I guess it was inevitable that I would eventually encounter a game like RUN=DIM: Return to Earth. As a writer, my ethos has always been to promote stronger critical engagement with games, and my approach to this has always been to look at games that people routinely overlook and/or dismiss. What alternate histories do they point to? How do they conceptualize games? What new possibilities do either of these things allow us to realize? These are the questions I hope to answer through my writing. Of course, there is a problem with my method: my focus on older games overlaps with a focus on commercially sold games, and time and again, games in the consumer space have proven themselves not only artistically dead, but also opposed to any sort of wider artistic or historical engagement. My response to this has been to resist the consumerist mentality embedded in games like this to find the value they may not realize they ever had.
RUN=DIM inadvertently challenges this. To provide a brief summary of the game, it’s a Wonderswan shooter based on the anime of the same name. Despite these origins, it may be better described as a Korean video game than as a Japanese one (at least judging by the credits). However, nationality is less important to understanding RUN=DIM than the fact of its being a consumer product. The game is remarkably honest on this point, but that honesty serves to deflect the question of what substance, if any, the game actually has. This is because RUN=DIM has no substance to speak of. What it instead offers is a sort of brazen nihilism: “I am nothing. I speak to nothing and what you do with me means nothing; play me anyway.”
Generally speaking, it’s not often that licensed video games are seen as deserving critical scrutiny in their own right. Why should they be? If they’re not already the object of nostalgic fervor, then it’s easy to dismiss them as the failed products of much larger forces like merchandising and transmedia strategies which are themselves worthy of serious critical analysis. And at first glance, SD Gundam: Operation U.C. seems to fit that bill. Released on the WonderSwan Color in late 2002 (right around the time Gundam SEED first started airing), the Gundam franchise had already seen nine television series, eighteen movies, countless games, OVAs, and every other form of merchandising. This isn’t even considering the bevy of fan produced material since the series’ 1979 inception. In light of all this information (along with the first half of the game’s title being SD Gundam), Operation U.C. looks more like a minor embodiment of the success the Gundam franchise had garnered by this point than it does an artistic endeavor in its own right.