#32. THE RED STRINGS CLUB, by Damien Lawardorn
Imagine a world without hate, without anger, without fear or sadness. What a world it could be if negativity and the emotions that tear us apart were no more.
Imagine no longer. When Supercontinent Ltd releases Social Psyche Welfare, society will become the fair and open utopia that it has been striving to be for millennia.
But this is cyberpunk. Where a corporation sees opportunity, individuals see indoctrination. The Red Strings Club is that story. The propaganda of industry meets with the spark and spirit of people, fizzling into a small, quiet rebellion.
The architect of the fight back is Donovan, bartender of The Red Strings Club. He stumbles into awareness of Supercontinent’s plans and immediately begins the process of undoing them. Donovan’s pub is a haunt for all manner of people, and he can manipulate a cross-section of society thanks to his unique ability to mix drinks that alter emotions. Simply by talking to people, he may be able to change the fate of the entire world. Red strings indeed.
However, Donovan is not alone in his quest. His first partner is Akara, a Supercontinent android gone rogue as a result of being hacked. In fact, Akara is the first playable character, forging bionic implants with a kind of digital pottery to change the opinions and attitudes of people who want to be better.
Akara is far more interesting than just being a slave to their programming, though. At points, they converse with Donovan, challenging his opinions—as well as the player’s—on a range of topics pertinent in the modern world. These discussions make for some of the most intriguing in the entire game, exploring ideas of philosophy and social justice in ways that most titles simply refuse to.
The third playable character is the hacker Brandeis. While Akara and Donovan work from the shadows, Brandeis is the warrior, putting himself on the frontlines of the cause. His gameplay segment emphasises this trait, forcing him to interact with Supercontinent staff in his attempt to sabotage their plans.
The developers at Deconstructeam embarked on the creation of The Red Strings Club with the intention of telling a story. However, the team is also clearly aware of the opportunities provided by the ludic medium, even if they are not taken full advantage of.
Each of the three core gameplay loops provides alternative paths and options that may unlock different information or storylines. These mechanics also draw on the ideas of free will and determinism that dominate the game. Even while Donovan, Akara, and Brandeis do battle in the name of individuality, they undercut their mission through influence and manipulation. The characters may not realise the hypocrisy, but the player does, further muddying the moral waters in which the game so daringly swims.
For all that, though, The Red Strings Club largely eschews a branching narrative. Background details and storylines may change slightly, but the actions of the three protagonists lead to a single, preordained conclusion. This trait makes the game more of a 2D walking simulator than forward-thinking visual novel, but also contributes to thematic conversation it invites. If free will is all-important and these characters have exercised theirs to its fullest to reach this ending, then what does that say about their beliefs?
At that point, the discussion ceases to be didactic, instead inviting the player inward to critically engage with the ideas, and the conclusions drawn will be those of the individual.
This trait is emphasised by the anonymity of the characters. With the game rendered in pixel art and absent of voice acting, the player becomes free to embody the character that most aligns with their perspective. Donovan, Akara, and Brandeis may be the ‘heroes’ of the piece, but not everyone in the game subscribes to their antiauthoritarian perspectives.
That aspect is, perhaps, one of The Red Strings Club’s greatest strengths. While Deconstructeam invites players to agree with the protagonists, the issue is never forced. Your free will is never rejected.
Where many of the titles that comprise OnlySP’s 50 Favourite Games are loved for their gameplay or stories, The Red Strings Club is different; its strength lies in its ideas.
Thanks for joining us again for a look at our favourite games. Next week, we’ll take a look back at one of the most influential franchises of the last decade, so make sure to come back. As always, you can keep locked to OnlySP on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.