Get thee to a nunnery!

Get thee to a nunnery! is a medieval fantasy roleplaying game set in the 11th century. 

  • You play as Aois, a directionless young woman cloistered away in a convent. You shape her life at the abbey through a series of in-game choices.
  • Will Aois grow into a disciplined abbess or a wild warrior nun? Will her talents endear her to the angels of the Biblical arts, or will she fall into the pulpy, pus-filled darkness of sin? Will she branch into the thorns and vines of medieval herbology? Will she unravel the fastidious lettering of tomes, scripts and secrets?
  • You decide, player! You equip her with a quill or sword. You dress her in sackcloth or in linens. You paint the 2-D planes of her face in the dirt of the gardens, the blood of the viper, the light of the Lord.

Daisy clicks impassively through the images accompanying this game description. Isometric perspective, countryside colors in soft, painterly tones, charmingly cartoonish character designs. She sits at the edge of the lumpy, unwashed bedspread, her legs extended, toes curled against the carpet. Her skin itches uncontrollably, possibly from the mildew in the carpet, the dust mites living in the sheets, or the goopy lotion she gets for free from her hotel job. Daisy scratches a chip of foundation off her forehead. She peels a press-on nail off her pinkie finger and lets it drop onto the bedspread.

The player reviews of Get thee to the nunnery! are largely positive, though some commentators mention that the endgame drags. She has a lot of time to kill, and a lot of feelings to drown out, so this doesn’t strike Daisy as an issue. She buys and downloads the game. She lets it boot up while she paces the kitchenette, opening and closing flimsy cabinet doors to pass the time. Teetering towers of instant ramen. Stray seasoning packets crowded around the packaged food like infantry defending the citadel. Yellow specks of mildew in the interior corners.

Aois, the central character, begins the game as a tight-lipped teenager with shoulder-length hair the color of pale cornsilk. She has peach-colored freckles across a snub nose. Her design has something of farmgirl about it, though Aois’  backstory, available to read in the corner of the screen when the player hovers over her body, describes her as an unwanted nobleman’s daughter. In the opening cutscene, the player looks down, as though from God’s perspective, on Aois’ dawn arrival at the abbey. A melancholy track, overlaid with the twittering of a pair of birds, plays as Aois is led by the hand to the tall, ornate doors. Aois’ body twitches like a rabbit, she blinks away tears—or is that just the stuttering framerate, as Daisy’s laptop groans under the strain of rendering graphics? She clicks impatiently through the dialogue between the abbess and Aois’ stepmother, finishing off the cutscene and advancing to the main storyline.

The next in-game day function as a discrete, semi-camouflaged tutorial, establishing the basic pattern of play. Aois wakes in a cot in the novice dormitory; the player accompanies her as she descends the winding stairs down the turret to the main hall, where Aois joins the crowd of women at mass. Before dawn, during this first mass, the room is full of flickering shadows, and illuminated only by firelight. She kneels on the stone, a cotton kerchief over her fair hair. The game plays a cutscene in which Aoid raises her eyes to the cross, the upward movement of her gaze happening in time with the crooning of the choir climbing the musical scale. As the choir leaps into the sustained high note, Aois’ teeth stop their chattering, and her lips begin to move in apparent prayer. Daisy scratches her thigh, where the itching is most pronounced, where her skin has transformed into a patch of welts.

After Matins and Compline, the player is able to pick Aois’ direction for the day. A gilded window opens up and the in-game advisor, archangel Gabriel, appears to offer divine counsel. The study of theology, as he informs Daisy, will sharpen Aois’ thinking and whet her appetite for Biblical arts, including, he muses theatrically, the darker and more ancient labors. Caring for the lambs in the barns will, in contrast, soften her nature. Swordplay with the gardener, a former Crusader, will develop her physical strength. Working with the nursemaid in the infirmary will increase her knowledge of poisons and antidotes. He gestures toward the top corner of the screen, where Aois’ progress in her skills is visually represented via a set of bars wrapped in grapevine. He reminds Daisy that no skill can progress without implied sacrifice in the improvement of her other skills. “Should Aois be well-rounded, or should she cultivate specific talents?” muses Gabriel leadingly, thumbing his dimpled chin. “Who can foresee her destiny?”

