[IFComp 2014] The Black Lily

The Black Lily is a parser-based game by Hannes Schüller written in Inform. You can download it from the comp website or play it online here. I played it offline, as I prefer to do with parser-based games.

Major spoilers behind the cut.

I played The Black Lily last night, and it bothers me more and more the longer I think about it. It troubled me in rather deep ways, and not, unfortunately, in ways I think it was meant to trouble me.

The game is set in 1975. The player’s character is a man of indeterminate age who claims “I am not a huge admirer of my body” but then immediately describes it as irresistible to women, with “enigmatic eyes.” He dresses in an all-black ensemble wherever he goes, presumably to appear even more enigmatic, except for the opening scene in which he lounges around his house in a bathrobe and refuses to put on anything else while he peruses his photo album of the women in his past. With each photograph, the action flashes back to earlier in 1975, when he met her.

Although the setting changes – a dance club, a clothing store, a beach – the same basic sequence of events repeated itself with each flashback. I was just hanging out, being enigmatic, when a beautiful woman caught my eye. The game wouldn’t let me talk to any of these women in any significant way, or really interact with any of them in any way aside from following them around and touching them without consent in various ways (“pull,” “kiss” and “get” were all accepted commands in some locations). I also couldn’t leave them alone and go do anything else once I’d seen them. Once I (Elizabeth) caved and told this creep to touch the woman in question, the scene faded to black and returned to the photo album.

I am about 90% sure, in the fadeouts, I murdered the women.

I’m not okay with this.

The ending of the game went all symbolic on me, involving climbing a staircase that never ended in pursuit of a woman whose house I’d just broken into because I was super creepy so in love, and then a scene where a ghostly little girl appears in my jewelry shop and makes me freak out. I’m honestly not sure what either the stairs or the girl are meant to represent. It wasn’t a happy ending, but neither was it an ending that made me feel anything for the PC. He didn’t appear to have any remorse about what he’d done, just fear of the child. There was no explanation for her appearance, either.

There’s also the 10% of me that thinks perhaps I’m not a murderer after all, and that my pickup methods were received amicably by the women. Honestly, I find this possibility almost more repulsive, because it suggests that approaching strange women and TAKE-ing them is a reasonable way to interact with human beings. Moreover, talking to them is usually unnecessary, especially if you are attracted to them. You certainly needn’t worry about consent, because you’re so dashed enigmatic with “edgy” facial features and “a very slim build.”

Technically, the game was fine – well-coded, and responded to most of the commands I was able to think up (although not in ways I was comfortable with, often). My only complaint on that end is that I sometimes had to type commands for things that should happen automatically – for example, sitting down. But the theme of the game, or what I could make of it, troubles me too much to recommend it.

Author, if you were going for a message that condemns this guy’s behavior, you needed to make that clearer. You romanticized it instead, even if he winds up unhappy. If you do think of him as a romantic figure… that’s far worse.


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