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Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: Exhibit A

(Because of the point this review is trying to make, there are spoilers. Consider yourself warned.)

As video games grew from "gobble up all the power pellets before those evil ghosts catch you!" to "let's have a multi-dimensional experience, with artistic and production values and a soundtrack that deserves awards in itself", game creators gradually developed the ability - and the courage - to deal with more mature themes.

In a way, this was a blessing; it meant that we could move on from "Congraturation! You have destroyed the evil Alien Z for great justice! Start again from Level 1!" to actual stories with character development, conflict, drama, humour - in short, to stories that were closer to (and often indistinguishable from) literature, games that actually had something worthwhile to say about the human condition. Think of Chrono Cross. Think of The Way, if one wants to stick to RPG Maker games.

In a way, it also created a problem: how did authors deal with weighty subject matter that had no simple real-world solutions?

One approach is to produce a tract. I once played a text adventure called Jane which, though well-intentioned and well-written, was simply a Public Service Announcement about domestic abuse. While it worked well as a one-time experience, it wasn't much of a game, and it viewed the entire problem in (necessarily; we're taking about a text game with a slightly-above-Scott-Adams parser here) a rather simplistic light. Still, it held out some hope for potential victims, and it did make its stand on the issue clear.

Lisa is the anti-Jane.

Technically, this game is clever, even if we've seen both the bizarro aspect (Space Funeral) and the "creepy exploration game" (Yume Nikki, Middens) done much, much better. The idea of a screwed-up, symbolic landscape through which a young woman comes to terms with her experience of physical and sexual abuse (or perhaps just the latter; it's one of Lisa's few good points that it doesn't go into explicit details), though it may not be everyone's cup of tea, earns points for creativity at the very least.

However, things come off the rails fairly soon. The landscape goes out of its way to be repulsive, complete with pools of urine and sounds of vomiting, and a bar scene in which clones of the abuser (presumably Lisa's father) make drunken lewd comments. All this pales in comparison to the point where there is an NPC who is literally (I'm trying to put this as politely as possible) a walking, talking male reproductive organ, and who speaks in crude double-entendres that have the dual effect of heightening the disgust factor, and trivializing the entire situation. There's a thin line between "dark and edgy" and "cheap humour", and once Lisa crosses this, it never comes back. (In another scene, the author makes his contempt for his audience clear by setting up a long ladder; your reward for climbing it is a literal middle finger. Oh joy.)

However, all this could be excused if it was leading up to some sort of revelation, resolution or conclusion. Instead, the final message is relentlessly bleak: Lisa cannot escape from her life of abuse, and the only options she has are either to accept this passively, or to commit suicide.

And that's where Lisa jumps the shark. Believe me, I know better than most that childhood abuse is a major risk factor for suicide. But creating a creepy (creepy-pasta?) game with crude phallic jokes and ending it by having your main character end her life is a middle finger not only to the player, but to the many men and women for whom childhood abuse is not an RPG plot point, but a painful reality. This nihilistic conclusion (foreshadowed by that ladder climb...now that's clever) makes a mockery of the thousands of people who life, more or less successfully, while trying to rise above - or at least deal with - experiences of this sort. While Jane was preachily optimistic ("You can contact your social worker and escape an abusive husband!"), Lisa comes far, far down on the other side of the ledger. It's darkness for its own sake; pure black with no shades of grey; and in the end, it leaves you feeling not even disgusted, but simply apathetic.

The author's blurb bills Lisa as "the tale of a young girl". No, it's not. It's the tale of an author who has decided to portray unrelenting ugliness, ending in the suicide of a young girl, for reasons best known to himself (or herself). Given the skill s/he has shown in constructing his game, I can't help but feel sorry that s/he chose to use this skill to tell this particular story. Perhaps I'm reading this wrong, and this is meant to be some sort of profound social commentary of satire. But there's no sign of this in the game, and I wouldn't bet good money on it.

Short version of this review: Disgust is a powerful emotion, but disgust for its own sake makes Lisa an awful game.

Not recommended.


Pages: 1
You play the Lisa the Painful it get better. Everything you don't like about Lisa is not there it does trivialize the abuse.
"Life is a riddle I wish I had the answer for..."
Okay, I might just do that. After all, first games can always be awkward... ^_^
Lisa the Painful play like if Earthbound and Fist of North Star had baby. Then punch in gut emotional.
Pages: 1