Daisy plays for two in-game years, until Aois is nearly ready to take her vows, ascending from tender novice to young nun. Time moves like a blur of wings. Aois formally enters the protection of the abbey, trading her cotton kerchief for a veil. Daisy’s Aois is now a sharp-tongued, callous young woman, trained exclusively in sword-fighting, though she has been known to dabble, on rainy days unsuited to outdoor practice, in the clandestine manufacture of oily poisons, under the cover of the weather and the beady-eyed tutelage of the mute nursemaid. Her best friend is Beatrice, a waif-like scrap of a girl who rescues Aois from penance with the moody prioress during a cutscene. Afterwards, Beatrice joins Aois’ party, her eyes like two dark gems glinting at the bottom of a pool, always in the bottom-left of the screen. Whenever the player clicks on Beatrice, she dutifully adds texture to the scene, commenting volubly on the sweetness of the white magnolia, the gentleness of the lambs, the chill of the snow. Hovering over Beatrice’s portrait, the player can read her short, plaintive biography (Beautiful Beatrice, who would have been a travelling artist in another life, but is the Lord’s bride in this one). Aois wears a breastplate under her brown sackcloth robes. She keeps a dagger underneath her bed.

Daisy sighs and flexes her fingers. She looks at the clock on the nightstand, its flickering, royal-blue numbers—just after midnight. She closes the program.

That night, she sleeps uneasily. At four in the morning, she wakes, brushes her teeth, puts on her work outfit, and walks the fifteen steps to the reception desk. Her shift is painful. A suited man reaches over to finger the wrinkled collar of her shirt. Her name tag falls off and refuses, throughout the day, to stay on. A child vomits in the lobby. As she mops the floor, Daisy’s mind drifts. She thinks of Aois, weeding the infirmary garden, the unhemmed edges of her robe darkening with dirt. When a customer approaches her with a complaint, she resurfaces, eyes shimmering wetly, into the cold light of the lobby, hands tightening around the wooden mop handle, and mumbles an apology without registering the substance of the feelings on either side.

Her manager, Babel, tries to make small talk when the flow of customers dries down. He mentions the war, which Daisy ignores. She voted against it, which she has told Babel before, and doesn’t wish to repeat. Anything she tells him, she fears, will make its way back to the breakroom, where it will become a permanent fixture of tedious conversation. She imagines turning her eyes to the wall and seeing her secrets dance between the spindly leaves of the ferns.

“Watching this footage,” Babel says, his eyes on the TV screen in the corner of the lobby as Daisy sorts invoices, “makes me think I’m watching, like, dudes playing Modern Warfare. Know what I mean? Isn’t it messed up—how not real it all is? But like, how real it is—at the same time?”

She continues stacking paper, her spit like a bullet in her mouth. Yes, she thinks, surprised at the show of dumb vulnerability, seen through the glass darkly. But she is determined not to commiserate, not to grant him any access into her mind, so she keeps silent. She notices him glance at her, waiting for her reaction. But her attention, she thinks with something suspiciously close to self-satisfaction, will continue to be something he can only covet from afar.

As soon as her shift ends, Daisy returns immediately to her room, Babel’s voice trailing in her wake. Her imitation-leather heels click noisily against the mirrored tiles. She boots up Get thee to a nunnery!, speedily stripping off her uniform while the game comes to life. In her underwear, her work clothes in a pile at her feet, she sips tap water from a dusty whiskey glass and watches the loading screen. Aois and Beatrice, whimsically animated, arm-in-arm, run across a never-ending field of flowers, held in position against a dark blue backdrop in which Daisy’s face, stony, impassive, is reflected.

