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Pygmalia: Galatea

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on twitter @molly_the_tanz

Many people suggested the subject of this month’s column, either in the comments here at Pornokitsch, or on Facebook/Twitter, so here we go with this column’s first video game! Or at least, text-based adventure. 

GalateaGalatea (2000)

Galatea, by Emily Short, is an award-winning text-based adventure, or interactive fiction game. Praised for its NPC, the eponymous Galatea, it apparently revolutionized the genre of interactive fiction games due to of the depth and complexity of Galatea’s responses to the player. Not only that, but the game is multilinear, meaning you can take multiple paths to the same endings, having a different experience each time, creating your own story within the framework of the game.  

On its surface, Galatea seems simple enough: you are a famous art critic at a gallery opening, and you discover the statue of Galatea on a pedestal. But Galatea is more than a statue; she is an “animate,” which you may or may not get explained in more detail, while you play the game. The game is then to talk to her, to solicit responses, and respond in turn to have a conversation with this strange creature. Once you start, however, you may find it's more challenging than it might sound...

The first thing Galatea says to you is, “They told me you were coming.” From there, you can speak to her by “asking” about topics. You can “look,” you can “touch” and do other physical actions like “embrace” or “smell” Galatea; you can “tell” her things, and apologize if you annoy her. 

The game is… unsettling. Galatea is wise but naïve, direct but oblique, as confusing to speak to as you might imagine a living, sentient statue would be. She has what appears to be a rich inner life. It is very strange.

This column focuses on the Pygmalion element in stories, so while there are many fascinating paths you can take through Galatea, ranging from conversations about religion to actually dying, I’m going to keep this discussion to the creator/created elements. And by the bye, if you play Galatea and can’t seem to get anywhere, there is a list of walkthroughs available online.  I suggest you play through the game a few times before checking them out, but they’re pretty neat, and display the range and depth of the game.

When you greet Galatea, often she will ask hopefully if “her artist” is in the audience. If you read the placard on the pedestal indicated by the initial description, however, you find out the artist was “Pygmalion of Cyprus,” and that he has committed suicide.

If you ASK Galatea about the artist, this is what she says:

A pause.  "I don't know where he is,"  she remarks.  "Or who, or what, for that matter.  He sold me immediately after my waking.  While he was carving me, there was no strangeness, but afterward..."

Much of the dialogue is like this, leading you down a path… but it’s not the path you have to take. For example, if you WAIT, she tells you over her own volition about being born, or rather carved. Ask her about being carved, she tells you, “"Better, I dare say, than you remember being born," she replies, her voice low and mocking.”

But if you ask her directly about “afterward,” you start getting somewhere: 

"He avoided me.  He was uncomfortable; he wouldn't meet my eye.  He wouldn't speak to me.  I asked him questions -- I had just discovered how to speak, but for hours I thought I was getting it wrong, since he gave no sign...  Finally I made him talk to me, and he told me that he didn't want me to be alive.  He hadn't made me to be alive.  He asked me, in fact, if I would go back to being a statue."

She hunches one shoulder.    "I said no.  I didn't think it would help.  And he sent me away.  He didn't want me to be near him, if I couldn't be the way he had made me."

The story of a Galatea’s life, eh? In every Pygmalion tale, there must necessarily be a rebellion. The expectations of the creator will always distress and dismay the created; the classic pattern seems to be that the created will assume the creator is benevolent and wants his or her creation to be a full, rich, independent individual… until it’s obvious that rather, the creator wants the created to conform to his or her vision, not the created’s.

Is the relationship between creator and created necessarily anxious in this way? It seems to be the essential relationship in Pygmalion stories; most of this year’s entries have dealt with the discomfort and anxiety in some way, whether directly, in The Bride, where in the end Count Frankensting (thanks, Anne) attempts to rape Eva because she has rebelled against his desires; by reversing it (somehow making the relationship yet more patriarchal?) in Watch and Ward, or playing off it, in Vision of Escaflowne. And last year, in my “Five Greatest Pygmalion Stories” column that I did, one can find the same dynamic—My Fair Lady has plenty of anxiety on Higgins’ part, over whether Eliza will “pass” and then over whether Eliza will return; Eliza, for her part, feels anxiety over who Higgins has turned her into. Hannibal… I don’t have enough column space to talk about the anxieties in Hannibal, but I mean, when your primary romantic relationship is between a cannibal shrink and unbalanced serial killer hunter, well. The Rocky Horror Picture Show gives Dr. Frank N. Furter an entire song to discuss his anxiety over Janet’s relationship with Rocky, as at that point two of his creations have rebelled against his desires (Janet being the other... when they made it, it's pretty obvious that she did indeed hear a bell ring). Furter's jealousy and sense of betrayal are on display for all to see, and it is at that moment that he turns them all into statues.

Of course, love is also part of the Pygmalion dynamic… yet save for the original, rarely in Pygmalion tales does that affection go both ways. Instead, things are ruined on one end or the other… and in Galatea, if you ask her about love… well…

"Were you in love with him?" 

She turns to face you, in a rustle of resettling skirts. 

"I know I loved him," she answers.  "And there was a time when I might even have said that he loved me, too.  Things seemed simpler before I began to move, before I woke up.  I didn't realize that you could loathe your own creation."

"So now you know.  That's all there is -- my one and only secret."  She smiles, but it doesn't reach her eyes.  "All the rest of my life's just circumstance."

A closing line if you ever heard one.  You give her a nod and walk away, half your mind already on the buffet in the next room, and what you're going to say about her, in there.

*** The End ***

That marks the end of one possible play-through. There are many. It’s fun, I highly recommend checking out the game and spending a pleasant hour or so goofing around, seeing what you can get her to say. She will become your creation the longer you engage her, putting you in the Pygmalion position, which can be just as uncomfortable as her pedestal...

Next Month: I’m not sure! Robocop? Heart of a Dog? Short stories? 

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