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Virtue

by Oliver Revolta

Satire
2023

(based on 9 ratings)
4 reviews

About the Story

A Satire on Indulgence

(Satire. 45 minutes)

Middle-aged Gloria knows she's made it: finally she has it all--kids at a posh school, a house in a posh town, and her confidence, shaky for so long, in a place that befits her new upper-middle-class lifestyle. Unfortunately, the universe has other ideas than letting her settle. When she's out walking her beautiful Border Collie pup Clio along the equally-beautiful canal, she stumbles on an incident that tests her new-found composure and sends her on a self-righteous path of utterly ludicrous foundations. ("Someone has been caught doing what now on the canal !?"). She's quick to blame the easy targets, and equally as slow to scrutinise her own family.

You've seen and read superhero origin stories.

This is an off-beat origin story of a shameful MP.

Content warning: This game isn't suitable for young kids. I imagine it might have a 15 rating if it was in the cinema. The plot revolves around an 'off-screen' but openly discussed sexual element, which is really a satirical reference to self-indulgence.


Game Details


Awards

67th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Political satire that tries to be too many things, October 2, 2023
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)

Virtue: an interactive narrative is a short-to-medium choice-based game about an English middle-class woman whose pathetic need to feel like she's made it, like she's one of the successful 'haves', puts her on a path towards darkness -- where darkness is, more or less, Nigel Farage and Suella Braverman. The point of the game is clearly political. It wants to pull the mask from the xenophobic, transphobic, everything-phobic Tory right and show us the ideological emptiness and self-serving psychology beneath. The protagonist of our game, Gloria, is shown to be the type of person who can fall for this sort of politics, even to the point of becoming such a politician herself.

This is not an easily achievable set of intentions, but I can see at least three ways of making it work. One would be to lean sharply into one's political disgust, showing the disastrous human effects of the policies one opposes. A second would be to ramp up the satire and lean into humour, taking the protagonist all-too-seriously while turning her into a laughingstock. A third would be to go for sympathy and understanding, showing in psychological detail why the protagonist, without being in any sense a terrible person, nevertheless ends up in a terrible political place.

I don't think Virtue works very well in its current incarnation, and I believe that is in part because Oliver tries to do all of these things, and perhaps other too, at once. But they don't mix very easily. A lot of time is spent on showing us the inside of Gloria's thinking, which fits the third, sympathetic approach. But her thinking is so shallow and self-serving that we don't actually feel like she's a real human being. At the same time, it's too realistic, too repetitive, to provoke laughter. And precisely because we never leave Gloria's mind (and her obsession with appearances), we don't really see the effects of her actions. It feels like the game knows exactly what it wants to be about, but it doesn't really know how it wants to be about that.

One feels that because of this, the writing also doesn't succeed nearly as well as it could have. Passages are often overly long -- making points that were already clear, such as the shallowness of Gloria's middle-class ambitions -- again and again. But they also tend to be a bit vague. In this respect, the encounter with the Polish man stands out. Here the reader is trying to understand what has actually happened near the canal (is it a flasher? sexual assault? something else?), but the game is vague about that because it also wants to establish the embarrassment of the Polish doctor in talking about this, and the embarrassment of Gloria in not remembering his name, and the fact that these people are making too much out of a relatively minor incident, and Gloria's incipient xenophobic thoughts, and Gloria's determination to be a strong woman, and her panic as her dream is threatened... which is a lot, and it's all mixed together, and none of it comes out as clearly as it could have. I think with a more consistent aim, it would have been easier to find a more consistent tone, and thereby to write more entertaining, to-the-point dialogue. Suppose we go for humurous, biting satire.


"There's a streecker in the park," he whispers.
(A) A streecker? What's that? Must be some weird Polish word. If only the people who were allowed to come here did their best to learn proper English.
(B) Probably one of those foreign foodstuffs. Raw mutton with garlic, or whatever they eat in the Balkans.
(C) Oh, wait. A streaker. How unseemly!


