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 power as she is invited to the card table. Her hands are always bad and her grasp of the rules seems tenuous. Forgetting her knife-sharp grin, you settle into a wine-fuelled haze. Only when the night is over do you count your coins, realize how much you’ve lost, and think again of that shining smile.

In its broad survey of French aristocracy, Card Shark allows players to explore crossdressing and queerness. The game’s tangible relationship to history is playful, broad, and particular (as I’ve written about before). Card Shark freely borrows tricksters and cheats from throughout history but also shows off the unique class-bridging function of card playing in the specific time period. Card Shark’s France is broiling with class friction, as a rising bourgeoisie has increasing power but is also isolated from the immense wealth of the ruling aristocracy. Underneath it all, Romani caravans avoid persecution and the revolution brews. Player character Eugene and his mentor, the Comte de Saint Germain, will explore all this through cheating at the aforementioned card games, amassing wealth, and discovering a mystery at the heart of the French monarchy. While the story told is largely fiction, a combination of The Three Musketeers and a satirical comedy of manners, the social circumstances of the characters are grounded in a material history. That extends to Card Shark’s depiction of crossdressing, gender nonconformity, and transness.

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Author: Grace Benfell