This review references politics and illness of a child. The review also includes spoilers for The Sisters Savitree.
Although many immersive theater groups have figured out how to adjust to an ongoing pandemic by adapting these experiences to online forms, the future of live shows remains uncertain.
The Sisters Savitree is described as a “limited-interactivity story game” in which interested participants can sign up to receive emails over the course of about one week. A family of witches made a bargain with Hell, and they now have to turn to a third party to determine who will ultimately sign off their soul to the Devil in exchange for whatever they want.
I first received an email from Savitree Grey, the oldest of the Savitree sisters, about a day after opting in to the game. Grey bluntly remarks that by the time I have received her words she is already dead, for undisclosed reasons. In her email, she has attached a copy of the Devil’s contract, with all its dense legal jargon to boot, for my reference. She reiterates that whoever is chosen to sign the document, the signatory is able to get whatever they want—within the Devil’s capabilities as stipulated—at the cost of their soul. Only a Savitree is eligible to be a client for the contract, and thus my role as an outsider looking in is significant. She warns that each of her sisters will try to argue their case with me, and that by the end of the week I will have to make the final decision regarding who gets the contract. She ends her email noting that it might ease my tension if I were to send her my ruminating thoughts on everything. Nonetheless, she is dead, and I should not expect a response.
Over the course of the next several days, I was presented with an email from one Savitree per day testifying their case, and I quickly learned that each of the sisters are named after colors. The first (or second, if you count Grey’s) email I received was from Red, the youngest of the cabal, who with her fiery temperament argued that she would use the contract for worldly good, such as ending bigotry and destroying capitalism. The next day, Green argued that Red is simply “power-mad” and that she underestimates the consequences that may come about in the process of completely eliminating all societal ills. Green vouched that she would instead use the contract to end climate change as a more achievable position.
Throughout the week, each sister sent me an email with their case, in addition to debating reasons against the previous witch, such as instead opting to destroy the contract to prevent future negotiations like these, especially if it goes into the wrong hands. Savitree Yellow—who has somewhat detached herself from the rest of the sisters to start a family—wants to give up her soul simply to save her dying child from a disease.
At the end of the week, Savitree Grey sent a new email from the grave and asked me who among her sisters should sign the contract. I recalled from her first email that I could have reached out to her any time, and only now did I finally consider sending her my thoughts. I wrote that it was an especially difficult decision, as all of her sisters had provided strong cases. I wrote that I needed to “mull it over for another night before I [made] my final choice.” I was not expecting to hear back, but I wanted to be surprised. After all, what is a dead witch capable of? Alas, I never did receive a response, so she was certainly dead—or she simply had nothing left to say to the nervous living on the final day of deliberations. What would have happened if I’d written to her earlier, like she’d suggested?
I was mainly torn between Red and Black, the latter of whom wanted to destroy the pact to completely ensure nothing harmful would come out of Hell and of this Earth through it. Ultimately, I settled on Red, which led me to a static page that vaguely detailed Red’s excitement about my decision without any clear result of her actions as she runs off to the Devil. The page did not describe anything about consequences to come, and it quickly steered into an advertisement about developer Mirror World Creations‘ other games.
Although the end result of The Sisters Savitree was pretty meager, a lot of the experience truly depended on putting my own work into it. Like all LARP experiences, everything depends on what one makes of it and how strong your own personal immersion and will to suspend disbelief is. The Sisters Savitree is a free experience that can be played any time, and I could have easily ignored the emails at my leisure. The absence of another person responding to my actions put control of the entire experience into my hands.
Email games are not a unique medium and have long been used as correspondence to play numerous roleplaying and strategy games. In fact, decently sized organizations around correspondence chess still remain active. Mirror World Creations offers more than just email games, and all of the experiences they’ve offered so far do not involve engagement with a tactile space and remove the need to be in physical contact with a performer. One experience, On the Other Side of the Line, comments on the COVID-19 pandemic and puts the player in the position of trying to moderate an anti-vaccine relative.
Even if The Sisters Savitree is only a preview of what Mirror World Creations has to offer, I think its magic fizzled out too quickly. It concluded on a very underdeveloped note that was nothing more than an advertisement for other games. That said, the brief undertaking certainly forced me to confront questions about the world. Some things may never have satisfying answers to resolve every problem—and perhaps that is all there is to it.
Who can say that Red’s plan worked? What if Green was truly right that her sister’s wishes were too ambitious? A witch may be able to make a deal with the Devil, but there is a catch to every contract. The Sisters Savitree has its flaws, but it did make me think, and it is free for anyone to try at any time, at their leisure.
Elvie somehow finds bliss in purposefully complicating the art of storytelling and undertaking the painful practice of animation. If you see her on Twitter at @lvmaeparian, she is doing neither of those things. She currently helps with managing the socials to ensure that the secret recipe will never be revealed.