The announcement of the Retro Video Game System, a cartridge-based console, is the latest case study in the debate of whether gaming should continue evolving beyond its roots.
American Dream on Ouya Hides Social Commentary
American Dream is a small indie game available for free on Ouya. I thoroughly enjoyed the game, so much so that I beat it in one sitting. There is much to say about American Dream’s visual style and gameplay mechanics, but what struck me the most was a hidden (perhaps unintentional) bit of social commentary about modern American society and the ideals of Capitalism. More on that later, but first a bit about the game.
In American Dream, players control an up-and-coming stock trader who treks from his small, uptown apartment to the trading floor each day. Rather than buying and selling companies, players buy and sell stock in 1980’s and 90’s celebrities, such as Michael Jackson and Tina Turner. The game features rudimentary but interesting systems of market-driven price fluctuations in different stocks at different times, creating opportunities to profit from celebrities of yesteryear. After a day of trading, players head back to the apartment, where they have the option to buy new furnishings or go back to work. After collecting all of the furnishings in a single collection, the player proceeds to a wild drunken orgy featuring hand-scribbled characters giving stock tips (I’m not joking, it’s awesome). Players start with $100,000 and the goal of the game is to earn $1 million–the American dream.
American Dream features a very unique visual style, split between the three main elements of the game. The stock trading portion features stock prices listed using basic monospace font on a blank background, but any buy or sell actions cause “Buy, Buy, Buy” or “Sell, Sell, Sell” to flash rapidly in the background in a way that could cause an epileptic seizure. The apartment portion features simple graphics reminiscent of 1990’s PC adventure games, and the different furnishings are not gratifyingly distinct from each other. The hand-drawn drunken orgy cut-scenes look like they were created in 20 seconds in Microsoft Paint, which feels perfect for the game and fits with the ridiculous hilarity of the cut-scenes themselves.
Trading stocks in American Dream is good fun, but it could be a bit more challenging. The trading scene lists all available stocks and their prices, as well as basic price charts for each stock. Each time a players enters or exits a position, a red dot is added to the appropriate chart, the after time the buy and sell dots become indistinguishable from each other. “Buy low and sell high” is the name of the game, and it’s rinse-and-repeat all the way to $1 million.
Anyone with a basic understanding of technical stock chart patterns can easily identify buy and sell patterns that will work every time. I’m only a novice investor, and I didn’t lose a single dime in the entire playthrough. Regardless, the way the game iterates between the three scenes ensures that it never gets boring. Something about selling shares of Mr. T to buy shares of Madonna at the right price had me hooked from the beginning.
The game is called American Dream and it’s all about making money, buying useless things and getting wasted with friends on the path to becoming a millionaire. Is developer Terry Cavanagh trying to say something about our modern culture and values? I can’t tell for certain, but it’s refreshing that a video game presented me with a philosophical riddle rather than a thousand heads to shoot.