by Jed Pressgrove
Don’t listen to the cries of narrow-minded fans: it’s fine for politics to be in games. But political expression should not be divorced from intelligence and context. With The Red Strings Club, developer Deconstructeam often presents a leftist viewpoint that is critical of corporations and patriarchal power, yet the game is content to fall back on wise-ass, pandering dialogue to share its perspective, as opposed to building a convincing narrative that compels the player to consider the validity of its biases.
The Red Strings Club takes place in a future where citizens can receive cybernetic implants that can do everything from increase their charisma to reduce their stress. Most of the story is set in the game’s titular bar, where you play as Donovan, a bartender who can mix drinks so as to manipulate people’s emotions and gain whatever information he wants. Along the way, you’ll also assume the role of Brandeis, Donovan’s hacker boyfriend, and Akara-184, an android that manufactures implants for a corporation called Supercontinent. The overall goal of the game is to stop Supercontinent’s plan to take control of people’s minds through a new program called Social Psyche Welfare.
Curiously, Jordi de Paco’s script reveals very little about the culture that is being threatened with Supercontinent’s scheme. With the exception of suggesting that people can better realize their dreams through technological modifications to their bodies, the story doesn’t highlight how the game’s fictional society is different than ours. Even stranger, despite The Red String Club’s preaching about the dubious intentions of corporations, the concept of class — the linchpin that connects leftists, and people generally, of all backgrounds — isn’t specifically addressed in the plot.
This oversight about class is particularly puzzling given that the principal characters seem to champion revolutionary behavior. In one scene, Donovan says, “Revolutionaries don’t live long,” and Brandeis replies, “But we do live intense.” But what have these people been fighting for? The impoverished? Oppressed groups? The script never says, even though the answer could obviously be tied to the malevolent actions of a corporate enemy.
At a pivotal juncture in the story, Akara-184 lays out several things that could be eliminated through Social Psyche Welfare: rape, suicide, xenophobia, homophobia. But when Akara-184 insists women are oppressed in the game’s fictional setting, something doesn’t line up, given that women don’t appear to be in bad shape within the game (Supercontinent’s CEO is even a 15-year-old girl!). If you, as Donovan, disagree with Akara’s assertion based on the game’s lack of attention to women’s plight, she will call you stupid, never offering any explanation of her righteous position. With this idiotic scene, Deconstructeam unintentionally parodies left-wing commentators who refuse to make a clear argument despite having a wealth of information at their fingertips. In resembling such insufferable, arrogant leftists, The Red Strings Club puts the “punk” in cyberpunk.