That's just an example, of course, and maybe not a path Revolta would ever want to take. My general point is that everything could have been more condensed and more engaging, and I think the root cause of it *not* being there is that the author is trying to juggle too many tones and ambitions at once. That's only a hypothesis, but it makes sense to me. The game can feel a bit too much like it's trying to hammer in its points, and a lot of that could come from tonal uncertainty. For instance, our protagonist gets a panic attack from thinking about council houses... which could work as hyperbolic funny satire! But it reads as hammering in the shallowness of the protagonist, because we're not a passage filled with fun and hyperbole. So, again: there are good ideas here, they just don't seem to fit together in quite the right way.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Making Virtue a Vice, January 6, 2024
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2023

Adapted from an IFCOMP23 Review

Historically, the British have a lot to answer for, no doubt. They may not have invented colonization, but they sure perfected it. They turned class warfare into a national past time and a global preoccupation. They pulled the levers of racism to throw European economy into chaos. They plundered historical legacy from cultures around the globe. Don’t even get me started on their culinary corpus. But you know what they DON’T need to apologize for? London Dry Gin.

London Dry Gin took Dutch Genever, a full-mouthed almost-whiskey, and/or too-sweet-by-half Old Tom and said “rawther, pip pip, we’ll just sharpen this up, old bean, distill away the sugars, layer in botanical complexity for a crisp, clean dram that is best chased with more of itself, what ho?” Y’know, cause that’s how they talk. London Dry Gin single-handedly turned the Martini into the most popular cocktail in the world for the latter half of the 20th century, before the Martini got corrupted by the complete nothing Vodka and the Old Fashioned justifiably stole the crown. Gin pairs so sublimely with Tonic and lime that its name is synonymous with ‘refreshing.’ In the Negroni, the Italians showed that Gin can rescue even the unappealingly bitter Campari. If you’ve never had a London Dry-based Corpse Reviver #2, you have chosen a life of privation and self-denial that disrespects your brief time on this mortal coil.

London Dry Gin doesn’t deserve Virtue’s scorn.

This is a fiction with almost no interactivity. There are less than a handful of choices to make, and only one seems weirdly impactful. Most of the time clicking is purely to advance the text. The story itself is a character study of an unpleasant, unfulfilled housewife with suppressed trauma transferring her desperate dissatisfactions into social outrage. That outrage takes on its own life, ignoring or eliminating anything that doesn’t feed it (like family relationships or the simple truths right in front of her), and exacerbating things that do, like casual racism. No lies detected, tell me more!

While that is a very timely phenomenon to showcase, and not just in England, the story makes some choices that undermine its impact. For one, the work puts us squarely in this protagonist’s pov - we only have access to the story through her. She is off-puttingly one note. I think the story introduces her trauma as a way to generate sympathy but it is so downplayed it becomes incidental. Don’t get me wrong, foregrounding trauma is probably NOT desirable as that would carry all kinds of unwanted subtext. Rather, before the plot turn, all we get is trauma and repressed anger and a side of mild othering. The story makes no other attempt to make her complex. Even before things escalate she is unpleasant to be stuck with. I think the work might be better served to show more fullness to this character, some positive aspects the reader might want to share. Or even go all in on flaws that are more fun to gawk at. Cruella De Ville is not sympathetic but she is a tremendous hang! Elphaba is deeply (ok maybe somewhat manipulatively) sympathetic and her descent is engaging to watch. Instead we are stuck with someone kind of awful to start with, then we just watch her curdle.

Another defeating choice is how clumsily the story hammers the obvious truth at her. Her daughter flat out spells it out for her (yet despite disapproving of her mother’s arc, doesn’t take any other action?). An MP, presumably not local, knows the truth. That HAS to imply that at least some locals are well aware of it too - where else is he getting his info? Her outrage is portrayed as so magnetic it has become a local political movement. While a bit ham-fisted, I can get on board with self-delusion overtaking reason here. It beggars credulity though that 1) EVERYONE is willing to overlook this glaring, embarrassing fact and 2) that it would not be used by political enemies at a minimum. With a more compellingly rendered protagonist we might forgive this conceit. Certainly conservative party willingness to fan flames for political advantage is not a stretch. Worse, it doesn’t need that political detail to get its message of gross hypocrisy across! It could have stayed a family secret and political disinterest in the truth could be just as damning without straining credulity!

