I just checked, I’m still mad about it.
Okay, so early in 2020, Kentucky Route Zero dropped its fifth installment. People were excited, because Kentucky Route Zero has a history of being consistently excellent, even if it has a release schedule somewhat comparable to symphonies; this episodic indie game released its first chapter in 2013. Rami Ismail, a – and now I’m being careful about how I order these because these are all important, and none are more or less important to this, and I’m not trying to say how Rami says things – Egyptian Muslim from the Netherlands commented that while he was happy people were excited about the game, he wasn’t very interested in it, because of the theme being another game about America.
And what ensued was an immense demonstration of the community of videogames journalists losing their collective shit all over their own legs.
Mixed in amongst a thread of people collectively yelling at a non-American brown person that he was committing an act of violence against a videogame by expressing a lack of interest in playing it because of the things that game made very clear were important to the game, was the fantastically stupid take as follows:
There are only about three games that are actually American, and this is one of them. Everything else is designed for export.
There’s this category of statement that I think Roy Zimmerman or Dana Simpson once explained as ‘elephant surgery’ statements. They run like this:
I think we should be raising taxes on poor people to pay for elephants to perform unnecessary heart surgery on orphans.
And the thing with this statement is that it’s made up of several really stupid parts. But to address why any of them are stupid, you need to break it into bits, and breaking it apart is going to involve seemingly not addressing ways that those parts are bad. It creates an impression that anything not addressed by the breakdown is probably okay, or you’d have mentioned it.
That’s how I feel about this statement about American games.
In the most charitable sense, I think the speaker – who I am reasonably certain I have blocked on twitter and do not want involved in this conversation, so don’t go snitch tweeting for their take on it, because this statement made me 100% confident I was happy to throw their entire opinion in the bin and move on with my life – was saying that this game represents a niche kind of Americana that I do not often see represented specifically in videogames, specifically in this way, specifically in a way that I find, and therefore, I think this game deserves to be treated as separate. That is, I think a charitable reading. I think this take can come from a place of love.
But that’s what I think was being felt.
What was said was there are only three games about America.
I don’t think that American voices are aware of just how oversaturated the world is in their stuff. I know who Louie Gohmert is. I know what a sundown law is. I know who Maury Povich is, who Alex Trebek is, I know what crawdads are, what biscuits are, why American Cheese is American Cheese, why you measure drugs in grams and people in feet, how Florida gets more southern the more northern you go, and why you people are so insufferable about foods like chilli and barbecue. I know all this stuff because American culture is the suffusing cloud that the English-speaking internet floats on.
There’s a reason actors come from England and Australia and New Zealand and Wales and just become American actors. There’s a reason we sing in your voice.
Doesn’t that play into the point that it’s for export?
No! Of course it fucking isn’t! Because Americans are also consuming these media pieces, even the stuff for export, because they’re consuming the stuff that tells them to get high on their own fumes! America loves its mythology, and one of its most inexpicable myths is that it is simultaneously a hard done by, fragile thing that must desperately do anything it can to maintain its tenuous existence and the biggest loudest most obnoxious thing in the world that everyone else better fucking kowtow to.
This did start ‘a conversation’ and by that, I mean, I got really fucking angry, and made fun of it, and the conversation tried to bend itself around what it really meant to be American. And then American got defined down and down and down until okay
We mean this area of Louisiana
And maybe some of Georgia
And the highway system going through to north Florida
And a little bit of Alabama.
That’s America. Everything else? The other millions of people? Those people aren’t really America. After all, those parts of America disdain real America. You know, fake America. You know, that thing that people like Sarah Palin (oh and I know who she is, too, thanks to America) did, acting as if ‘America’ that mattered just happened to be a tiny group of people who could see themselves as personally aggreieved by the attention that anyone else got.
Don’t worry, though, everyone yelled at the non-American brown guy for a few days until he finally got around to apologising for not being interested in the same thing as them.
This does however bring with it the fun question: What are the three games about America? My current favourite list is Sam & Max Hit The Road, Transport Tycoon and Microsoft Pinball.
Shame that’s it, only three. That’s all you get, America.