Passing comment on the latest SPAG

SPAG #54 is out, and is really interesting — there’s a great mix of content, and I continue to be glad that Jimmy Maher is seeking out material beyond just reviews. I especially like reading about game design and creation processes, so the issue with the comp winner interviews is always a favorite with me.

I was a little surprised, or taken aback, or something, by one piece of David Monath’s review of Blue Lacuna (though there was lots else that I did agree with). His comments (as his review warns) are maybe a little spoilery, so I will put them after the cut-tag:

The human theme to Blue Lacuna is that people don’t communicate, and then they leave. Even the ending where you and Rume re-unite is curiously dispassionate and it is never clear exactly what the nature of your new relationship is. I imagine a platonic crafts-fest with periodic breaks in fellowship to pursue some all-encompassing artistic passion for ten minutes… and a screaming match over nothing in particular, perhaps resulting from a total lack of open communication. Once I learned I couldn’t respect the characters or take them seriously, a great burden of emotional involvement was lifted. Blue Lacuna: a training simulator for sociopaths.

I had some difficulty identifying with the you/Rume relationship too, but I didn’t think it was because of Aaron was portraying humanity as fundamentally dysfunctional (whether by accident or on purpose); nor even that that was a conclusion one could draw from the game’s flaws. It seemed to me more that the problem was the, er, lacunae in the portrayal. Relationships are not abstract; they cannot subsist on generalities; but Blue Lacuna is trying so hard not to force the player into any gender or sexual orientation that there is very little room remaining for specifics. Rume and (especially) the PC are intentionally under-characterized, to leave the player room to create those characterizations. But the resulting relationship is something rather strange. (And, curiously, the few details you do get are ones I found a bit alienating: I strongly dislike loud arguments, and by some combination of choice and good fortune have largely managed to avoid them in my relationships, so that feature in itself was enough to make the PC feel like Not-Me.)

Nonetheless, I assumed, from various clues in the narrative, the obvious intention of the game, and some passing details in the child-raising segment, that you and Rume were *meant* to have a relationship in which there was real affection and mutual knowledge; it’s just that actually showing that in any focused way would have suddenly made both you and Rume into specific somebodies.

Anyway, I’ve already talked about Rume a bit, so I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here.

5 thoughts on “Passing comment on the latest SPAG”

  1. “Blue Lacuna is trying so hard not to force the player into any gender or sexual orientation that there is very little room remaining for specifics.”

    Certainly, Lacuna avoids specifics about the player character and Rume, but I’d have thought that when it comes to defining a relationship, gender and sexual orientation are about as vague as you can get.

    ‘Boy meets girl’ tells you almost nothing about a couple, compared to say, ‘two people fall in love while shoplifting at Barnes & Noble’.

  2. I didn’t mean that knowing the gender pairings would define the relationship; more that any detailed information might suggest stereotypically male or female behavior. (Early discussion of Jigsaw, which also has a totally gender-vague relationship, is full of argument about whether one character or the other “acts” male or female, for instance.)

  3. Call me super late to the party here, but a chain of events which really got me was that as the game was moving me toward leaving while Rume still slept, I kept thinking, “There *must* be some way to leave her a note so she doesn’t think I’ve just abandoned her” . . . but there wasn’t. I felt really crappy having to ditch her. She’s rightfully upset, but when you choose to stay for love, she just winds up doing the exact same thing years later, and just as out of the blue. Both characters, despite Rume’s passion and love, are deeply callous and selfish.

    Why the fights, the screaming? Is that supposed to be a normal part of human relations?

    Progue is willing to kill the protagonist over an issue of no particular immediacy, and uses highly dubious logic in his buildup to rage. (Partly perhaps because he’ll argue three separate positions depending on the player’s stance–another problem, since I would like for Progue to have had a “real” self.)

    I LOVED Blue Lacuna’s atmosphere, and the puzzles were mostly impressively logical, but Progue, the protagonist, and Rume are all failures as people, and it doesn’t feel like the problems are sufficiently addressed to clue the player in that the author *recognizes* them as failures. Progue’s initial madness *is* appropriate and clear, but his unyielding murderous violence at the end isn’t, and nor is Protag/Rume’s callousness.

    These don’t seem to be gender-ambiguous issues, but fundamental human relations issues.

    1. Why the fights, the screaming? Is that supposed to be a normal part of human relations?

      I guess I figured it was normal for these people. Lots of people have relationships that do feature loud arguments, and it may not always be obvious from the outside which of these are on the verge of breakup; people have different relationship styles, and different cultures promote different modes of communication. So I took it to be part of their characterization, not necessarily a statement about how people in general are, not necessarily even as a sign of callousness. There’s just not really enough information to tell whether this is a manifestation of deep mutual dysfunction or something that this particular couple would regard as a natural aspect of a passionate relationship.

      I did think it was a bit off that Rume abandoned me after I waited around for him, though.

      1. I guess I figured it was normal for these people.

        That may well be, and your point on cultural variance is quite well taken. It’s true that there are certainly few enough characters from whom to draw a baseline for behavior in BL. Perhaps some of my reaction was an emotional rebound, since the richness of the narrative and vibrancy of the world led me to invest in the characters almost immediately, and it felt like a small betrayal when I couldn’t do right by Rume and realized I wasn’t going to be able to like my PC nor have the degree of freedom in-game I had originally anticipated.

        But then, to grant so much illusion of choice at the beginning and not implement what IMHO would be fundamental courtesy at a life-altering juncture made me wonder if the possibility just didn’t occur to the author.

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