In her second play session, Daisy fixates on maxxing out Aois’ strength stats. She has her fight for hours in the dirt circle of the courtyard, until Gabriel, with an air of finality, emerges in a vision of cherries and roses to notify her that Aois could not be any stronger without being divine. A text box pops up: God’s strongest defender, triggering, with a little burst of gold confetti, a game achievement. Daisy receives a second achievement—Lilith’s apprentice—when she completes the leather-bound apothecary compendium by gathering all the requisite herbs, fungi and animal parts. These achievements do not change any visual aspect of the game except for the dagger underneath Aois’ bed, which transforms into an axe with a green scabbard inlaid with ruby. But the tone shifts, and the choices twist like intestines. A count arrives, charming and adorned in furs, and attempts to corner a young nun after Compline. (Only Beatrice’s sudden entry into the room, her arms laden with jars of turpentine for painting that she subsequently lobs at the count, saves her.) Daisy has Aois surreptitiously kill the count at dinner via elixir of red wine and hemlock. When the nursemaid, the meek gentlewoman who nurtured Aois’ botanical talents, is revealed as a distant relative of the count and an enabler—though unwilling—of his perversions in the abbey, Daisy has Aois, with Beatrice’s aid, run her through with a sword. It is a moonless, stormy midnight. The count’s young squire appears, framed in the doorway by a lightning strike. Aois reacts, quickly subduing him, though in her eagerness to silence him, she does so with too much force.

Beatrice cries out, horrified—Aois presses her hand to her mouth, leaving a bloody print across her lips and cheek.

Gabriel appears, his halo at an angle. “Is this her path? You decide, player!” Daisy clicks him away, annoyed. Hasn’t she already decided? When he reappears with a speech bubble (“Did they deserve forgiveness? Does she deserve the guilt?”), Daisy clicks him away again, focusing the in-game camera on Aois wrapping her arms around Beatrice, further bloodying her skin and robes, the two of them weeping in the bronze triangle made by three bodies.

That night, Daisy wakes in the throes of a panic attack. Because her employment does not come with a healthcare plan, and because she is susceptible to online advertising, she is on a telehealth scheme that she first heard about during a podcast ad break. Her therapist communicates with her exclusively via text and is purportedly a licensed clinician called Patricia Pendragon, though Daisy’s repeated searches have not turned up any clinicians by that name. When Daisy tells Doctor Pendragon that she is concerned about how she’s treated a girl in a video game, the good doctor leaves her on read. Daisy dreams of a stairwell in the hotel, where the light is dark blue and blurred at the edges, where Aois sits with her back to the pockmarked wall. She smells like dung, sweat and the flowers of a bridal wreath. Gabriel’s voice echoes down the steps, proclaiming that the value of Aois’ hidden stat as gone up.

Against Doctor Pendragon’s advice, Daisy uses a day of her limited paid vacation to finish her playthrough of Get thee to the nunnery!. The game ends with an elderly Aois on her deathbed. The ghost of Beatrice kneels on the flagstones, holding Aois’ wrinkled fingers. As Aois closes her eyes, the screen darkens. A line of text appears. Life was a deep cut on the trunk of the tree, revealing, in its agony, all things red and green, it reads, in gilded lettering. The game then presents Daisy with a list of player choices that led to this outcome.

Doctor Pendragon finally replies to Daisy’s plea for help. She tells her that she suspects Daisy prefers a prison of her own making to the prison of life, and that therefore she recommends a course of anti-depressants. Daisy stares dumbly at this, her eyes hot, and then blocks and reports the doctor to the medical board. She hurt my feelings!!!, she writes in the feedback box, before slamming the backspace key, erasing everything.

Daisy climbs the stairs in the hotel. She’s looking for Aois. The darkness is a plum. The silence is a vat of sap. The walls are crawling with symbols put there, she knows, by the vexing coalition of Babel and Gabriel. If she’s honest with herself, she knows they want to help her, but she won’t let them. She knows just what these angels are. Their desire to rescue is just a performance of the ego. You decide, player! Will her cynicism destroy her from the inside, like the final fruiting of the poisonous vine?

An animal, rat-like, slinks down the steps, tripping her, and she wakes.

Her body is covered in a film of sweat. She opens the door to her room and looks into the long corridor. At the far end, she sees a blurry figure. Long, fair hair. A ring of copper closing around her throat. A line of fire where the wallpaper transitions into whitewash. Ruby scabbard in her hand. Face full of a hundred lashed eyes. She blinks and the shadows at the back of the corridor resolve into wings.

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