Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once the Fat Lady Sings” (IFDB page) is a new claymation musical adventure by Deirdra Kiai. It’s compact (1-2 hours, rather than 12+) and the puzzles are on the easy side. Some people might find these features to be drawbacks, but considering the limits on my gaming time these days, I appreciated getting my story delivered at a good clip. And it’s a pretty entertaining mystery, with enough twists for a noir short story; people aren’t exactly what they seem, a point that starts with the gender-ambiguous protagonist but eventually comes to apply to just about everyone you meet.
I was also fine with the fact that the puzzles mostly made sense and weren’t too maddening to work out. Many of them boil down to legwork — get a lead, figure out where to go next in order to pursue it — with just a handful of more complex or physical interactions, most pretty clearly clued.
A few slightly-more-spoilery thoughts follow the break.
The game is described on Deirdra’s website as “about gender and the economy.” On the gender side, the most obvious point is that the title character Dominique isn’t comfortable being identified as either male or female, but that the NPCs consistently handle this point awkwardly and unsympathetically. But in other places, too, the game resists traditional gender expectations. There are many more female characters than male, some of them in non-traditional jobs (police officer, PI, executive). The apparently naive young woman character is not particularly naive at all, and has both a life plan and considerable agency. If we tweaked the Bechdel test to specify not “women” but “non-male characters” conversing with each other about something other than romance, Dominique Pamplemousse would pass handily many times over. Nonetheless, the world’s insistence that people identify themselves by gender is always there, constantly grating on Dominique.
And the economy. Poverty and the difficulty of finding a job are the core motivation for several characters, a source of constraints. The game doesn’t really dig deeply into the systemic issues behind this point: it’s not a game that looks at tax rates or corporate law or government safety nets, and economic issues form no part of its mechanics. But it does bring up the protagonist’s lack of money repeatedly, the need to take cheap transportation, the struggle to make rent, the discomfort of their physical circumstances. In the Pamplemousse universe, the economy and the gender binary are similar types of constraint that get in the way, making it hard for the protagonist to live as they would like, pursue their actual interests and dreams, and present themselves in the world in a way they find comfortable.
There’s not really a proposed solution to these problems, except in the sense that Dominique Pamplemousse is itself a kind of response. As an intentionally silly, off-kilter, and unique work, unsuited to conventional distribution mechanisms and supported through crowd-funding, it represents a mode of working around some of those systemic constraints so that individual voices can be heard, rather than being, say, auto-tuned into a homogenized and universally acceptable form.
Also, it’s fun.