by Jed Pressgrove
Michael Kolotch’s The Old Man Club has been praised as a strange, smart adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The graphics of The Old Man Club are undeniably provocative in how they lampoon Hemingway’s infamous manhood, but all this finger-pointing is a testament to contemporary snark and, eventually, unchecked homophobic and racist tendencies of “progressive” thought.
Essentially, The Old Man Club turns Hemingway’s novel of spiritual struggle into an ode to smart-assed secularism. Ignoring the humbleness and Christ parallel of protagonist Santiago, Kolotch settles for depicting the same joke multiple times: hairy, over-the-hill men fighting to prove they’re still alpha dogs via arm wrestling. With its absurd references to The Old Man and the Sea, The Old Man Club gives itself the illusion of relevance. If the game didn’t have Hemingway to lean on, it would be more easily dismissed as a monotonous, tone-deaf send-up of the “Test Your Might” segments in Mortal Kombat, as you’re expected to defeat your opponents by clicking the mouse as quickly as possible. Not even a fish head on a muscular man’s body is unheard of in video games — the avant garde shooter Shutshimi used this idea to great effect in 2014.
Kolotch’s emphasis on the bulging penis conveys that repressed gay identity might play a role in the pathetic spectacle of manliness. It’s an easy way to get laughs, as homosexuality has been a traditional, built-in target for people looking to affirm their supposed morally superior lifestyles. This cliche gets uglier toward the end of The Old Man Club when you have to arm-wrestle a shark from Hemingway’s book. As the big boss of the game, the shark is depicted as a black man and gets the most sexually suggestive lines (“I smell a fresh scent” and “You drive a good harpoon”) in addition to a sarcastic reference to providence (“God pities you”). Consider the irony of this hindsight and critique: condescending portrayals involving race and sexual orientation weren’t the focus in The Old Man and the Sea. You have to wonder whether some read the books they talk about.