When I was in high school about 10 years ago, I discovered a folk-anarcho punk named Pat “The Bunny” Schneeweis. His songs are about homelessness, suffering and youth desperate yearning for change, even if it has to be forced. But all his songs are in vain. He’ll sing about subverting the system, if he can, or destroying his car if he doesn’t need it. At this point, his music was filled with the anger that young people usually have, and as a child, it spoke to me.
Of course, I don’t always relate to it. I grew up a middle-class white man in suburban Long Island. I never worried about food or rent, dogs howling or gunfire. I was safe and secure in my basement bedroom. I’m also heartbroken and angry about everything, with the government at the top of that list.
In my recent play about Road 96, speaking of Xbox and PlayStation consoles these days, I can’t stop thinking about myself, Pat The Bunny, and the helplessness of being a teenager. Sure, there are kids out there doing amazing things. But most of them – most of us at the time – were normal, and couldn’t change the minds of our parents, let alone the government. Every time I run away in Road 96 is dealing with that reality, and it’s that weakness that drives the game forward.
Young and miserable? You’re right!
If you’ve never heard of Road 96It is a A roguelike-ish game where you fill the shoes of many teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 – as they attempt to escape their hometown of Petria, driven away by their tyrannical government. At the head of that government is the not-so-subtle Tyrak, whose name not only sounds like “tyrant” but is also five letters long and starts with a T, like another recent US president. It is not difficult to categorize all of these.
These children set out to escape their country. They have lost faith in the upcoming election, which, according to the only news program ever broadcast, The Sonya Show, has been immensely favored by Tyrak. There is basically no hope of living in a completely free country. It is unclear how Tyrak restricted the rights of Petrian citizens, but he has placed a tight lock on the country’s borders. Teens found escaping will be taken to a mine called the “Pit” if they are caught. If not caught, they may escape or be shot.
But you, the player, have some influence over these events. During your travels to the border as witnessed by different teenagers, you will meet various characters, all of whom have their own real influence on the world. They range from police officers to members of revolutionary groups, but two of these NPCs are teenagers, just like your character. Those are the exceptions I talked about earlier, the few that can really make a difference.
However, the teenagers couldn’t do much. They do not have the financial or social capacity to foster change. They have lost so much faith in their government that they no longer have any connection with their country. Without any patriotism, they decided to run to the border, knowing full well that a mine or a bullet would await them if they failed.
However, during this escape, the player can influence the outcome of the game. I vandalized every Tyrak poster I saw and egged on certain NPCs. I told one of the teenagers, 14 years old, to talk to his mother, while at the same time urging the same rebel group towards violence. When it comes to truly game-changing events, my character never plays a big part.
All of my teenagers who have achieved achievements have left their countries. They run away from its problems, to some other territory that certainly has its own. For all their anger, which I show by tearing down posters, defaming police and telling a revolutionary force that they need to use more violent means, they have never do anything yourself now. That last part perhaps changed the course of the game’s story? Sure. It wouldn’t be fun if the player’s interaction with the game didn’t change its outcome.
But I couldn’t shake that feeling of weakness, even as I saw the fruit of that decision. That, despite all the shredded posters and bombed-out walls, I wasn’t there to play a major role. I went along on the trip, like I was back in high school. At that time I just liked Road 96of teenagers. All I can do is comment on things or express my frustration through anger. I’m not related to Pat The Bunny’s music because I don’t have a bed or have been arrested. I relate to it, as well as Road 96, because I was helpless and couldn’t do anything about it.
Road 96launched last year on Nintendo Switch and PC, now available on PS4, PS4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.