There are days, I can assure you, when I wonder why I ventured so heavily into the indie gaming scene. Life could have been so much easier if I had thrown my lot in with mainstream titles, blockbluster hits that everyone can understand and no one will give weird looks to. It's like choosing to hang around with the goth kids instead of the cheerleaders, like choosing some alarming curry made out of sheep entrails instead of a burger.
Sometimes, though, you run over a game that takes you off-guard and reminds you exactly why.
Over the last few weeks, we've been working through our impressions and interviews of the IGF finalists. With the Games Developer Conference 2011 bearing down on us, TK-Nation figured that it was high time to provide a solid look at exactly why indie gaming is the next best thing. The Cat and the Coup is a finalist in the Nuovo category and in my opinion, it's probably one of the most powerful titles in the mix.
I haven't actually had the opportunity to get a hands-on look at the gameplay mechanics and I'm certain, given the chance, I'll probably degenerate into standard critic behavior and have a million things to complain about. However, it isn't the game itself that gets to me but the idea behind the game. Blatantly political in disposition, the Cat and the Coup is an interactive autobiographical look at a chapter in the life of Mohammed Mossadegh, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of downfall. However, you won't be playing the esteemed gentleman. Instead, you're allocated the role of his cat, a subtle critter out there to finesse a satisfactory conclusion for history's plans. Because you're without opposable thumbs, you'll apparently be spending most of your times indoors and batting objects from shelves, scattering papers and clawing your unfortunate paper cut-out master.
And that's it, really. At least, that's what the trailers seem to indicate.
But there's something sublimely elegant about the fact that someone out there managed to go, 'Let's make a game about a political figure but, you know, let's not make it overtly degrading or show too much patriotism at the same time'. The second part, of course, is usually the hard bit that the few politically-inclined developers out there often find difficult to fufill. With the kind of turmoil we've experienced over recent years, it's difficult to craft something like this making people feel like you're forcing opinions down their throats. The Cat and the Coup looks like they've somehow succeeded in traversing that delicate tight rope.
While I'm uncertain if the West might appreciate it in the same way, things are a little different here. Asians often practice a culture of silence, regardless of whether it's in regards to our opinion about our political leaders or each other. We've trained to bite our tongues and go on, to conform and to push towards ideas of success that our forefathers formulated. The few times that people speak, we end up speaking too loudly or too unwisely. The Cat and the Coup is a humbling reminder that it's possible to take a third route, to venture away from silence and outbursts and craft our message in a way that no one would find offense in. There is no blatant propaganda to behold but I can't help but feel the love for the culture embedded in their artistic direction. Where Echo Bazaar beautifully encapsulated the 'Show, Don't Tell' mantra in its narrative, The Cat and the Coup has done the same with its visuals. The gorgeous montage of real-world photographs and Parisian art is a stunning tribute to the life and times of the Prime Minister.
According to Gamepro.com, the Nuovo category is dedicated to 'honoring abstract, shortform and otherwise esoteric art games'; words that fit The Cat and the Coup rather well. What really makes me wonder is whether or not a game like this will eventually become mainstream and we'll someday give up our pride and be able to deliver fact in an objective yet beautiful way. The video game industry is, right now, inunduated by trends and developers who find the unceasing need to be exactly like everyone else. For once, I'm hoping they'd do the same here and pick up The Cat and the Coup's aesthetically pleasing frankness and make it common place.
Tall order, I know. But a girl can dream, right?