The Blind House: Flowers yes, puppies no.

Today, our beautiful valley in the South Bay has been blessed with rain.  Lots of rain.  The kind of rain that that arrives courtesy of towering gray clouds pressing so closely to the ground that you could reach up and poke one with a broom if so inclined.

This is scary game weather.  Let’s play some scary-looking games, starting with The Blind House by Maude Overton.

I won’t lie.  The cover art to The Blind House gives me the creeping willies.  If this game turns out to be full of flower-garlanded puppies, I will be disappointed on a primal level at the misrepresentation. Something tells me I will not be disappointed.

I’m writing this bit after playing the game: this is another one of those reviews/discussions filled with spoilers that you will probably not want in your head before playing it yourself.  So be warned, spoilers ahoy.

Part One: The Playthrough

> i
Feeling in my skirt pockets, my fingers brush against the cold, unnerving steel of a kitchen knife.
Gah.  How’d that get in there?  Do I want to know?

This text is swimming in a sea of heavy undertones and unmentioned incidents.  I think the word I’m looking for is “gravity”.  Something happened to me, I’m hiding out at Marissa’s, that may or may not make me a bad person.

There is a strange splattering noise coming from outside; it takes me a moment to register it as rain.
“Splattering”, huh? Whatever ptsd shit this character went through recently, it wasn’t happy fun time.

The slats – so sharp – are not slats: they are knives, and the knives are in my hands. Rivulets of auburn bleed into the rain, plasmatic. Red stains spreading to the rhythm of the rattling window.
Really not happy.  Man, wondering if this is another game where I turn out to be the secret murderer killing lots of people against my conscious will desperately telling myself I was handing out candy corn to people who happened to be dead already.

Oddly, there seems to be some redness under my fingernails, too. I pick out some dried flakes and wash them away.
I am now declaring an emergency state of Potentially Unreliable Narrator.

> x ornaments
I’m a little taken aback by the ornaments. They’re crude and disfigured, limbs out of proportion and faces melted into disturbing expressions – screams, sighs, grimaces. They’re certainly not what I would choose to display in my own living room.
My character’s own home decor, on the other hand, tends to chimp fetuses in formaldehyde and antique gynecological implements.  None of this half-assed Thomas Kinkade shit, no ma’am!

> x tv
The old television set is hooked up to a video recorder. A box on the floor nearby seems to be filled with several video cassettes.
I have a longstanding rule not to fuck with home-recorded media in horror games, but this seems safe enough.  Oooh, the Neverending story and some art philosophy.  Bit of interesting game-examining-it’s-own-navel, there.

> take roses
Which do I mean, the rose vine or the cluster of roses?
Pretty sure the rose vine is not in my bedroom, which is where I dropped the cluster of roses.  I could be wrong though.  I could have unconsciously hauled the whole damn bush inside while I was having a “redrum” moment.

Hmm.  Who has worse mental problems, Marissa or I?  Are we even separate people?

Dear Marissa,
In response to your recent inquiry, this email is to inform you that your search for “Helena Jevne” returned 0 results.
Thanks for using ClassmateReunion.com!
Okay, so I potentially wasn’t a classmate of Marissa’s, and she didn’t remember me to the point that she checked.  Unreliable Narrator Status has now been upgraded from Red to Plaid.

Current theory: everyone in this game is the same person.

Marissa, you take long showers, woman.  And I don’t want to read your diary.  I felt bad enough reading your emails.  But Helena wants to read your diary and your emails, so I guess we must do.

And we’re done.  Interesting.  Going to spell this out the three endings I got from the end convo (Spoiler Warning Within Spoiler Warning!) for later discussion:

Ending #1: Accuse Marissa of being dominated by Estelle, even though I’m clearly doing the scary controlling shit here, kill Marissa like I did “the last girl” (presumably who I got the defensive wounds from).

Ending#2: Admit to diary-reading, exert creepy-ass abusive control over Marissa, end up promising her safety from her own mental problems and need for security.

Ending#3: Marissa calls me on my shit, says she doesn’t think I can hurt anyone myself (giving the suggestion that arm wounds are self-inflicted?  Giving lie to ending #1 or vice versa?), I walk out noticing some things I did while unaware.

Part 2.0: The Rundown (Technical)

I’m going to talk about the technical aspects first, then thematic.

First off, standard technical critique.  The implementation was excellent as far as I could see, non-standard verbs were handled well, all quiet and well-done on that front.

