IFcomp 2016: Queen and Mirror

“Queen and Mirror”. No prizes to guess the reference.

Groover has another game in the comp, “The Queen’s Menagerie”, and I’ve spoken there about the baroque grotesquerie that seems to be his signature style. “Mirror and Queen” doesn’t seem to be quite the same thing, though. There’s still the sense of things being wrong, but I don’t feel the same sense of these things being accepted as right in the game’s world.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. “Mirror and Queen” is, as might be expected, a take on the wicked queen from “Snow White”; specifically, we are the queen and we are conversing with our magic mirror, and this is the night we discover that Snow White has surpassed us in beauty.

It’s an interesting take. Without deviating from the fairy tale, Snow White is presented with a little more darkness in her characterisation. There are references to behaviour that foreshadow the queen’s eventual fate in some versions of the tale–made to dance to death in iron shoes on hot coals, or else being thrown into an abyss. Snow White is described as spoilt, casually cruel, and easily manipulated by fawning courtiers–and none of this goes against her classic portrayal as the wronged princess in any way.

At the same time, more is made of the queen’s obsession with beauty. Beauty, it seems, is the only thing keeping her on the throne, now that the king is gone. Exploring this theme, it turns out that the queen’s obsession is not simply vanity, but a question of survival in a hostile world. It’s an interesting idea, and easily believable. But what it does is it presents an idea of resentment: the status quo is no longer a mere setting, but an adversary that drives our actions.

Well, our actions after the story, anyway. the game doesn’t take us beyond that one evening. This is an exploration game, in which we plumb the thoughts of the queen by entering trigger words one at a time into the command prompt. We may consider the huntsman as a possible tool, but we don’t go so far as to summon him, not now at least. We, the player, know how the story goes, and what will happen the next morning. That’s not going to change. The game is primarily interesting for what it has to say about the queen’s situation and what we can take away from it, not for what we can cause to happen within the game world.

I would venture to say that where Groover’s other games might be classed as baroque, “Mirror and Queen” is more of a gothic. The gilded excesses are gone; instead, we have darkened stone arches and buttresses, all of them more functional than decorative. The darkness is not the same.

Breakfast might be fresh, crusty bread with honeyed butter, cheese, and maybe some fresh fruit–simple but chewy. Apples, of course: it’s “Snow White”, after all. Mulled cider, rich with cinnamon.

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