S.EXE: Tale of Tales’ FATALE (NSFW)

By Cara Ellison on February 28th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Oscar Wilde-based Orientalism

Shakespeare’s Helena once said ‘Love don’t cost a thing’… Hang on, that wasn’t it.

She said, ‘Love in an elevator, living it up when you’re going down…’ No, that can’t be right. That is somewhat anachronistic.

No, it was ‘Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind. And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.’

But what about desire? What about lust? Isn’t lust directed by sight? By the act of looking? Can looking be… dangerous? When someone looks at you in a certain way, is that your power, or theirs? When you behold something, can it manipulate you? Maybe Cupid can’t tell us about that. But the Tale of Tales game FATALE is going to show you.

The 2009 game Fatale by Tale of Tales is a reimagining of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 scandalous theatrical endeavour, Salomé. Wilde, besides being so very droll and the subject of a Smiths song about cemeteries, was a master of articulating desire, aesthetics, restrained hunger; A master of painting worlds in blood-red and gold. If you know the Salomé I know, it is a text so intoxicating and so violent, and so filled with stymied sex creatures, bottled up nerve, distilled desire, it is hardly for the faint-hearted. Fatale has Salomé’s opulence, yet it is a deliberately languid, obtuse but profound thing of 3D environmental beauty, something that interprets Salomé’s discourses on sex as the clash of slow-fed text, audio, environment, and the languorous inputs that force the player to take their time.

Salome got revenge, but it wasn't as good as having the prophet's body

In Oscar Wilde’s era, everything was about making sexuality visible and quantifiable in ways that could be compartmentalised and controlled (and it’s really dug it’s heels in). By transforming desire into discourse, the act of confession now had power over sex. In fact, actually talking about sex was more of a power play (and possibly more satisfying) than actually getting off. The annoyingly useful (for a French philosophiser) Michel Foucault once wrote in the introduction to his The History of Sexuality that Victorian sexuality wasn’t about repression per se, but a reframing of discourse around sexuality so that we essentially started making sex more discussed – but only in certain ways. The discourse began to work by pointing out what were perversions (perverts belonged in a mental institution) and what should happen in the home (awkward ‘oh i say Margaret!’ English sex with your spouse). As Foucault also touches on, things became about surveillance, because to forbid something, you must first notice it.

This is Herod's wife. She gets pretty mad with Herod, understandably.

Everything immediately became more sexualised, because everyone was more aware they could be persecuted for it. Everyone was watching for the look. That’s what the play, Salomé, and the game, FATALE, are about.

To give you a loose idea of the story of Wilde’s play: it is set in the time of King Herod, and takes place on the terrace of Herod’s palace, where he is in attendance. The beautiful, bejewelled, somewhat half-naked Salomé is Herod’s stepdaughter, and has caught the eye of a Young Syrian, but she’s down to kick it with the mysterious prophet Iokanaan, who is imprisoned in a cistern (not the sort you are imagining, think Tomb Raider). Herod pervs on his stepdaughter a lot and is creeping her out. The prophet prophecies doom (what else do they do?) and emerges from the cistern. Teenage Salomé immediately lusts after him, ‘amorous of his body’. The Syrian kills himself because of this, because he is in love with Salomé, but Iokanaan refuses to look at Salomé. Herod asks Salomé to dance and he will reward her: she does so, and asks for Iokanaan’s execution. Iokanaan’s head brought to her on a plate, Salomé pretty much makes out with it. Herod is disgusted, orders all the torches extinguished, and Salomé beaten to death.

EROTIC! BLOODY! INCESTUOUS! A VIRGIN GIRL MAKES OUT WITH A SEVERED HEAD! Oh Oscar, you bring all the boys (and girls) to the yard.

And so to the game’s interpretation. Fatale is played first person to maximise the player’s gaze, that so-called ‘look’. In the first segment of this exploration game your character wanders the cistern environment. The intention is to have you play the part of the prophet Iokanaan, who in the play is 1) the hottest damned holy man Salomé ever saw, and 2) refuses to give in to Salomé’s lustful calls.