The work is billed as a satire, but the whole thing is pretty humorless. Maybe with a more firm hand on tone, these things would be sold better? As is, the protag seems more grounded than caricature, and the plot developments more illogical than satirical. [sidebar: I hope we all know we are living in a post-satire world anyway, yes? As a species we have lost the ability to detect insincere rhetorical exaggeration.]

While the story may be unconvincing, the interactivity on the other hand was just flat confounding. The only impactful choice to make is (Spoiler - click to show)what beverage to share with an opportunistic politician. Of three choices, two lead to an abrupt, unsatisfying end of (Spoiler - click to show)‘welp she made her own choices.’ It resolves nothing in plot or character, it just ends. Maybe this is the satire? If so, the end screen needs to do a LOT more work to land it.

Regardless, if she chooses the GIN at that last choice we (Spoiler - click to show)mint yet another awful politician! With THAT choice?!?!? I found no thematic or satirical resonance. I don’t think alcohol is even mentioned prior to this. Maybe it’s a metaphorical choice to embrace the most extreme option, drinking the cool-aid as it were? Ok, but there is no clue to the player that that is what we’re doing until it’s done. Also, it feels like the protag had committed to ‘extreme’ WELL prior to this point.

I really feel I need to defend London Dry here, even in satire. The narrative is timely, its theme could not be more spot on. I just found as a story it didn’t spark for me, and satirical elements were too underplayed to land. A Mechanical, Mostly Seamless exercise of page turning. (Shy of Seamless due to confusing ending use of interactivity.)

Classic Martini: Anywhere from 5-2 to 5-1 ratio London Dry Gin to Dry Vermouth (less vermouth is a pose. More vermouth appropriate to other gins, not London Dry), dash orange bitters, stir with ice. Strain into chilled glass, garnish with olive (no brine) or better squeezed lemon twist.

Classic G&T: 2 oz London Dry Gin over lots of ice in a Highball glass, top with Tonic, garnish with slice of lime, and sprig of spanked mint if feeling saucy. Give lime a light squeeze before drinking.

Negroni: equal parts London Dry Gin, Campari, Italian Sweet Vermouth. Stir in a rocks glass with ice, squeeze and garnish with wide twist of orange.

Corpse Reviver #2: equal parts London Dry Gin, lemon juice, Contreau, and Lillet Blanc (or the historically closer Kina l’Aero d’Or), shake with ice, strain into a chilled coup glass, swirled with absinthe. Garnish with cocktail cherry, not maraschino.

Gin is not the villain here.

Played: 11/5/23
Playtime: 45min, 3 cycles, 2 endings
Artistic/Technical ratings: Mechanical, Mostly Seamless
Would Play After Comp?: No, but would definitely have a cocktail after IFCOMP23. Or during!


Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Birth of a Tory, November 28, 2023
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2023's IFComp).

Per a Who song from 50 years ago, no one knows what it’s like to be the bad man, but a cavalcade of anti-hero based movies, TV shows, and podcasts sure are hopeful of filling the gap. Virtue, a UK-set Ink game by a debut author (and/or pseudonym), is the latest to step up to the plate, and it has novelty on its side: here our bad man is a bad woman, and per the blurb, one destined to be a Tory MP. Gloria, our protagonist, is a real piece of work – a status-conscious, property-value obsessed avatar of the bourgeoisie with opinions about Poles, Roma, you name it – and as she confronts, or rather fails to confront, a peeping-Tom incident in the tony neighborhood to which she just moved, her odiousness moves from the personal to the political.

She’s an unpleasant, anxious person, in other words and the game’s great strength is that it keeps just the right distance from her. The player is privy to all Gloria’s fears and hopes (there’s rather a lot more of the former than the latter), which are all sketched with psychological plausibility, but her subjectivity is kept at a remove; the narration weaves in snatches of thoughts and bits of dialogue, but there’s more telling than showing, which might not be the most literary choice but in this case provides the player with some much-needed psychic defenses. Like, here’s a bit where she’s contemplating the horribleness of anything threatening her cozy suburban dream:

"So much seems perfect—the proximity to the kids’ school, the quality of the location, the size of the house, the decoration, the conservatory, the new extension you’re planning, the new carpets, all the many book shelves, the TV that when you stop watching it dims and looks like a painting—the new kitchen fittings, the cooker, the plans to fell the tree in the back garden to give the garden more light—how can you face tainting and undermining any of that?"

