. And I think the author clearly showed this is not okay without moralizing. Or maybe I'm just glad to see the sort of thing that reminds me of unscrupulous people from my past who expected loyalty-just-because and had ways people could show it. I felt bad, being kind of a pushover and all, that I couldn't show said loyalty.
It's easy to reject or laugh at or be disgusted by loyalty oaths or hazing or whatever. The subtler things are, the trickier it is, because we all have moments where we want to test friends' loyalty, generally when we aren't at our best, and we can't isolate that variable, so to speak.
Of course, we similarly can't prove that this paradox is a thing, so when stories like this come by, it's as close as we can get, and it feels good enough. We see how and why Lady Highchester is wrong, and that helps us be okay with not liking our own Lady Highchesters as much as we should on paper.