IF Comp 2011: Sentencing Mr Liddell

The following review contains spoilers, violence, and bad language.

I’m a big fan of Alice In Wonderland — the book, that is — as well as the sequel with which it is often conflated, Through the Looking Glass.  Unfortunately, it always seems to lose something in its transitions to other forms of media, and Sentencing Mr Liddell is no exception.  It’s easy to reference Alice sloppily, so, credit is due: The game at least seems to be written by someone who has read the books, as opposed to someone who just caught a run of Care Bears in Wonderland on the Disney Channel.

I sometimes look over Emily Short’s reviews, like most other people interested in the comp, but not past the spoiler space until I’ve played the game myself. So going in, I knew there was a point in the game where she felt offended, and had to stop, but didn’t know for sure what that part would be.

When I got there, I was then pretty sure I knew. Turns out in this game that you have to hit a pig, and this pig is used as a stand-in for your character’s two-year-old child.  Emily, and others, did not want to be complicit in this act, but saw no way around it.  I, however, as I have previously discussed, am a horrible person in video games.  So, Sentencing Mr Liddell, I am your woman. Hand me that squealing pig, so I can slap the shit out of it.

Now if you get all the way through the game, the endgame tips tells you there is, apparently, some other way to handle the screaming pig-baby.  Given that I had a save right before making that choice (I’m not that heartless), I went back to try the scene a different way. It made sense that this might be a pivotal choice in the game, since the game doesn’t start giving you the magic words that allow you to complete it until after you’ve hit the pig and sent it running off.

But try as I might — and I did, until my time was up — I could not find an alternate solution for the pig, and the game does not hint towards one in the slightest. I tried singing to it, as you might to a crying baby, but it was not responsive. I tried hugging it, kissing it, patting it, and any other verb I could think of, but the game replied that the pig was unresponsive toward any affection no matter how persistent I was.  I tried handing it off to others, who wanted nothing to do with it. I tried walking back and forth through the cabin, but that also didn’t silence it, and beyond a certain point the game would force me to drop it.

I even went back to my hard copy of Alice to see what she did with the pig baby, but this was unhelpful, because she actually just let it go.  She first tried to nurse it, apparently, but the game doesn’t recognize this verb.  I’ll admit that passage always confused me as a kid, anyway. Surely Alice isn’t old enough to breastfeed the baby, but it’s not clear if she picks up a bottle first, and she doesn’t seem to have one when she sets the baby down.  Either there must be a bottle involved, even though one isn’t explicitly mentioned, or else this is some other sense of nursing that I don’t understand.

I digress.  This is an interesting game if you can get past the child abuse part, but there are some annoyingly obtuse bits like the tea party. There’s also a fiddly puzzle where you have to drop all your stuff, leave the train you’re on, go collecting again, then go back for your old stuff, but the game doesn’t recognize “get all” and makes you pick everything up manually.  The word puzzle that the game’s end centers around treats “us” and “we” as the same word, but “live” and “life” as two different words, and this is confusing.

So while it didn’t, personally, exceed my threshold for protagonist douchebaggery, there were lots of little bits I just wasn’t so enthusiastic about. If you manage to figure out how to get a happy ending in this one, let me know.

2 thoughts on “IF Comp 2011: Sentencing Mr Liddell”

  1. I tried all that stuff you did before hitting the piglet, but it didn’t work. Later on a little birdie who’s forbidden from discussing games publicly told me that the solution was
    to hit your family members. Even without this hint I had hit Leo, but you have to hit your mother as well. Apparently it doesn’t get you a better ending or even better immediate response from Cat, for obvious reasons.

    Incidentally, up till now my sample of reactions to this game had divided strictly along gender lines — Emily and Yoon Ha Lee were too disgusted to continue the game, Yoon’s commenter vesperregina finished but wished she hadn’t, whereas Sam Ashwell, Steve Odhner, the little birdie, and me all found it bearable at least (though it made me uncomfortable). So, um, I guess I feel good that there’s no unbridgeable gender gap?

    “Nurse” seems like it must have meant something more like “cuddle” or “care for” back in the day. I can’t imagine Carroll making an explicit reference to the act of breastfeeding. Also the explicit description of how Alice nurses the baby makes it seem as though she may not have a much clearer grasp of the concept than she does of the concept of suppressing applause.

  2. Thanks for the tip, but it’s disappointing it doesn’t change much after all! I was hoping to find a pro-social solution, against all odds.

    It may be that my high threshold for evil behavior coupled with being a woman may be what makes me unique as a video game writer. I can be counted on to play both Female and Renegade as my first and only run. I’m going to be be starting Dues Ex as soon as I’m not distracted by comp games, so, asshole runs ahoy.

    You’re probably right about “nurse.” I get the feeling Alice stepped out of that paragraph just as confused about it as I was.

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