The details are all well-observed, but the language is vapid enough to let the player off the hook (similarly, the author’s careful not to have anyone say anything too awful about the various minorities being demonized, though of course they’re thinking it). This isn’t due to a lack of writerly skill, I don’t think, but reflects a deliberate choice, because when the stakes are lower, the prose is more engaging. Here’s a bit of landscape description that I liked:

"Beyond two multi-million pound houses—and beyond the strip of garden belonging to the first house, which was lined prettily with pink bougainvilleas—the estuary turns and opens up in one large, swerving gleam."

At any rate, intentional or not I was glad of the distance because Gloria is a truly odious creature. After learning that a mysterious person has been lurking in the hedgerows and abusing himself while peeping on local women (which fact she discovers through an incredibly awkward conversation with her Polish neighbor), she launches a crusade to push the filth to finger a perpetrator, ideally by trawling the local Roma caravan for some suspects to fit up for the crime.

When that doesn’t work, she forms a busybody committee and catches the attention of the local MP. Her interactions with her family form a counterpoint to this more political strand of the plot, and these are likewise quite dour: she fights with her henpecked husband, infantilizes her much more self-aware daughter, and ignores her furtively absent son. This stuff by no means engenders sympathy, but does provide some context for the aggression she displaces onto those she finds insufficiently British (there’s an intimation that she was a victim of clergy sexual abuse while younger, which serves a similar purpose by giving her what seems to be an anxiety disorder and a persistent fear of impurity and inadequacy).

It’s an unpleasant but neatly-told story with its politics in the right place, I think. It doesn’t lean especially hard into interactivity; most passages end with a single choice leading to the next bit of plot, and those choices that do exist largely seem illusory. But the format does help establish the modicum of complicity that’s needed for the piece to work, so I think it justifies the author’s decision to write IF. I’d rate Virtue a well-done game that’s worth playing – but as always, I do have two caveats.

The first is that the game seemed to end quite abruptly, perhaps due to a bug? I reached the final section of the game, which is the meeting with the local MP, but after greeting him in the pub and deciding to have some white wine, the game simply stopped before getting to the substance of the meeting. This might have been a consequence for some poor decision-making, since the game seemed to be implying that I was insufficiently sloshed (I mean fair, I’d have to be three sheets to the wind to survive a conversation with a Tory backbencher) – there’d been an earlier option to have either a cuppa or some wine before heading out to the meeting, and I’d opted for the tea, and the horrible Tory was having a G+T because of course he was and I could have joined him in that rather than sticking to wine. But since the rest of the game’s choices felt fairly low-stakes, and the ending didn’t indicate he sent me packing for being too much of a lightweight or anything, it felt less like an anticlimax and more like a technical issue. Still, by that point it was clear where the story was headed so I don’t think this negatively impacted my enjoyment too much.

As for the other issue, it’s a broader one but also more nebulous, and it involves a spoiler – though one that the game’s own blurb comes pretty close to revealing, so I’ll omit the blurry-text this time. Turns out in addition to Gloria’s crusade being motivated by her self-esteem issues and general xenophobia, the game is pretty clear that the roving Onanist who’s kicked this whole thing off is her son Andrew, which a part of Gloria recognizes but refuses to confront, leading to her sublimating her denial into political action. I suppose it’s reasonable to consider that many reactionaries are the way they are because of deep-seated insecurities and a guilty conscience – and in some ways it’s even attractive to think that they’re just broken people dealing with trauma in deeply antisocial ways. So it’s all plausible enough.

