Friday, September 22, 2023

The Black Widow Is Unsettling, Uncomfortable, And Deeply Fascinating

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True Crime is having a moment. Take a look at Netflix or at the most popular podcasts and you’ll see the evidence. The news cycle means we are always up to date on current crimes. As terrifying as all this can be, we want to know. But this interest in true crime isn’t exactly new or trendy. We’ve always been fascinated by the crimes of others. Capital punishment was often a public spectacle, after all. But what if after that punishment, the story wasn’t over? That’s the question Aussie company Flux (Plague Sydney, Razorhurst), and its founder Richard Fox, seeks to answer in their newest addition to their line of games based on Australia’s grisly history: The Black Widow.


The Black Widow is a murder mystery, but you already know the killer. Or do you? In this game you interview Louisa Collins, the last woman to hang in New South Wales. However, your conversation with her happens after she has died.

Through the use of a spirit board (or ouija board for you nerds) you can ask her to talk about her life—and the deaths she was convicted of. Louisa Collins endured four trials for the poisonings of her two husbands: Charles Andrews and Michael Collins. Both men died with symptoms of arsenic poisoning. Through all four trials she never called a witness in her defense. Now, you will get the chance to hear her story through her own words. All of the things Louisa tells you in this game are not fictional. They’re taken from those four trials and from her correspondences.

Louisa’s mugshot and arrest record from 1889

As a game, The Black Widow is simple. You enter a word on the spirit board and see if it sparks a response from Louisa. If it does, one or more of the numbers on the spirit board will light up, becoming clickable. Some responses will yield more results that others.  Louisa, by the way, is a disembodied head that speaks to you. It’s really unsettling…in a good way of course. This game is not about being comfortable. And you must listen carefully: she won’t repeat herself and there’s no text on the screen to reference. You may hear the same thing from different words, however, as the story she tells is nonlinear.

This is the game. You’d be surprised at how effectively it tells a story

Nothing about this game is straightforward. There are no clear rules for what words she will respond to. There’s no real sense of progress, levels, or success, not from Louisa anyway. And there really doesn’t need to be. It’s a very internal game. You can choose to take notes, like an actual detective. Or you can sit and let this unfold. It does not ask you to play in any particular way. This game challenges what games can do. It’s interactive storytelling, yes, but you can’t change the outcome. You can’t become that witness for Louisa Collins. You can’t stop her from dying at Darlinghurst. But you can listen. You can learn. And you can decide for yourself, 130 years later: is she guilty?

The Black Widow is available on the Steam store, where it can be picked up for $5.99. The mobile version is available on both Android and iOS, where it’ll run you $1.99.


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