[Content Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains images of people who have died.]
Back in June, the Utah Board of Education delivered five pages spelling out exactly what educators could (and could not) teach on the issues of race and racism. The inciting topic in the Utah Senate was — surprise, surprise — Critical Race Theory. The debate had been perfunctory. One side was staffed by professional historians and veteran educators. The other consisted of angry parents who insisted they’d heard firsthand accounts of teachers berating white children.
After producing neither any berated children nor a definition of Critical Race Theory — “It’s like a gas,” one sponsor noted — the Senate determined that the theory was probably anti-American. “We need fact, not theory,” insisted one signatory.
An admirable sentiment! Apart from the pesky detail that those supporting the resolution not only lacked a definition for the theory they were determined to blacklist, but also didn’t have a definition of history. Because while history collects many facts, history has never itself been a fact. History also brims with theories, but is not quite a theory.
History is a war.
What made the original version of A Study in Emerald one of my favorite games of 2014 was the constant feeling that absolutely anything might happen. As a loyalist (or anarchist) trying to sustain (or smash) the regime of alien overlords that had settled in quite nicely by the time Sherlock Holmes appeared on the scene, you’d be going about your business when everything went suddenly and irreversibly off the rails. Perhaps a zombie horde began spreading across Europe, or some vampires seduced your best agent into their coven. Meanwhile, a mi-go concealed a crucial assassination target’s brain on Pluto, Cthulhu consumed London for brunch, and Otto von Bismarck marched the entire Prussian army into Madrid. And the game was only half finished.
Martin Wallace’s new take on A Study in Emerald is less interested in star-crossed anarchic madness and more in being easy to get along with. Gone are the original game’s excesses, flights of fancy, and more outlandish occurrences. In fact, all sorts of things have been stripped out, right down to basic concepts like the dangers of traveling across occupied Europe or the individual appearance of various historical figures. In their place is something that will undoubtedly strike fans of the original as somewhat withered.
Paradoxically, it’s also the better game in a lot of ways.
By the year 1882, the Old Ones have already ruled the planet for seven hundred years. They sit upon the thrones that may have otherwise held human occupants, and their whims and appetites are law. All of humanity is a plaything, a subject, the victim of powers beyond their comprehension. For the foreseeable future, as with the known past, there is no hope that mankind might cast off the shackles of eldritch oppression, might seize what is theirs and awaken to a new dawn.
That is, until the invention of dynamite.
This is the bleak world of A Study in Emerald by Martin Wallace, an inverted — or rather, a perverted — take on the era of Sherlock Holmes, full of all the real-world romance of anarchism, but without all the unnecessary guilt over exploding royalty. Since they’re, y’know, aliens.