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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:Hints For Beating Chicken Pox, March 19, 2015
by Matt W (San Diego, CA)
For a game like Varicella, that's been reviewed to death and has even had academic papers written about some of the characters, I don't know that it's all that useful to write a review that lists my likes and dislikes. (For the record, I liked the structure, writing, and setting lots and lots. I disliked the implied extreme sexual violence; I'm not particularly squeamish but this game made me squirm.) I do think the game's handling of its female characters is under-explored. (Cadre strikes me as trying to have his cake and eat it, while insisting that he doesn't even like cake.) More on that later. I thought I'd focus the review on providing some hints for new players.
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Christina Nordlander, March 17, 2015 - Reply
I agree with most of your opinions on the plot and characterisation in this game: I was rather taken aback by how liberally the game uses rape as a plot element or in a character's background, and Sarah is utterly helpless and devoid of agency. However, it seemed to me that we're not meant to agree with Sierra's dismissive comments about Sarah and Charlotte. The fact that Sierra gratuitously insults a child abuse victim (and a recent widow, no less) and a woman who has seen her husband gunned down in front of her, is probably there to show Sierra's amoral character, rather than to tell us what we should think about Sarah or Charlotte. At least, I hope that's the case.
Matt W, March 18, 2015 - Reply
You might be right, I hadn't considered that we're not meant to identify with Sierra. I thought Sierra was the most interesting character in the game; she has the most to say, and she has some agency. But as you point out, she's pretty un-sympathetic and she makes broad, terrible generalizations about China. I suppose she is kind of a caricature of a cold-hearted, strident feminist, which doesn't exactly help endear the game to me.
Adam Cadre, March 18, 2015 - Reply
"she makes broad, terrible generalizations about China"
...a fictional China that diverged from our China 1200 years ago.
"I suppose she is kind of a caricature of a cold-hearted, strident feminist"
As I noted in a previous comment, everyone in the game is a caricature. But caricatures are not inherently satirical. Primo Varicella's obsession with furniture is the stuff of caricature, but it's meant to make him more loveable even as we laugh at it. And again, Sierra is not a mouthpiece, but ask people who know me and they will tell you that the idea of me putting forward "stridency" as a BAD thing is pretty unlikely.
Adam Cadre, March 18, 2015 - ReplyPrevious | << 1 >> | Next
Hi! A few responses:
* Sierra isn't a mouthpiece. I don't believe in mouthpieces. A lot of people seem to think that when they encounter a preachy character in fiction, that character must be speaking for the author. But when I put preachy characters into stories, it is because there are preachy people in the world. I never agree with my preachy characters 100%, because I never agree with any of my characters 100%.
* This review gripes that the women in Varicella are caricatures. But every character in Varicella is a caricature to one extent or another - the guards have a grand total of one trait apiece, Wehrkeit is a stereotypical Nazi, Rico is a stereotypical yuppie, Louis is a stereotypical fratboy, etc., etc. That's just how I wrote in the '90s, because I thought it was funny, and because I was misanthropic enough that I would have told you that it was accurate - that most people struggle to achieve even 2D personalities, let alone 3D ones. You can certainly object to that approach to characterization: I do, which is why I no longer employ it. But complaining that the women in Varicella are caricatures is like complaining that the women on The Simpsons have overbites.
* On rape in Varicella: the point was to depict a horrifying society in which vanishingly few women escaped sexual violence. And my impression is that in human history such societies have been more the rule than the exception. No? Is it not the case that, until relatively recently (and even now in much of the world), those born female were generally either slaves (and therefore raped as a matter of course) or else upon maturity assigned by their families to become the sexual property of men not of their choosing? "I disliked the implied extreme sexual violence"... good! I would hate to meet the person who said, "I LOVED the implied extreme sexual violence." "It's gross and ugly and unsettling"... yes, those are mild terms for how sexual violence should make us feel. So I'm not sure I understand the objection here. Is it that these horrific elements clash tonally with the puzzles and jokes elsewhere in the game, or is it something else?
It does seem like this is the sort of topic that is better handled via conversation, so if you (or anyone reading this) would like to go into this in more depth, I'm always happy to have email discussions with people. Just go to my web site and click on the stamp.