I’ve somehow managed to float through life blissfully ignorant of the exploits of Jack the Ripper. And I for one thank my lucky bloody stars for that, because to be quite frank if Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper is any indication, Mister Ripper was a tiny bit of a dick. It wasn’t just the whole preying on prostitutes thing, it was the calculation and callousness behind the brazen attacks, not to mention the surgical nature of the mutilations. I can absolutely see why the people of Whitechapel were living in fear of the man. Or men. Or woman. Or women.
Welcome to 1888 I hear you say.
There’s a part of me that wishes that wishes I remained unaware of Jack the Ripper’s exploits and that I wasn’t compelled to read more about the real life cases. But I don’t at all regret coming to know about the socio-economic and racial issues that plagued certain parts of London throughout his time. While the game obviously takes some liberties in writing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective duo into Jack the Ripper’s London, its parallels to the gritty world that was perhaps the catalyst for his murders are striking, and the uncensored picture it paints is one that transcends some of the the rough technical edges of and rather contrived puzzle solutions in the game.
Perhaps it’s my Australian colonial mindset, but when one thinks of London at the turn of the century, one thinks of opulence and the height of the United Kingdom’s imperial power. But life in Whitechapel in 1888 was far from that, and even in absence of a maniacal serial killer treating the ladies of the night as surgical subjects, day to day life seemed for most a struggle. Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper doesn’t pull any punches in depicting the vicissitudes of life in London, from the religious persecution and racial tension between the Jewish community and the born and bred Londoners, to the mistreatment and commoditisation of lower-class young women and children, Whitechapel was far from a bastion of British imperial wealth. And this greater understanding of the time and place in which Jack lived makes me surprised it didn’t happen more often.
If anything Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper taught me more about why and how Jack the Ripper managed to get away with the murders, rather than who Jack the Ripper actually was. Whitechapel at the time was far from a cohesive society, one that created the perfect storm for a calculated and for all money wealthy person to prey on the weak, and leave the segmented communities to fight amongst themselves. While it is a great adventure game in it’s own right and an engrossing detective tale at that, Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper is more an exploration of how far society has come in the century that has passed, and how much better off we all are for it.
But it’s also a lesson in just how fragile society is, and the immense importance of inclusion and cohesiveness, in order to ensure everyone shares in our future wealth and prosperity. Jack the Ripper was a function of the society of the time and if we forget how far we’ve come, there’s a risk he’ll strike again, leaving a trail of blood and viscera in his wake. And Sherlock most certainly won’t be here to stop his murderous rampage.