The main method of 'narrative', if you will, is via selections of text from the play

As you wander the cistern (it is small, and dark, with limpid pools and stacked boxes) fragments of dialogue from the play appear, ghastly before you. When one appears, a small flag will appear at the bottom of your screen, indicating that you must find and read more to fill the bar. This actually creates a performance of your walking; you begin not only searching for these texts in the cistern, but pacing, slowly, like a beast caged. The control method is deliberately obtuse and slow, you left click to walk forward and angle to turn, right click to walk backward, and so you end up walking in long, slow circles, instead of the usual stop/start/manoeuvre. In the beginning you feel clumsy, but as each text is found and read, you can hear a crowd begin to gather outside the cistern, seductive music starts…

Temptress

A beautiful woman appears dancing at the grate above you. Salomé. And you are looking at her. And you are reading her words. You can feel the violence of the prose on your mind. There’s something about the starkness of the words, Salomé’s pleading with you for your body, the tenseness created by your pacing, the seductive music from outside, and finally, the slowness of your own movement. It’s seducing you with its discourse. She is looking at you. She’s got the look.

The main reason I like Salome's depiction in this is that I feel like Salome is in control of her sexuality rather than being prey of the viewer as usual

The second segment is about Salomé. You are let into the courtyard, not, this time, to play a specific character, but as the gaze itself, left to drift through the exotic piece of Wildean Orientalism created by Tale of Tales. Your task is to do as the servants are ordered at the end of the play: to put out all of the torches, so that Herod cannot look upon anything, nothing can look upon him, and Salomé especially. Movement is like swimming awkwardly through humid air: you click once to propel yourself slowly, drifting. It is awkward and, again, deliberately slow.

As you click on a flame, a gold frame appears around your cursor, rushing past text and seductive whispers in your ears of Wilde’s words. As you find each flame, you hover your cursor over it, until darkness appears, and then you extinguish the flames, each providing a tableaux from Salomé.

I am amorous of thy body

The words are what become, finally, the infiltrator to your eroticism switch. Occasionally, you can feel your face get a bit hot. Oscar Wilde isn’t in the big hitters for nothing. Again, through your eyes, Tale of Tales have seduced you with the purple-hued skies, the naked breasts of Salomé, the white moon, and yes, the raw thrill of reading words crafted to scandalise.

At the end, Salomé does the dance of the Seven Veils for you, as you watch. Of course you’ve got the look. She’s got the look.

Tale of Tales’ Auriea Harvey did a barnstormer of a talk at Indiecade East recently. She’s all kinds of wonderful. And it, too, is about love, sex, and videogames. And you should also take a look at Luxuria Superbia.

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51 Comments »

  1. Didden says:

    So, basically you’re saying, it was the breast of times, it was the worst of times?

  2. SuicideKing says:

    Sexe article as always.

    EDIT: Damn, too slow, now we have two pun threads.

    • mechabuddha says:

      It’s important to keep abreast of the existing comments.

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        SuddenSight says:

        The speed of the RPS commenters is enough to make you lose your head.

        • Skabooga says:

          You would think that we would slow things down for such a Salomé occasion as our ritual pun thread.

  3. congenetic says:

    Great work for which I do not have a readily available, appropriate pun. I guess there’s an impotency joke in there somewhere.

    But really, great work.

  4. Easy says:

    Cara, you had me at Prince.

  5. OscarWilde1854 says:

    Finally, my namesake in a game! How have I never heard of this? Only been obsessed with him for the past 10 years of my life…

  6. The Random One says:

    I want Cara Ellison to be my English Lit teacher.

  7. mwoody says:

    Hunh… So I can get it from Steam for $7, or from them for $5 and it includes a Steam key. I’m surprised Valve allows that.

    • identiti_crisis says:

      We could possibly infer that Valve makes at least $2 off it? At least, the difference in price perhaps reflects the difference in cost of “delivery” by either method?

    • SuicideKing says:

      Well, Valve take a 30% cut, so that’s probably why the devs put it up for more (the difference is approximately 30-40%, depending on how you look at it).

      Does Valve have a policy against pricing it cheaper elsewhere? I don’t know.

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        princec says:

        They prefer it if you don’t sell keys for less than the game is priced on Steam (or you’re basically cutting them out of their own economy). They are by no means aggressive in enforcement though.

  8. Juan Carlo says:

    I am a huge fan of Oscar Wilde’s play. I think “FATALE” is what it is and it’s so slight and short and pretty that it’s hard to criticize the game much, I guess, but I think the game is kind of a missed opportunity.

