Best Of 2022: Card Shark's Take On Historical Gender Is Both Playful And Enlightening


 There is a woman at this party. Slight and dainty, she's the niece of a posh lord. She hides her jawline beneath a fan, smiles with glittering energy as she is invited to the cardboard table. Her hands are always bad and her grasp of the guidelines appears tenuous. Forgetting her knife-sharp grin, you settle right into a wine-fuelled haze. Only when the night is over do you count your coins, realize how a lot you've lost, and think once extra of that shining smile.

In its broad survey of French aristocracy, Card Shark permits gamers to discover crossdressing and queerness. The game's tangible relationship to historic previous is playful, broad, and particular (as I've written about before). Card Shark freely borrows tricksters and cheats from all through historic previous however additionally shows off the distinctive class-bridging function of card playing within the particular time period. Card Shark's France is broiling with class friction, as a rising bourgeoisie has increasing energy however is additionally remoted from the immense wealth of the ruling aristocracy. Underneath it all, Romani caravans keep away from persecution and the revolution brews. Player character Eugene and his mentor, the Comte de Saint Germain, will discover all this through dishonest on the aforementioned card games, amassing wealth, and discovering a thriller on the coronary heart of the French monarchy. While the story told is largely fiction, a mixture of The Three Musketeers and a satirical comedy of manners, the social circumstances of the characters are grounded in a materials history. That extends to Card Shark's depiction of crossdressing, gender nonconformity, and transness.

Before we dig into Card Shark's relationship to gender, I need to begin on a brief note on pronouns and the way to debate the potential tranness of historic figures. I am going to make use of he/him pronouns and the name Eugene for Card Shark's protagonist. This is, in no way, meant to undermine the potential to perceive him as queer. It is tempting and never always incorrect to label historic figures as homosexual or lesbian or trans. However, it ought to be emphasised that these are comparatively modern labels that are unevenly and sometimes unfairly layered over an infinite number of people and identities. These labels are not untarnished truths that we can now use to interpret historic previous purely. Rather they broadly identify experiences and social norms, against which people of all kinds judge and perceive themselves. I particularly simply like the phrasing of Kit Heyam's recent historic previous of gender's title: "Before We Were Trans." The implication is that previous gender-non-confirming people share a common heritage, and many identities, with present trans people, however that the actual label of "trans" is comparatively new.

Crucially, this doesn't imply we cannot resonate with or take meaning from the historial queer figures. Rather we ought to perceive that they were, simply as we are, existing within the constraints and language of their surrounding culture. Eugene may well be trans, or certainly, the sport leaves sufficient room for him to be so perceived. But labeling him as such makes use of a language which he couldn't have had entry to, even in Card Shark's exaggerated historic fiction. I each need to respect the actuality he would have lived in, had he been real, and respect the identities he could have held.

What makes Card Shark's relationship with gender so sharp and insightful is that it understands its materials and historic context at each turn. Card Shark has a general curiosity in exploring the margins of 18th century France. Infamous cross-dressing and womanizing opera singer Julie d'Aubigny and the brilliant Afro-French composer and fencer Chevalier de Saint-Georges each have extensive cameos. The non-existent S.W. Erdnase, named after the pseudonym author of The Expert and The Card, defies a definite gender at each turn, in methods in which allow them to enter into various realms and cultures. A Romani camp is featured because the Comte and Eugene's base of operations and, in a single of many game's extra modern twists, each can donate to their mutual aid fund.

The primary way the sport explores the marginalized is thru the protagonist. Eugene exists at a number of factors of marginalization. He is disabled (he cannot speak), an impoverished orphan, and illiterate (he learns to learn and write over the course of the game). Early on within the game, Eugene takes on one thing of a servant's role, studying to help Comte in various schemes that revolve round dishonest at cards. Many of the tricks contain him getting wine for the Comte or getting a peek at different players' hands as he wipes the table. But as he and Comte advance in society, Eugene's presence as a servant on the desk turns into much less plausible. Enter: crossdressing.

The efficiency of gender enables Eugene and the Comte to get the jump on misogynistic wealth and to pass Eugene off as a member of excessive society. Eugene makes use of gendered markers, like a fan or a make-up box, to pull off playing tricks. For example, he makes use of a make-up field to view somebody else's hand after which strikes the fan in a particular way to sign playing cards to the Comte. Because Eugene is presenting as a woman, the males on the desk believe him incapable of wrongdoing or deviousness. He passes, when his efficiency of gender is good enough, even as he subverts their expectations. In an actual sense, Card Shark simulates the expertise of social gender, asking gamers to play at becoming right into a role, with dire penalties ought to they fail. Cheating is a social game, as a lot as it's a dexterous one.

This doesn't imply Eugene's efficiency of gender is insincere. In the game's brief, however expressive, moments of choice, Eugene can express enthusiasm or weariness, readiness or forgetfulness to the act of crossdressing. Similarly, Eugene is a reputation given by the Comte, one which Eugene can ultimately settle for or reject. These are scant moments of expressivity, however they're sufficient to leave tantalizing gaps in what might appear a mere male protagonist. The participant can embrace Eugene's femininity or leave it as a tool.

For the time being, though, Eugene cannot live merely "as a woman." Still caught up, as he is, within the drama of the plot. The game focuses on this narrow interval of his life. Though we see him as an elder after the French Revolution within the game's denouement, a lot of Eugene's future life is left to imagination. Eugene is the precise kind of determine who would have been forgotten by history--whose queerness might be left within the reminiscence of scant events the place a forgotten woman briefly lived.

But that is the thing: Most of us will even be forgotten. Many trans people are misrepresented upon their death or died earlier than they could uncover themselves. Card Shark understands gender as fluid, culturally and socially dependent, but nonetheless chosen or embraced. It raises up and highlights a marginalized past, however it additionally lets gamers take part in it and in small methods outline it for themselves. Because of its sharp and playful relationship with the past, it opens the door for gamers to perceive themselves as a half of a huge expanse of queer history.

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