So often games will try to impart the feeling of choice…
Giving you a series of options that ultimately revert to a magic box theorem of problem solving, or are so WILDLY incongruous most players divert to a specific channel.
But one game this year made me really question the nothing: What does it mean….to do the right thing?
This is the Police (via Kickstarter from Weappy) a small development company in Belarus that through Kickstarter was able to create this Chief of Police simulator, but ultimately they’ve created something so much more.
You’re placed in the roll of Jack Boyd, Police Chief of a small city known as Freeburg, immediately you are told you will be out of job in 180 days thanks to the machinations of a VILE Mayor and as a final repose you are trying to earning 500,000 dollars in that time to retire.
A simple video game premise that develops into an incredibly thought provoking mediation on exactly what you would do…in order to be happy
The cut scenes and story elements in This is the Police are expressed in this beautiful subtle, interactive comic strips in which panels of geometrical artistic renderings of people are moved slowly accompanied by lyrical sound design and a stirring internal monologue performed by Jon St. John the voice of Duke Nukem.
The subtly of expression- allows the WORK to shine through…I recall tangible moments in which a blank screen and the pitter patter of walking feet, whistling ambiance put shivers down my spine. Every word seems to be curated- consistently pushing the narrative arch that Boyd, will do ANYTHING to be free.
Ironically, for a game that pushes, emotional intensity the gameplay itself manifests simply…undercutting the miasma that is commodification of justice. Police Chiefs aren’t on the streets, they sit in rooms, listening to the pandering of special interests groups as diverse as City Hall, to local mobsters…
Yet even then, as you simply send officers on assignment and attempt to retrieve them back in time in order to fulfill your rosters for a breaking and entering or a riot….you feel bleak…As a character using this system you can do a variety of things from bribing, killing, maiming and framing…but there is a melancholy in this work.
Doing the right thing is hard…
As for choice, in This is the Police I had the options of working for the Mafia under duress, using them to maintain illicit income, then starting a gang war with another rival group- then from that using their belief in me to spuriously arrest everyone in their organizations one by one.
All of that, could have ended with one wrong choice. If I made one error or one fork in the round my entire experience would have been vastly different and these choices occur nearly every one of the 180 days causing the boredom of justice to carry a realistic weight.
Games of the world listen, THIS IS HOW YOU CREATE THE STAKES!
Going back to the story telling- great video games, truly great ones allow EVERY part of their design to contribute to the overall narrative, be it sound, animation, art style or voice acting, and This is the Police through a confluence of subtle tones, deliberate movements, and understated art design create a world that is frightening.
A world that is real. I cried hearing a young woman, through broken tears admit to being raped and there was nothing I could do. I oscillated on the voracity of perpetrating racist doctrine from City Hall and possibly lose someone important in the process. That is real, all coming from a game that costs less than 10 dollars and gave me 50 hours of enjoyment.
Ultimately, in a world that is slowly becoming militarized with police prejudice fostering more distrust….having a game that shows you, everyone is so, unfortunately human is healing..
So I leave you with the final words from Development Lead Illya Yanovich
So This Is the Police is not a political game, but a human one. It revolves around personal desires, fear and pride, love and hatred. We are storytellers, not propagandists. We have no ready-made answers, but together we can find them. And video games — like all the other good things in this world — are here to make sure we don’t get lost.