But I can’t help but wonder whether this is a bit too pat. The blurb also says that this is an “origin story of a shameful MP” – it’s unsurprising that the complete ending appears to involve Gloria running for office as a knock-off Liz Truss – but really, do these kinds of people typically have origin stories? I think they don’t, or if they do, they’re less psychological and more tawdry: people born with unjust privilege realize they can maintain it by scapegoating others; people born without it realize they can curry favor by comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted. We’re primarily dealing with material conditions, in other words, and in the post-Trump, post-Boris Johnson age, the idea that the enemies of democracy could work through their issues if they just got some therapy feels, I have to say, a bit naïve. And here, Virtue’s otherwise-praiseworthy decision to hold Gloria at a remove winds up being a negative, because a more literary take going deep into her subjectivity perhaps could have avoided this objection; since the didactic writing style invites us to view the game not as a character study, but as an object lesson, though, I think it’s harder to argue that Gloria isn’t meant as a type.

Let me emphasize once again this is a pretty rarefied complaint: “Virtue is insufficiently Marxist” isn’t a criticism that should prevent one from playing a smart, well-implemented game that made me think. Recommended!

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Left a sour taste in my mouth..., November 22, 2023
by manonamora
Related reviews: ifcomp

Virtue is a short-ish linear entry, where you follow Gloria, a newly middle-class woman on a self-righteous path to prove her standing in her new community. It is meant as a satire about the origin story of a conservative member of parliament in Britain.
It should be noted that while the blurb sort of spoils the gist of the game, the original content warnings are not clear enough on the actual content of the entry. Please note that there are mention of an assault, as well as xenophobic comments.

Honestly, I am incredibly conflicted about this entry, because it is clear what the author was trying to make fun of, but the results is undermined by issues (see last point). A shame the ending is spoiled in the blurb, it would have made the revelation stronger...

On the surface, the entry does a decent job at make a jab at those conservative pundits, how they got where they are now, how conservative talking points are sometimes hypocritical, or downright dangerous, or how comically easy people can fall into extremism. It touches on what you'd expect, and makes clear who you are supposed to like or not.

But when you dig deeper, the entry feels a bit shallow. While meant to be off-putting and shocking, the text barely dives into the tory-ism and more extreme talking points. I was expecting Gloria's decent into her "moralistic" path to be more explicit in both her views and her spoken words, but she barely go further than what you'd see a light "Karen" do*. She is much too restraint to make the satire work in that regard (even with the British "politeness" coming into play).
*sorry for all the decent Karens out there...

Speaking of Gloria, it is obvious from the start she is not meant to be liked. She is a vapid busy-body woman who has nothing better to do than keep up with appearances. Like your usual stereotypical middle-class stay-at-home mother, she berates her husband to no end, disregard her daughter (which I felt she even envied), and, in some sort of Oedipal concept, puts her son on a small pedestal... that is when she actually pay attention to her family. She seems more interested in her little dog than anyone else. To further the point of how sad and empty this woman's live actually is, the game shows a clear lack of hobbies and passion by the end of the game.

With Gloria putting so much importance in appearance and status, coupled with her lack of personal life, it is no wonder she'd end up where she did. And it works for the game! Who doesn't like a comically evil (or maybe stupid) character.

Finally, a bit of the elephant in the room.
[Mention of assault moving forward]
(Spoiler - click to show)The whole tragic backstory of Gloria having been assaulted in her childhood, used later on as an angle for moral and sexual purity, was not just uncomfortable to read (especially the implication that it helped pushing her down that path), but downright unnecessary and unimaginative. There are enough content out there using the rape trope as a backstory, and coupled with the "self-indulgence" satire, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. The whole 'you're dirty' angle played almost for laugh is genuinely upsetting, as the need of wanting to be clean is an actual trauma response following an assault. The carelessness in this, especially when the content warnings are lacking in that regard, really sours the game.

And there were other directions the author could have taken to use the whole clean/dirty bit. Gloria came from council houses, aka poverty, aka was a dirty poor. But now, she lives in a middle class house. She is not dirty anymore, she is a proper not-poor person. She has worth. She turns her back on where she comes from because that's shameful and dirty, and she is a proud and clean woman.

And that's it. No need for the cheap assault trick. Instead of undermining the point of the satire, it pushes the hypocrisy angle of conservative points.

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