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Offering

by Richard Smyth

Religious
2012

(based on 4 ratings)
1 member review

About the Story

A story about what it takes to give.

Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: June 11, 2012
Current Version: 4
License: Freeware
Development System: Inform 7
IFID: BFE5720B-0266-40DD-872B-9242CCE9423F
TUID: tkqeq94ez4gq2snc

Awards

Entrant - Cover Stories

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
I'm not sure what to do with this analogy, June 17, 2012
by Emily Short
Related reviews: cover stories
Offering is a highly linear, puzzle-light game that seems to be exploring the significance of a certain type of religious thinking. It's also nearly impossible to talk about without spoilers, so most of this review is going to be cut-tagged.

(Spoiler - click to show)Offering comes in two halves, and it's very easy to miss the second half entirely.

The first half tells the story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac, in terms just about verbatim from the Old Testament version, with just the tiniest bit of additional hinting at what's going through Abraham's mind. This part of the game is pretty linear, and there's not much to discover, or much opportunity to go off the required path.

And if you follow the game's prompting, you'll wind up just hesitating a bit up at the top of the mountain, waiting for the miracle you know is supposed to come along at that moment, and lo the ram shows up, everything is fine, and you get an apparently happy ending in which Abraham's descendants are more numerous than the stars, etc.

But you can also go ahead and sacrifice Isaac on the mountain before God gets a chance to intervene. If you do, you fall through to a second scene, in which you're a girl on a date in a car in the 1950s, and your hunky date in the letterman jacket gets a little forward, and then he won't take no for an answer. You can't fight him off, so he rapes you, in terms described very similarly to the bit with Abraham stabbing Isaac.

When I played the first part and thought that was all there was, my feeling was that it was a pretty pointless exercise, retelling a well-known story with almost no interactivity or embellishment. The presence of the second part gives the story any meaning it might be thought to possess, but it would be really, really easy never to realize there was a second part. This is, I think, a significant structural flaw.

Once we do include the second part, though, I'm not sure it makes hugely more sense.

Ike's rape of the protagonist is described like Abraham's use of the knife on Isaac, so maybe

Ike:girl :: Abraham:Isaac

Conceivably the reading is that rapists and devout religious people are similar in their readiness to override the will of others? But, frankly, this seems like a stretch, especially considering that most devout religious people still don't go around killing or raping anyone. Then again, it's implied that the girl in the second half is the one making a sacrifice, giving up the struggle at the end of the rape scene, so then maybe the idea is

Ike:girl :: God:Abraham

in which case the point is more that the God of the Old Testament was really an incredible jerk? Except that in order more completely to demonstrate his jerkiness, we've postulated a variant version of that God in which he does let Abraham actually go through with the sacrifice.

I don't know. It seemed to me that there were a number of thematic points the author could have been making, tantalizingly adjacent to the story, but that he didn't really follow through on any of them enough to make them work. If it's a story about how the God of the Old Testament is not in fact the kind of character that, in the cold light of the 21st century, looks especially benevolent, then that's a point that's possible to explore, and it's not really necessary to change the end of the Isaac sacrifice story to get there. In fact there were two different games in IF Comp 2011 that dug into the issue of whether God would really desire people to die in order to meet his laws and instructions: Cana According to Micah, which argues that he wouldn't, and Tenth Plague, which suggests that he would and therefore isn't so terrific.

It's also possible to imagine Offering as a story about the way a patriarchal society may use the language of religious obligation in order to force the powerless -- children, women, minorities -- into subjection while silencing any dissent. There are a few hints of this in the first part; for instance, Abraham can't put the wood on the altar himself because it would be unseemly for the patriarch to do such a task, and it must be left to the more subservient Isaac. But, if so, that also doesn't really make much sense, because in fact Ike doesn't bring any of this kind of pressure to bear on the girl. He forcibly rapes her and tells her it's what she can expect for being in a car with a boy, but he doesn't frame it as a moral obligation. There are unfortunately many true incidents in which women were coerced into sexual relationships on some sort of religious pretext, but this isn't a story about one of those situations.

Or maybe the idea is that sacrifices, in general, are like being raped, in general. The game's about text seems to suggest this final reading: "As the story description for this game suggests, this is a story about what it takes to give--more specifically, what it takes to sacrifice something that is valuable to you... Hopefully, this diptych will prompt some thought and debate about the true meaning of sacrifice."

But this doesn't really make sense at all! The whole point of sacrifice is the presence of consent. That's a point in fact especially marked out by the Isaac story: what God is testing with Abraham is whether he would be willing to perform the sacrifice, such that the actual performance thereof becomes irrelevant. And more broadly, things that are given sacrificially are meaningful precisely because they entail the giver's considered decision.

One might say "well, but the consent is meaningless in context: you had to sacrifice things to God because otherwise he could kill you, couldn't he" -- but that's pretty much never how sacrifice is historically framed. The language of ancient sacrificial religions tends to be extremely clear about this point. Making a sacrifice was often framed in legalistic, contractual terms. Do ut des I give that you may give; in other words, you're making a bargain with {God/a god} by providing him with something, in the hope that he will give you something in return.

It's an idea that makes the most sense in the context of polytheism and not-exactly-omnipotent deities who might actually in some sense need human cooperation, and there are stretch marks when this theology is applied to the monotheistic God of the Old Testament. But the terminology still seems pretty clear about this all the same. Man slaughters sheep voluntarily for God: sacrifice. God strikes sheep by lightning, killing it and reducing Man's flock: not sacrifice. Job losing his family and flocks and servants wasn't a sacrifice Job made; it was something really nasty that happened to Job.

Considering this deep misalignment between the consensual, if morally pressured, giving entailed in sacrifice and the non-consensual loss entailed in rape, I'm not really clear on what we're supposed to take away from the juxtaposition of events in Offering.

And, honestly, the longer I think about the attempted analogy between the sacrifice scene and the rape scene, the more bothersome I find it. Trying to say that rape victims are sort of consenting after all, or that being raped is some kind of morally good sacrifice? Surely not. Indicating that voluntarily making a sacrifice of some sort is as traumatizing and destructive as being raped? That doesn't seem right either.



So I don't exactly recommend this piece; I think it's trying to say something, but I'm not sure that something is especially coherent or well-worked-through. Some of the elements may be upsetting or triggering to certain people.

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This is version 1 of this page, edited by Sam Kabo Ashwell on 15 June 2012 at 4:04pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item