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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.
67th Place - 29th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2023)
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Number of Reviews: 2
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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!
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.