What to play: In the ‘Hamlet’ remix ‘Elsinore,’ Ophelia is caught in a time loop
It’s summer, and that means it’s the season for Shakespeare in Griffith Park. And while I failed in taking in a show this past weekend, I like to think I have a solid and equally literate excuse: I spent all day Sunday immersed in “Elsinore.”
The recently released game is rooted in the tale of “Hamlet,” a work filled with so much debauchery, treachery, bloodshed and twists that one could likely concoct multiple games from its pages. And in a way, “Elsinore” is numerous games. We take control of Ophelia, who dies, repeatedly, and then can spend hours playing the denizens of Denmark — the rotten, the confused and the helpless — against one another.
Anyone familiar with “Hamlet” will know that Ophelia ends up dead going in, but developers Golden Glitch Studios have their own answer to the AP English debate over the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death. They declare her murdered and her suicide staged. But they added their own twist: Ophelia is caught in a time loop.
So why is someone out to kill a beloved yet relatively minor tragic character in the Shakespearean work? As Ophelia’s killer patiently explains when she asks the assailant this very question moments before she is to be slayed a second time, “To me, you are nothing. But you are an important person to important people. And that makes you useful.”
Who she is important to, and how Ophelia’s death, survival and actions affect the lives of those living inside castle Elsinore becomes the game — a narrative, text-heavy adventure in which what we say, and what we don’t, can have grave consequences. Ophelia remembers the events of the time loop, and when she tries to her warn her father, Polonius, that Hamlet is going mad and may accidentally kill him, he brushes her off at first as a silly girl who needs more sleep.
He’ll soon realize his error but will forget it in his next life. The player will have to realize that pops can’t be helped in every narrative, as getting Ophelia the necessary information to save herself and hopefully Denmark, not to mention learning who she can trust, takes more time than the ticking clock often allows.
The developers made a few key choices that give “Hamlet” a modern sensibility without feeling gimmicky. Characters speak in the modern tongue, and there’s the occasional knowing wink to the audience. It suits the medium well and ensures that “Elsinore” doesn’t feel like one is playing a book report. Young ones, for instance, shouldn’t think that this can replace homework — genders, for instance, have been swapped throughout, Ophelia is now a mixed-race young woman and Ophelia’s presumed nemesis, Lady Brit, feels like a throwback to the 2004 film “Mean Girls.”
The Ophelia of “Elsinore” isn’t presented as quite as bold as she is in the recent Daisy Ridley film, in part because she’s constantly being reminded of her place in the universe — a “sad little half rank girl with no prospects,” as Lady Brit scoffs. But she was still smart enough to dump Hamlet before the events of the game.
Still, one must be careful in directing the questions Ophelia will ask; her inquisitiveness could be seen as ambition and raise suspicion. When she tells a castle guard her life may be in danger, he essentially reassures her that she is too unimportant to kill.
Scarier, depending on how Ophelia alters the timeline of “Hamlet’s” events, she could find herself in a #MeToo situation with King Claudius. These are subtle and smart reminders that while the player has the freedom to make a number of conversational choices, few in the kingdom believes Ophelia worthy of power and agency. And most are pretty OK with murder.
Thus, altering the world to keep Ophelia alive is no easy task. As one character informs her, “Unfortunate things happen to bright girls in this world.” In this way, “Elsinore” makes it clear that while plenty has changed since the 1600s, human denigration, sadly, is timeless.
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