Continuing my look through this month’s Humble Choice selection. This is the point and click game from the creators of Fran Bow, Little Misfortune. Warning – this game contains themes of suicide, prostitution and child death.
Through the eyes of a child, our world must seem a strange and sometimes scary place, particularly those that are approaching adolescence. Unlike a toddler, they have enough of an understanding of their surroundings and the people they meet to view beyond their own self, yet are exposed to just enough culture and society to be warped slightly by its clutches. They are capable of asking questions about their surroundings, but not yet capable of identifying when they are being lied to or led astray. On TV, they see their own childish behaviour replicated by grown-ups, as they lie repeatedly without repercussions, and throw their toys and constitutions out of the pram when they don’t get what they want.
Little Misfortune shows us the view of the world through the eyes of one of these children. The titular character is an 8-year-old girl, who appears followed by bad luck. Breaking of vases and the strikes of lightening seems to occur always around her. It doesn’t take long for the game to show us that there is more than just bad luck following Misfortune though, as the narrator tells us that this is the day she will die. Knowing little about this game and not having played the developer’s previous game, Fran Bow, this rather out of the blue assertion did come as quite a shock, whilst watching Misfortune, play with glitter, a unicorn and a pet rock, all the while some fake cheesy generic pop song plays out in the background encouraging us to dance forever. It doesn’t stop there neither, as we soon are given unsubtle suggestions of an abusive family that she comes from. Misfortune remains seemingly oblivious to the troubles that surround her though, instead speaking in a playful way with her new friend, Mr. Voice, as she plays his game and spreads happiness with her glitter around her town. She remains never deterred, not even by the hanged man she finds rather randomly, something that merely reminds her of a pinata.
The game follows Misfortune as she travels around town, listening to the instructions of Mr. Voice, the narrator. Successfully completing the game, she is told, will give her the gift of Eternal Happiness; Misfortune just wants to win this prize to give to her mother, who she thinks really needs it. We, as the player, occasionally get decisions on what choices Misfortune makes, but it is not until near the end that we get any option in going along with or defying Mr. Voice, who is quite clearly the villain of the piece from the beginning. Although we do have minimal control over Misfortune through pointing and clicking (or just navigating with a keyboard or with a controller), this is really much more of an interactive fiction game than a traditional point and click game, with limited puzzles to solve and very little interaction with the environment outside of a few moments. The choices we do have don’t appear to have a huge effect on the direction of the story either, as Misfortune’s path is entirely pre-determined, which is a key theme throughout.
So, we are left with whether the main plot of Misfortune is a success. There are certainly interesting themes running through the game and I believe anyone that is interested in this should give it a go, as long as you are happy with delving into some quite dark topics. I’m certainly intrigued enough having completed the game to go and give Fran Bow a go now. However, there are many failings. Predominately, it comes down to the fact that the range of dark themes that the game throws at you do not go particularly anywhere. Beyond the initial shock value of some of it, including the innocence of Misfortune’s reaction to what is going on around her, there is little commentary to be had by the end. These disparate ideas never particular comes together into something that satisfactorily coalesces succinctly. At best, there is little purpose behind Misfortune’s abusive background and her mother being a prostitute, beyond heaping an unhappy backstory for her and making audience feel pity for her. At worst, it serves the purpose of making her name and the games title a joke.
Where the game is most satisfactory with its theme is in the world around Misfortune. Although we watch Misfortune be oblivious to her dark surroundings and can feel sympathy for her when she believes that sprinkling glitter will bring joy to everything around her, the game also shows everyone else attempting to hide from the realities that surround them too. People passing her on the street all wear happy masks, so that they no longer need to show their true emotions. Like much else here, it remains unsubtly shown, but the depiction is still effective and offers a chill in the recognition. Similarly, Misfortune’s trip to the zoo shows us animals that bear strikingly human characteristics. There is the obligatory Big Bad Wolf, with the usual connotations that brings, but also a selection of birds. These twittering avions have descriptions accompanying them that are familiar to the Twittering humankind, with fascist parrots that are described as just repeatedly repeating what it hears elsewhere and another with the name Fuckedilious Dis Shittius that doesn’t “care about anything as long as they are occupied by mindless entertainment”. There is a strong suggestion towards the end of the game that everything we are seeing during the course of the game is just a creation of Misfortune’s mind. This is how an 8-year-old girl views the grown-ups around her, showing a obfuscated picture, but one that is clearer than the reality itself.
It should also be said that, despite the themes not fully coming together, I did enjoy my time with Little Misfortune, both the game and the character. This is an enjoyable 3-or-so hour little story that may not have quite brought a tear to my eye by the end, but I would not begrudge anyone that it did. Glancing quickly online, there is an alternative ending to be found, if you are able to find all the things to spread your sparkle. There is little incentive to replay though, as the story will play out mostly the same, besides an additional sequence at the end (and, reading it, I would say it detracts from the ending for reasons that I won’t go into). The art style is also really lovely to look at and sits perfectly in-between the cute and dark that the story sits within.
I will be interested in seeing what KillMonday Games do next with this style. Perhaps a little bit more time at the writing table could have brought things together a little more than they did here. As it is though, Little Misfortune is an enjoyable little lady to spend some time with.