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Turandot

by Victor Gijsbers profile

Romance
2019

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Number of Reviews: 5
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A decent parody that had me wishing for more, September 23, 2020
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)
This is probably the toughest review I've written so far as I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Turandot. I should note this is the first ChoiceScript game I've finished and it's not my preferred style of play.

I was immediately turned off by the game's first section, where we intimately are introduced to Calaf's misogyny. Gijsbers tries to play it for laughs, as the entire game is kind of a parody of the opera, which was terribly sexist. While I smirked at times, I just don't find sexism ripe for comedy.

Things definitely improve once we meet Turandot, as she is a revulsed by Calaf as anyone should be and has an appealing flare for the dramatic. Her running commentary as she sends Calaf through the trials to win her over is witty and endearing. I was less taken by her change of heart, as Calaf's self-actualization feels out of nowhere, though I have to admit I was rooting for him by the end. And the ending turns the game on its head one more time, making us once again reevaluate everything we thought of our characters and I was left feeling a bit dizzy (not to mention confused for Calaf's friend).

Ultimately, I gave this three stars because Gijsbers is an excellent writer and I was compelled for most of the ride. But I was left quite unsatisfied. Perhaps if this had been written as satire, with more focus on the historic racism of Orientalist operas, I would have appreciated it more. Instead it felt to me like a few different sketch comedies thrown together, full of some laughs but with an inconsistent theme.

I should also acknowledge the quite overt references (so overt that it would be hard to call them Easter Eggs) to several famous IF works sprinkled throughout, though I'm not sure why they are here. It reminds me of how out of place it felt to get an XYZZY response while playing Babel. Though I imagine I will never again find quite as satisfying a result to clicking "Show Stats."

Comments on this review

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Victor Gijsbers, September 23, 2020 - Reply
Thanks for the review! Obviously, I would have preferred it if you had enjoyed the piece more, but I'm thankful for the thoughtful review you wrote of it. It's a little hard to react to this as an author, I feel, because I can try to explain the way I view the piece... but there's a danger that it might come across as an attack or an attempt to claim that you 'didn't get it' or something like that. So let me just state explicitly that that's not my purpose!

You write that I try to play Calaf's mysogyny for laughs. That wasn't really my intention. In fact, I tried to establish almost immediately that *the game* is aware of how problematic Calaf's attitudes are, and also that, in a repressed way, *he himself* is aware of it. So very early on, when you're at the wine stall with Lando, it's all about how empty and meaningless your life of incessant sexual conquests has been. And then two men pass with a prostitute. Calaf and Lando recognise her, and Lando remarks that "the years haven't been kind to her." To which Calaf can reply either with the self-pitying "They haven't been kind to us either", or with the much more insightful, "Nor have we." It's subtle, and you don't need to choose this option, but it's meant to show that Calaf *knows* that it's the behaviour of men like him that is causing actual harm to the women he is exploiting.

He knows it; but he can't face up to it at this point in the game. Only Turandot will be able to make him engage in what Carl Muckenhoupt in his review calls "the terrifying work of self-knowledge".

It's details like this through which I tried to do two things that I evidently didn't succeed in getting across to you, namely, first, to make it clear from the beginning that nothing would be just 'played for laughs' in this piece -- that although it's a comedy, it is a very serious comedy indeed -- and, second, to lay the ground for Calaf's eventual change. For Turandot forces him to confront himself, but the insights needed for that confrontation were always already there.

Is it a satire of the opera? That, again, is not really my intention. Sobol linked to my own blog post; perhaps I can add this post by Chandler Groover, which perfectly captures my intentions. I'll quote just a little bit: "That’s when it became apparent to me what this game is really trying to do: it’s not just about the characters in the plot atoning or not atoning for their crimes; it’s about the game atoning for the opera’s “crimes” and trying to find a way to reconcile these characters’ monstrous behavior with the fact that they’re people."

