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Bitter satire, August 16, 2018
From a misogynist adolescent to a fun-loving Roman to the victim of a self-important sex-hater, Stiffy Makane is surely the IF character to appear in the most different guises. Here, he appears as a knight whose repertoire of actions consists of exactly two things: Slay and Lay. When Sir Makane slays, he brutally murders; when he lays, he is often engaged in rape or something very close to it. (The game never explicitly mentions consent, though it sometimes stops short of telling us that the laying was non-consensual.)
The game reminded me of a sequence early in Ludovico Ariosto's magnificent (and feminist) 16th century epic Orlando Furioso. In that sequence, a knight has rescued a naked princess chained to a rock by defeating the monster that was planning to eat her. The princess expresses her gratitude. And then the knight tells her that he knows just the way for her to really show her gratitude, and he proceeds to undress -- he does not even consider the possibility that she might not want him sexually. But taking off his armour is such a laborious process that the princess has fled far away before he finishes it.
Ariosto and Groover are both trying to expose the violence inherent in stories of chivalry and the culture that generates them. (For Groover, of course, these stories stand in for many other kinds of narrative we find in contemporary works, all of which work in fundamentally the same ways.) But there is a distinct difference in tone. Ariosto is always generous and humane, while Groover's satire is bitter. Ariosto doesn't express his disapproval of the knight, but by making him the butt of a joke, he ensures that we cannot mistake the author's intent. Groover, on the other hand, makes his narrator express constant approval of the actions of Sir Makane -- an approval that is obviously ludicrous and often supported by bizarre non sequiturs, but which makes reading the piece a constant struggle against the narrator. Ariosto believes that if one presents the real, people will be able to see and embrace the truth. Groover, living in the age of Trump and looking at U.S. responses to police violence, believes that powerful authorities are giving false interpretations of the real and often succeeding in getting people to embrace those interpretations. His strategy is to make the tension between reality and interpretation so strong that something must give.
Perhaps that is necessarily a weakness. A piece like Rape, Pillage, Makane can hardly open anyone's eyes, since one either already believes that X is an egregious example of violence and false ideology, or one does not believe that the events in this game and X have anything to do with each other. Let X be police violence; would anyone not already sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement believe that Sir Makane and the U.S. police are like each other? Probably not. Here, a more detailed piece about the topic under consideration might be more effective.
Rape, Pillage, Makane thus remains somewhat abstract; but its bitter satire is a new way of taking up the Makane character and an interesting addition to the IF corpus.