Before the game proper even begins, Splatoon greets you with an image of a young person’s room. The small details adoring this room – part trendy, part comfortable, but mostly mundane – should be familiar to many of the game’s young players: a squid-themed iPhone; a desk with a laptop on it, maybe with a can of soda off to the side; posters and stickers from popular music or fashion brands adorning the walls; shelves with various books and collectibles populating their surfaces.
Ever since last week’s Jet Set Radio blog, I’ve found myself thinking about some of the questions that game raises. Questions like, “How is music a liberating force?” and “How does music help us realize some aspect of ourselves we’d otherwise be ignorant to?” These may be tangential to what the game does, but I still think they’re worth consideration. Fortunately, Rhythm Tengoku recently afforded me an opportunity to explore those questions in greater depth. Unfortunately, the game’s only able to broach such topics by getting them wrong. As much as it wants you to believe its inspirational messages about achieving your true potential, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, Rhythm Tengoku represents not the realization of the self, but the suppression and pacification of it.
If you were to read most of the video game criticism that’s been published in recent years, you’d come away with the impression that video games abound in social ignorance. Some games exhibit a level of political awareness and merely fail to acknowledge a potential issue, and many others deny the problem in the first place by suggesting they exist in a political vacuum. Now I’m not here to argue that these games don’t exist. Rather, I want to point alternatives; games whose strengths lie in their hyper-awareness of the issues at play. Games like Jet Set Radio. While the game’s most appealing feature has always been its zealous energy, what sets Jet Set Radio apart is that its energy is not the product of social ignorance. If anything, the game is all too aware of how capitalist ideals structure our lives, which is why it suggests transcending them by turning life into a radical performance. Given how stylishly Jet Set Radio renders those performances, it’s hard not to be swayed by the game’s arguments.