Again, I'm not writing this to dispute the validity of your review! But if these remarks help you like the piece a little bit more, or understand a little better why I did things the way I did them, then it was definitely worth writing them.
deathbytroggles, September 23, 2020 - Reply
Honestly I almost DM'd you on Twitter to talk about this before I posted, but then decided that it would be best to give my unfiltered review and talk later. By reading your link to Groover's review and all comments on the internet everywhere, my experience is in the minority for sure. Definitely helpful to read all of it, though.

I do believe you were mostly successful at reconciling the operas crimes when it came to the sexism (thanks in heavy part to giving Turandot way more agency, thank you). I think one of the issues for me goes back to my usual critique of CYOA games. Even though the game winds up on a rail, the player by their choices has an idea in their mind of who Calaf is by the choices they want to give to him. So when he changes half-way through the game, he either had been pondering this the whole time and just needed a nudge (Nor have we) or he's really buried all of his sins down deep (They haven't been kind to us either) and then his change seems a lot less realistic. So the style of game can hamstring the author from telling the story they really want to tell.

More seriously, I still have a hard time reconciling that a white man made an opera about Chinese folk with Chinese stereotypes (not surprisingly, a place he never once visited) and this game doesn't seem to really address it, at least head on. There are some cultural references and anachronisms that are clearly from a white and western frame as well and I'm not sure what to do with that.

I forgot to say in my review that the riddle sequence, as many have said, is indeed the highlight. I was grinning from ear to ear.
Victor Gijsbers, September 25, 2020 - Reply
Let me respond to the Orientalism aspect! Obviously, the opera is very problematic in this regard, just as it is very problematic in its depiction of love, violence and gender. But there's a big difference. The opera struggles mightily with the latter set of problems, and although it doesn't solve them, it achieves authentic glory in its struggles. The Orientalism, on the other hand, is just stupid and embarrassing. There's nothing glorious about it. And that also means that it's deeply uninspiring.

(Unless one were in the mood to write a 'persiflage'. Which is perhaps not quite the right noun in English, though it is in Dutch: I'm trying to express the idea of a genre that is even more mocking than satire.)

Clearly, if you're writing an essay on the opera, or if you are otherwise creating a work that is really *about* the opera, then you can't escape dealing with this particular aspect of it. But that was never my intention. I wanted to reimagine, understand and explore Turandot *the princess*, departing mightily from the opera in the process. I never felt the need (or duty) to engage with all aspects of the opera or to address all its problems. I addressed only those that flowed from the one things I was interested in: the character of the princess, the possibility that the *same* person kills her suitors *and* is a powerful force of love and transformation.

Of course, that still means you have to deal with the opera's Orientalism in one way or another, because if you don't think about it, you might unwittingly repeat it! And so I did think about it, and I decided that for my game, there was only one sensible solution: to not set the game in China. The exact location of Turandot's palace cannot be pinpointed, but every single cultural reference is European. All the new names are Italian; Calaf and Lando drink wine made from Chardonnay grapes; people allude to Shakespeare; and so on.

One *might* think of this as a cop-out, but that presupposes a perspective in which Turandot-the-IF has a duty to engage with everything that is problematic about Turandot-the-opera. And I don't think that's the right perspective. I prefer to think of Turandot-the-IF as a work that has its own artistic goals, and engages with the existing Turandot corpus only where it suits those goals. (I wouldn't have been interested in writing a piece that is essentially a reaction to an existing work.)

Does this help you understand my choices?
deathbytroggles, September 25, 2020 - Reply
It does, thank you!

I assumed you set it in China because of the opera and because the logo for the game on IFdB looks vaguely like a Chinese woman. And, of course, one stereotype of east Asian women is that of being cold and sexually unavailable and don't like seeing that perpetuated, even if accidentally.

Also, I learned a new word today. Persiflage entering memory banks post-haste.
Sobol, September 23, 2020 - Reply
Reading this post in the author's blog helped me appreciate both the game and the opera better: Victor Gijsbers - Turandot and narrative failure
deathbytroggles, September 23, 2020 - Reply
Good read, thank you.
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