8/11/16: should there be “no escape from reality”?

When That Dragon, Cancer came out, I remember people greatly admiring the concept but also staying far away from actually buying it. Either the personal narrative wasn’t enough of a game to get them to play it, or it worked fine as a game, but was too real. Therein lies the last great hurdle of video games: the medium is finally able to tackle big issues, but audiences may not yet be ready. They’re perfectly fine with horror movies and jump scares, but something that deals with crippling illness? Nope–at least, not unless it’s told through some sort of filter, like SOMA.

But I’m pulling for the upcoming We Are Chicago to succeed. Jeff Cork writes an interesting preview over for Game Informer’s September 2016 issue, one that basically boils down to answering one question: “Can you tell a true story in a game?” Of course, there are already games paving that road–Her Story, for instance, or Sunset. (Not to be mistaken for Cave Story and Sunset Overdrive.) But We Are Chicago doesn’t have appear to have any gamification, as in Life Is Strange or a David Cage production; instead, it seems more like an extension of The Sims.

The fine line to walk here, of course, is whether the game ends up appropriating and trivializing real-world struggles with this virtual representation, much as Grand Theft Auto V, no matter how well-written, is still ultimately an escape mechanism. Culture Shock Games, the developers, hope that this “gives players a chance to experience a reality they might not otherwise see,” and that’s the optimistic view I’d like to take–games as an entry point to a wider discussion and appreciation for the world. Especially now, when privilege is a trigger word and people seem so unaware of casual discrimination, we perhaps need to find ways simply to expose people. I’d be OK with someone gamifying empathy, so long as they’re not exploiting tragedy to boost sales. That would just sound cool: it would be revolutionary.

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