Thought-Provoking: A Review Of The Shivah: Kosher Edition

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So a rabbi walks into a loft overlooking New York, and asks some big questions I’ve never considered before. Thus ends The Shivah: Kosher Edition, a point-and-click adventure game about a rabbi trying to solve a murder. I normally complain about adventure games, but this is a smooth play with a clever story. As gameplay goes, it’s solid, but that is far from the game’s most interesting offering. When many games have a message they want the player to get, they beat you over the head with it. The Shivah had a message to get across and they did so subtly – so at the end of the game, I was left with conflicting feelings and thoughts looping through my head.

As a remastered edition of the original game, it has better voice acting and better pixel art. Now having the time and resources, the developer Wadjet Eye can afford to go back and polish a good game that really could have used more polish. They say “a good artist knows when to stop,” and these developers knew what they were doing. No plot changes, no change in art style, just better design.

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However, the most interesting thing this game offers comes from the plot, and diving into the implications it suggests. To be explicit, I’m not Jewish. I have a passing knowledge of Judaism, but it’s certainly not intimate. While The Shivah taught me bits and pieces about culture and traditions, it made me really think about Judaism not just as a religion, but as a culture. The plot kicks off because the protagonist, Rabbi Stone, receives a large sum of money from the will of a man he kicked out of his congregation eight years ago. While Stone is stuffy, he seems like a good guy. You build a rapport with the character. Then, at the end, you discover that Rabbi Stone did something in the past that I considered to be morally wrong.

All of a sudden, this protagonist whom I have supported and agreed with displays an aspect that I consider practically villainous. But it’s not as black and white – Stone isn’t evil, he’s simply standing up for the Jewish community.Stone thinks that Jewish culture is dying because of people making compromises; the whole game hinges around the idea that compromising your religion is a slippery slope. So while I personally think that his previous action was abhorrent, he was motivated not by self interest, but out of a desire to do what he thinks is right. The Jewish community is very strong and tight-knit; will compromising its tenets lead to the degradation of that community? So is Stone’s single act of inhumanity inherently humane because it is for the good of his people?

At its surface, The Shivah is a pretty straightforward point-and-click mystery game, but instead of a grizzled detective, the protagonist is a rabbi. Taken at face value, it’s solid but unremarkable. However, I let myself really think about the game, and it made me question some things I consider to be truths. It presented an insight into Judaism and the conflicts going on even now that I didn’t even know existed. Often games try to help you realize something, or show you something that you may not have known. Sometimes they come off as heavy-handed or trite, other times the message goes flying by unnoticed. The Shivah hits the nail on the head.

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