    To me a better theme from the play that seems more suited to explication via gameplay is just the idea that “looking” at people and seeing them “face to face” can be fatal. There’s a terror, even a hysteria, in the play over looking at people–and I would argue that despite the play’s obsession with “looking” at things, no one ever looks directly at anyone else in the play (i.e. in a face to face manner). There’s the strange sequence, for example, where Salome focuses on and fetishizes the prophet’s various body parts–starting with his body then hair (and maybe some other parts I can’t remember)…but she ends with his lips and wanting a kiss. To me this is interesting because a kiss would imply a certain direct face to face contact–a direct contact that salome seems to desire and fear at the same time. People desire other people in the play, but only in so far as they can turn them into aesthtic (and artistic) objects (and in this sense, I actually see “Salome” as Wilde’s own criticism of Walter Patter’s aesthetic theory which basically turns everything, all experience, into art, and aestheticizes basically everything. I think part of what Wilde is doing in Salome is showing how just such an aesthetic approach to art, the world, and other humans can ultimately be incredibly dehumanizing….it erases the depth, soul, and real humanity of individuals and instead just turns them into shallow art objects. There’s a good deal of violence to this idea…and certainly leads to a good deal of very literal violence in the play!). Anyhow, to Salmoe’s credit, by desiring the Prophet’s kiss she seems to be longing for some sort of real human, face to face, contact (which is more than can be said for any of the other characters. Most seem to fear this same contact). So even though she might not realize it, she does seem to want to “shatter” her construction of the prophet as an artistic object and achieve some sort of face to face contact with him. Yet because of the very Paterian aesthetic outlook that she has she is completely clueless as to how to accomplish this. Her only way of relating to other people is by turning them into dehumanized art objects (and this process is played out endlessly in the play via all of the characters poetic/fetishized descriptions of eachother. They always refer to each other in aesheticized parts rather than wholes), so in the end while she desire’s face to face contact with the Prophet, the only way that she knows how to do this is by beheading him and (quite literally) turning him into nothing more than a head—a dead object that she can do with as she pleases. The tragedy of the play, though, is that I actually think she realizes her error (on some level) at the last moment (just before she is killed) as while she is finally able to kiss the prophet and see him face to face—she realizes that he is dead and as just a head (i.e. just a work of art) he can never really give her the acknowledgment and human contact that she wanted.

    Which I think might be the point of the extinguishing of candles. It’s a paradoxical game mechanic that forces you to look at things, yet corrupts and obscures your vision in the process of looking. When you look, reality is obscured and the screen is filled with ornate decoration and text—i.e. vision is obscured via a process of aesthetification (is that a word?). So if looking at an object, face to face, is the goal, then the process of vision actively obscures that goal and destroys the object of desire, much like how aesthetic vision works in the play. Salome has a goal (i.e. to see Jookan face to face). But the only way she knows how to obtain that goal (i.e. convert him into an aesthetic object to be possessed), in the process, completely destroys any chance that she’ll ever obtain that goal.

    Honestly, though, I think the designers could have made more of the paradoxical nature of this goal in the play via game mechanics. To me the game mechanic of looking at candles seemed too slight and half thought out and mostly just an excuse to get players to look at various parts of their digital diorama. They could have done all sorts of cool things with the game, but didn’t….so it ends up playing more like digital stage direction than any sort of game that actively comments on the play via the language of game mechanics.

    • Grygus says:

      Any game that gives us this article and this comment has to be doing something right.

      • Juan Carlo says:

        FATALE’s only a game in that it has a minimal amount of game mechanics to it, but I don’t think it’s very good at what it’s trying to be. I see it as a failed experiment. But to its credit, it does give you way more to talk about than most games and is totally worth playing if you are into Oscar Wilde.

        Honestly, I’ve never much liked Tale of Tales games, though. They are all pretension with little actual cleverness in game design to back that pretension up or give it any substance. Their games usually consist of interesting central ideas that they are completely unable to translate into engaging or interesting game mechanics. And if you can’t express something in an interesting fashion via the language of game mechanics, then you shouldn’t be making a game in the first place. Instead, you should be expressing those ideas via some other medium.

