The American Dream's political satire could be undone by how fun it is to play


Jack left Diane 30 years ago

The American Dreamis a virtual reality game developed by Australians that explores America’s relationship with guns and gun control.I say this because I want everyone to lay their cards on the table – even if you don’t agree with the game’s thesis or don’t understand where the developers are coming from, I’m asking you to look at what The American Dream is and whether it will be successful in what it sets out to do.

Because that’s my primary concern about this game: I’m worried The American Dreamwill be too much fun to play. In most cases, that wouldn’t be a bad thing – especially in the context of virtual reality developers still feeling out how their vision fits the hardware. This is a tremendously entertaining VR shooter, I could spend all day slamming magazines into a well-greased chamber in slow motion. And that works for the game’s opening hours, where the eponymous Carousel of Progress-style theme park attraction shows you all the everyday American tasks you can accomplish with guns, like flipping hamburgers by shooting them off one grill and onto another.

But! The demo I was shown earlier this week (as well as an earlier demo I saw at PAX East) was a tongue-in-cheek joke at the expense of America’s love of guns. However, I was told the game would eventually take a darker tone, one that portrays guns as dangerous weapons – in the broad strokes, it’ll be like going from a whitewashed vision of 1950s America to the 1950s America of reality.

I try and refrain from talking about what developers tell me in my previews – if I didn’t see it with my own two eyes, it’s a hypothetical. But withThe American Dream, that tonal shift is the essence of the game’s thesis, so I’d like to believe it exists. You rope people in with the jokes, then you throw dark when it’s time for the message. (again, see also:Spec Opsexcept sub “jokes” for “generic shooting”)Without that shift, it’s just a comedy game, so to only write about the comedy segments feels like a disservice to what I believe is developer Samurai Punk’s very earnest attempt to explore a contentious issue.

I haven’t seen the latter half of the game with my own eyes, and I was asked to not repeat some of the plot beats I was told during the preview, but it sounds sufficiently grim. I doubt any tonal shift will affect the smooth, responsive shooting or the badass reloading mechanic – and I don’t think any game looking to dehumanize guns should make the act of reloading a gun feel “badass.” In this context, that word is equal pejorative and compliment.

Based on what I was told, there are two versions of The American Dream: the version where you do household tasks with cartoon guns for a well-deserved joke at America’s expense, and the version where our collective vision of 1950s Americana is twisted into something darker. Except both versions have to share the same video game; one cannot live while the other survives.

Devil’s avocado: what if that’s the point, though? What if the game wants us to feel guilty for enjoying the mechanical pleasures of shooters by making the guns’ destructive power more evident? If the game stops being fun to play in conjunction with the tonal shift, will that muddle the message for some players, and if so, is that a success or a failure? I don’t have answers without getting my hands on the full thing, but I know I will be absolutely crushed if the game fails to address these concepts. Let’s get weird, American Dream.

[Disclosure: Samurai Punk covered our flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, as well as a Lyft back to the airport. This article was also edited to respect an embargo regarding late-game specifics, although the gist of my criticisms remains intact]