I found the room images at the bottom to be immensely helpful for navigating the house (I often have trouble remembering which room is which in my own house) and giving a strong sense of place.  Likewise, the semi-hinty bits of text in the status line were also very helpful when I wasn’t sure what the heck I was doing.

There were a lot of actions (putting roses in the vase in the bathroom, washing the blanket which had the odd stains on it, etc.) that I did without being prompted by the game.  I’m not sure how many of them you needed to do to progress, and I’m not sure how they added to the ending texts (I suspect the vase did, at least), and will have to play through again to look at that.  But frankly that’s well done.  This doesn’t get talked about very often, but a lot of times authors fail to provide properly for actions taking place *before* they’re required by the narrative.  I’ve always had a problem with this (it’s a bigger issue than ever gets discussed), when said action is one that makes sense contextually.  In this example, “I am ostensibly trying to make Marissa happy and thank her for letting me stay.  Therefor, I will put flowers in that vase I saw.”  Maybe they *were* required right at that time, but it didn’t look like it.  So for that small thing, the game definitely gets a thumbs up from me, especially as (with that specific example) it added to the theme.

The technical aspects of the prose were solid and totally failed to confuse.  The feeling of trying to keep a grasp on surface reality (with some kind of madness lying under) was also clear.  Good stuff.

Part 2.5: Thematic Discussion

A big question in other reviews/discussions: what the Sam Hill is going on here, exactly?  The author definitely left large chunks of “the answer” ambiguous, which personally I like.  It’s possible that the following speculation is totally seen through a narrow lens of one playthrough, and that other actions yield different information.  I’m hoping some people will chime in.

It’s questionable, in parts of the game, whether the narrator (Helena) is even a person distinct from the other women.  Is she Estelle? Estelle’s real personality past the friendly side of things?  Marissa’s other side?  All the same?

The endings, emails, etc. seem to point to a distinction between said people.

The surface read is that the narrator is in a rather classic pattern of abuse with Marissa.  That’s fairly clear just from the freakin’ portrait at the bottom of the screen, but extends through the game from the roses (painting the roses red with hair dye) to the “big reveal” of the diary that you’ve been here for longer than you think, and you’re somewhat unwelcome (hard to say, seeing as Marissa doesn’t want to have to make her own decisions, from the looks of things).

The color thing, I need to do some more chewing over.  I feel like it’s significant that Helena/Estelle are blondes, and Marissa dyes her hair, and how that fits in with the roses.  Apparition of the older woman (self?) in the living room also needs more chewing over.  I admit not knowing what the hell was up with that.

Ambiguous or not, I think the game played around with this in an interesting way.  I mentioned earlier that I collected roses for a vase in a sort of “Hey, I’m being crazy in your house, here’s some roses” spirit.  In the end, that turns out to be a controlling maneuver due to the character’s hidden-from-herself motivation, which is a nice twist.  And the fact that I’m thinking about it means I found it well done enough to think about.

The endings bothered me a little.  They were a little too… dissimilar to be accessed from a single “undo” command, it seemed like.  Particularly when #1 and #3 don’t square with one another (well, *did* I kill someone else or didn’t I?).  Also, Ending #3 felt a bit contrived.  The fact that Helena would suddenly start to notice this stuff and have a “Oh, she’s totally right, I’m being evil!” moment is just too much of a stretch for me, sadly (having dealt with abusers).

All told, I rather liked this game.  Simple to play and interesting, although to what ultimate depth I’m not sure yet.

Promised Postscript:  Something is itching at the back of my brain about the references to escapist fantasy (in the video tapes and the bookshelf) and the Matisse documentary (i.e. an admonishment to artists to “guard the original naivete”).  I’m not sure exactly what the author was getting at with those (in regards to Marissa, Helena, etc.), but it’s been bugging me all day.  Ideas, anyone?

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One Response to “The Blind House: Flowers yes, puppies no.”

  1. I don’t have a good idea about what the books and videos themselves say, but I did think that Helena’s reaction to them was an effective way of showing what she thinks about Marissa. They seem to me like perfectly normal things for someone to have around the house, but to Helena they suggest that Marissa is naïve and escapist. So my impression is that they reveal more about Helena than they do about Marissa, but I may be missing something. (Actually, with respect to this game in general, the one thing I’m certain of is that I am missing something, but I don’t know what.)

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