        For a long time they were the only studio making commercial art games, though, so I think they get more credit than they deserve just because they were putting in the effort before many others were. But that’s changing now in a big way with stuff like “Gone Home” and “Stanley Parable.”

        • Professor Paul1290 says:

          I pretty much agree with this for some of Tale of Tales games like The Graveyard, FATALE, Bientôt l’été and some others.

          However, I do not think it’s honest to say that ALL of their games are like that.

          The Endless Forest, The Path, and Luxuria Superbia are all Tale of Tales games too, and they do arguably convey their ideas via gameplay rather than through visuals alone.

          Heck, last time I checked just a couple weeks ago, The Endless Forest still has a community playing it despite being eight years old. As bizarre as it is to say, it actually has more active players than some of the “real games” I have from that year.

          Sure, most of Tale of Tales games are exactly as you describe, but I don’t think it’s fair to say all of them are like that.

          • Baines says:

            From what I recall, The Endless Forest got picked up by some communities as one of those “so weird/awful games, you’ve got to play it” deals.

          • Professor Paul1290 says:

            It’s community site is still pretty active, endlessforest.org just got over a hundred posts just today, and I looked through them and I couldn’t find any spam. It’s getting more activity than most indie multiplayer games could really hope for, especially 8 years on.
            Most of the players seem genuine. I haven’t seen any goons flowing in as a joke from somewhere, not at the moment anyway.

      • Pinlive says:

        My thoughts exactly, thanks to Juan for taking the time to type that, it was both very informative and well written.

    • toxic avenger says:

      *brief look around*
      *Stands*
      *Slow clap*

      This is what all comments strive to be.

  9. DrMcCoy says:

    For a moment there, I thought I had read “F.A.T.A.L.” and nearly chocked on my tea.

  10. Haplo says:

    As a sidenote for folks who might not recognise his Aramaic name: the play Salome is a dramatic version of the story of the execution of John the Baptist. As the story goes, Herod married Herodias, his niece and his brother’s former wife. John condemned the marriage as incestuous. When Salome (who is also his grand-niece and stepdaughter) dances for him, he offers her a favour as a reward, and Herodias tells Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist.

  11. Phasma Felis says:

    InB4 the flock of confused, angry dudes who think that feminism means hating anything to do with sex and want to accuse everyone involved of hypocrisy.

  12. Kein says:

    Gaming is a art.

  13. quarpec says:

    aerosmith sucks

    • DanMan says:

      Yeah. Who makes love in an elevator? Gross. Think of all the germs on the walls and floor. Yikes.

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    AngelTear says:

    Now, this kind of critical essays and articles is why I read RPS and what I’d like to see more of. Thank you, Cara!

  15. Kefren says:

    “Tale of Tales’ Auriea Harvey did a barnstormer of a talk at Indiecade East recently. She’s all kinds of wonderful.”

    She is. I named a planet after her in one of my stories (the planet was Auriea H), and she said, “Wow. I’m totally honoured to be a planet!” :-)

  16. tnzk says:

    I haven’t read the Oscar Wilde play, but is John the Baptist really depicted as a mysterious prophet that prophesies doom? I’m pretty sure he’s the not-so-mysterious prophet that prophesied undoom (aka the Good News aka the Son of God).

    I’m Catholic so I don’t read the Bible or go to Mass that often, so I may be mistaken. But yeah, I think John was to Jesus as James Brown was to Michael Jackson.

  17. DXN says:

    you are troll. is not big surprise

    • altum videtur says:

      But is that not the just fate of fools who trust in the actual reality of virtual values?

  18. Lucid Spleen says:

    What a wonderful article. Thanks Cara.

  19. Moni says:

    Na na na na na na, na na na na na, na na na na na na na na

  20. Darth Gangrel says:

    Personally, I was more thinking of Roxette’s old hit The Look (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YDhvilyflE), when I read You’ve Got The Look, but that’s because I’m Swedish like Roxette. Prince is also okay and this S.EXE article is more than okay, it’s as good as anything on RPS and a very enjoyable read.

  21. flashlight_eyes says:

    Not only was Foucault mentioned on my favorite gaming website, but was applied correctly! Cheers

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    JamesTheNumberless says:

    So… This is a game where the breasts talk to you?