IFComp 2016: The Queen’s Menagerie, Mirror and Queen   Leave a comment

By Chandler Groover. Both played on desktop to completion.

I’ve never written a dual-review for IFComp before, but this works as a pair. I believe they’re supposed to be the same Queen? First–

Edward Gorey once wrote a work of interactive fiction. The Queen’s Menagerie feels like what he’d write with modern tools.

You are (or are at least controlling) a zookeeper in charge of feeding a host of monstrous creatures. The story is a jaunt from one cage to another, where you click and drag the entree of choice to each of the creatures.


This prose is very good. There’s a nice balance between the minimal and the textured. I felt like there were no spare words.

Lanterns glow green with foxfire. Shadows glide behind bars. Creatures pacing. Let’s leave the lesser ones and concentrate on the prizes. No breath to spare. See to these locks.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t that sold on it as an experience. The only choices were to decide which food goes to which creature; I’m fairly sure it’s meant as a visceral gesture, like last year’s Taghairm. While I wasn’t a fan of Taghairm, at least I was moved in some sense. Here I was just bemused.

Mirror and Queen involves the titluar Queen with her magic mirror. It is interacted with via single words:

Cut a sparrow’s throat. Blood on the glass. O Queen, you consult your reflection again. Study the doubled details. Beyond the cauldron’s smoke, breathing blue fumes. Beyond the books that line the walls both within and without your mirrored room. Look closely and you’ll see what you’ve summoned. Look closely and you’ll see your image shift, bubbles behind the glass where the glassmaker’s art permitted this one crack to yawn as though it were a mouth. Words, words are what you want, and when you speak you will have words. What would you speak about tonight, O Queen?

Speak about: menagerie
Sparrow, magpie, bluejay, finch. Any bird will serve. Any bird has. You hold them in your hand. Sometimes they sing as though springtime were here. Music throbs in their throats and, when those throats are cut, their crimson voices drip onto the glass. They are better when they are killed young, before they ever learn what aging means. Mention another subject to discuss.

Speak about: death
Death comes to call, bidden or not. Throw wide your doors. Open your halls. Welcome it as you would welcome an ambassador. Install it somewhere private and provide it with what luxuries it would request. Freedom to walk the corridors. Souls at its disposal. What cannot be resisted should never inspire fear. Propose your next concern.

I confess to a soft spot for this format, given I used it in Renga in Four Parts. While the intent there was for every word to matter, Mirror and Queen has a dictionary that must be recognized for responses.

Speak about: torch
Your mirror knows what you would think, O Queen. Your concerns scatter but they must return to your reflection’s cracked center. Its crevice cuts your mind, permits your understanding to bleed out across the glass where you might study it with heightened clarity. Submit. These words would be your words could you but tame your tongue.

It recognizes a fairly wide range, but I did reach “you can’t do that” responses like the one above often enough the game played less like a conversation and more like arguing with a stubborn AI. In the context of this story, though, it was all part of the mimesis.

Even putting aside the interaction difference, I found Mirror and Queen more satisfying than The Queen’s Menagerie. I suppose it had more of a “point” to it? Not necessarily a “message” per se, but lurching more to art causing self-reflection. Throughout the interaction of Mirror and Queen there was the reflection of a deeply felt character, one with a clear and relatable source of anguish. The Queen’s Menagerie did not feel like it had characters at all, but more of a Mood, dressed up in gothic colors without a clear direction.

Posted October 11, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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