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11.26.2014

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In a Field of '90s Barbieland Wreckage, Chop Suey Got Gaming for Girls Totally Right
Jenn Frank on Wednesday Nov 26th, 2014

Originally published on MotherboardReprinted with permission from the author. Please support Rhizome's Kickstarter to make Chop Suey and the other Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs available online.

From Chop Suey.

Developed in 1994 and published the following year, Chop Suey was a cunning piece of multimedia edutainment, suited just as well to grown-ups—smirking hipsters and punk rockers, probably—as it was to the prescribed "girls 7 to 12" crowd.

But it wasn't a computer game. It was something else: a loosely-strung system of vignettes; a psychedelic exercise in "let's-pretend"; a daydream in which the mundanity of smalltown Ohio collides with the interior lives of its two young protagonists.

As the game opens, the Bugg sisters are idling on a grassy knoll, counting clouds and recalling the day's events. Lily and June Bugg, we are informed, have spent the afternoon with Aunt Vera. The narrator—a yet-unknown David Sedaris—sets the scene in nasally twee, occasionally grating reeds.

When Sedaris concludes his opening narration, our player immediately regains control of her cursor. From here, she can survey Cortland's landmarks in any order she chooses, repeating anything she likes. She might revisit lunch at the Ping Ping Palace, where the food is so exotic, it's often tinted cyan or hot pink. She might play dress-up with Aunt Vera—whom, we suspect, is something of a lush and a man-eater.

The player might go to the carnival to have her fortune read; she might play Bingo. Perhaps she might visit Aunt Vera's second husband, Bob, or else she could visit Vera's third husband, also Bob. (Tragically, it is impossible to visit Bob #1, except through occasional flashbacks.) 

Most in-game stories are delivered secondhand from a reminiscing grown-up, while Lily and June's own imaginations illustrate those stories in happier, more magical idioms. The game never oversteps, never makes "regret" its central concern; after all, this is a children's game. But an adult player might be surprised at how wistful the game actually is.

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