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About the Story
Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was a British painter, infamous for his use of brutal imagery and distortions of the human face and body. Well-known for both his violent subject matter and cutting wit, he is commonly considered one of the most important artists of the Twentieth Century.
This story is not about him.
Content warning: Intended for mature audiences. Content warnings can be found in-game.
22nd Place - tie - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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The works of Francis Bacon evoke different reactions for good reason. He inspires controversy and awe. But as the game's blurb points out, "This game is not about him."
We are first introduced to him through plaques explaining his overall life story and his triptychs. As we view his works, the middle panel beckons us to LOOK CLOSER. We accidentally enter these paintings and emerge into his strange, surrealistic visions. There, depending on which triptych we've gone through, we can talk to a Fury, George Dyer, and Dyer's corpse.
The entire game revolves around exhausting conversation trees between these characters in the artworks and the people in the gallery. By asking around, we'll learn about what Bacon has thought about life, art, God, the soul, love, and some more. While it may remind players of Emily Short's influential Galatea, this game is mechanically far simpler: you'll be switching back and forth between different characters to unlock new topics to talk about.
While the gameplay was tedious, I couldn't satisfy my curiosity. I wanted to know more about Francis Bacon's art and how people understood them. Why are people so drawn and repelled toward his works? Is there some deeper meaning or could it simply be nothing at all? What was his relationship with Dyer? Why did he paint the Fury like that? Is the painting of the corpse just shock art or is there more to it?
As we ask these questions to different people, we begin to get a portrait of an artist from different perspectives. One fan sees him as a surrealist artist capable of subversion and bold new ideas. A detractor, on the other hand, finds his work too grotesque and even opportunistic. But those who are close to him -- the models of his work -- see him as (Spoiler - click to show)someone who craves masochistic pleasure and forced his partners to replace for his long-lost desire. He desires violence upon himself. For those who remain unconvinced and decide to investigate the question of Bacon's intentions even further, (Spoiler - click to show)you'll have the opportunity to "talk" to his self-portrait at the end of the game. He doesn't respond to anything you ask him because he seems too interested in himself as an artist. But you can tell him *who* he is, and he screams, implying you taught him something he didn't realize he had all along. At any point in the game, we can leave the gallery and get on with our lives.
Whether you dug through every topic or not, the game suspends its judgment on Bacon's art. We are left with our own voices to find out how we feel about his work. In my case, I wasn't aware he was a real figure until I started writing this review and I found his work beautiful. But his actions are inexcusable to me: he was an incorrigible, abusive artist who profited from people's misery for the sake of art. At the same time, he's been dead for so long that I don't have an ethical problem with his work being seen all over the world. Other people could disagree with me and that's fine.
This game is not about Francis Bacon the artist. It's about how the people inside and outside his works are affected by them.
When we ask people and the subject matter questions about Bacon's art and philosophy, we're actually teasing out something else entirely: our lives. Bacon is simply an author-function; his biographical details don't really matter. His works are the real focal point. What's more important is what we take away from it, and that journey is always meaningful.
As for me, his works and this game embody the sadder parts of queer desire. What we desire is often taboo because we cannot decouple love and dehumanization from our thinking. Losing it hurts even more because we can't talk about what we've lost. Shame and fear drive us into abstraction, into talking about nothing else because words and gestures no longer reflect our state of mind.
Is it so wrong for us to seek it?
Gestures Towards Divinity, like other works of art, cannot answer that question. All we can do is enter the game and explore it. Perhaps, we could chance upon some important truth that even their creators don't know -- or we don't. Satisfying or lacking, they are all we have.
Whatever the case, our personal answers we find are always gesturing toward something. Our curiosity is what makes art divine to us.
I have to preface this review by saying that I have always that that Francis Bacon, the renaissance guy, was the same as Francis Bacon, the scary pope painting guy. I thought it was just some kind of Łber-Protestant thing. This game really cleared that up!
I was excited while playing this game, although perhaps not for a reason the author would have foreseen. Iíve been making an area in my own game which is a puzzleless museum placed adjacent to conversation heavy areas, and I was wondering how many conversation topics would be appropriate, and how large of a museum would make sense, and whether players should be able to lawnmower all topics or have to pick and choose.
So when I saw this puzzleless museum conversation game, I was very intrigued to poke around at the mechanics and see my overall impression. So while the game seems far more focused on story than mechanics, this review will focus a bit more on the latter.
The setup is that you are in a museum with three main rooms, each with a triptych of paintings. The paintings are real paintings by Francis Bacon; I was able to look them all up and see what they looked like in real life.
Examining the paintings and walking around the museum gives you the opportunity to converse with various figures, each of which has their own opinion on Francis Bacon. The NPCs are also adaptable, and you can change their opinion of you and willingness to talk by various actions, in a way I havenít seen much of since games like Galatea and Blue Lacuna (although on a smaller scale here).
Topics are listed, and as you talk they change, although the change isnít notified. You can ask about some things not on the list (for instance, I asked an early character about Christ, since the topic of the painting was Golgotha).
There are also several achievements, allowing for some puzzle elements. Some of them are straightforward, while others might be difficult to think about. Several achievements involved exhausting conversation trees, which I honestly did not want to do; not because I didnít want to see more text, but by picking only the topics I wanted, I felt I had agency, but exhausting the tree didnít feel Ďagent-yí. ĎAgenticí?
This game has some very heavy themes: sexual abuse and rape, violent assaults, traumatic death, obsession, religion, broken relationships, and so on. But all of it is examined in a thoughtful way, from a distance. None of these things are glorified; instead, different observers comment on it, some finding it deeply repugnant, others finding beauty in pain.
There is a great deal of strong profanity, and some of the language around Christ made me feel uncomfortable (as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), but I understand the authorís choices here and the effect they were going for. So while those parts werenít for me, much of the game was, and I plan on rating this very highly. Beyond just appreciating the gameís messages, I also learned and grew as an author by reading this work, which is the highest compliment I am capable of giving.
Damn, this game. Itís got so much depth, and I spent a lot of time thinking about it after playing. Thereís so much emotion here, so much hurt, and yet we have this reflective distance from which to interact with and interrogate it all, even as it feels very personal given that two of the NPCs are different iterations of George Dyer, Francis Baconís doomed lover. This is a window on suffering people who in turn inflict suffering on others; on self-destruction/self-harm; on pain channeled into art. It begs the question of what the purpose of art is, why people are led to create and view it, and calls out how it can both connect and alienate us. It makes me feel very conflicted, and I think thatís a good thing. Altogether a brilliant game.
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