In Beatdown City, Treachery Destroys You!

So, I have this thing. This thing being that I lie to myself about…well, things—like how much I really don’t want a scone, or how much I really want to go jogging, or how I’m going to bed right now. Case and point: the conversation I had with myself two nights ago.

9pm: I’m going to bed.

10pm: I’m going to bed

12am: Okay, I’m really going to go to bed.

3am: I’m really going to bed.

6am: I’ll just stay awake.

Trufax. Ne’er has a truer phrase been uttered.

My reason for unintentionally-intenionally lying to myself? Tumblr (fellow DH-comrade Marii posted on Tumblr API +Markup for all my peeps out there who have been sucked into the magical world of HTML.

And, as any Tumblr user on this side of the planet will attest to, once the Australians join the pow-wow, you know you ain’t going to bed any time soon.

Nonetheless, one of the perks of being on tumblr that late is that you begin to look through the strangest of tags. Partly because your focus has been shot to pieces and literally every thought that enters your head must find its way out onto the keyboard, but also because misspellings are a common enough event that, really, you should know better than to hit enter before reading what’s in your search bar.

The latter led to me stumbling upon a series of links that eventually led to my discovery of Treachery in Beatdown City(How Hit ‘em Up by Blu Cantrell became beat ‘em up is questionable.) Beatdown is described by its creators as a “tactical brawler—a mix of side scrolling beat-em-up action with snappy menu based COMBO attacks”. If you have no idea what that means, it’s cool; most console-dedicated gamers born in the last twenty-five or so years know little-to-nothing about beat ‘em up games (though many will be familiar with hack ‘n slash games like the God of War series, which are descendants of the beat ‘em up genre), even if they may have played them as kids.

Which is also to say that unless you’re a video game history buff, or were a hardcore gamer/ lived in urban Japan in the early seventies through early nineties, everyone’s basically on the same page.

So, a little history: beat ‘em up is another term for brawler, a genre of game where a character is expected to fight a ridiculously large number of enemies, with the small blessing that large numbers = all around weaker opponents. Tie that together with an urban setting and revenge-based plot, and you have the basics to make yourself a standard beat ‘em up game. If you’ve ever seen games like Final Fight or any 2D, side-scrolling arcade game that involved a ton of button smashing, you know what I’m talking about. Mix that up with some Final Fantasy-esque menu based attacks, and you have yourself the platform of Beatdown.

Barack Orama for president anyone?

The premise of Beatdown (slated for release March 2015 on PC and Mac) is straightforward, if not a little zany: the president of the United States (Barack Orama, no less. How’s that for realism? Also, Mayor Mike Moneybags—am I the only one laughing?) has been kidnapped by Ninja Dragon Terrorists. It’s your job, playing as one of three main characters, to defeat the Ninja Dragons and save the president.

Let’s be real for a second. Sounds like the plot for a paperback, doesn’t it? You know, the ones with a little bit of romance, a little bit of mystery and political espionage, and a whole lot of “Any resemblance to persons, either living or dead, is entirely intentional”? Doesn’t inspire very much confidence, does it?

Well, here’s how this game has the potential to be more than its premise would suggest:

1) The game features three heroes—all of whom are minorities

No, I didn’t stutter. All three heroes of the game are minorities. What’s more, they’re actually characters with depth: there’s Bruce Maxwell, a black Jamaican and a stockbroker by day/ lover of Asian languages and culture by night; Lisa Santiago, a Puerto Rican cop with a penchant for forensic science; and Brad Steele, a Spanish-Mexican ex-professional wrestler. How many games can you name that feature a cast of exclusively minority heroes?

Fried chicken, grape soda, hot dogs. The stuff of champions.

2) The game is “a dark humor political story told through intermittent cutscenes that tackle gentrification, racism, profiling, the war on terror, biker gang warfare and other fun topics.”

Or, at least that’s how its developers describe it. From the gameplay videos I’ve seen so far (only part of the first level) it seems as if this might actually come true.

Take CT Punk, for example: a frequently encountered enemy, CT Punk references the trend of rich teens and twenty-somethings who migrate from wealthy neighborhoods to urban areas in order to “slum it up”—live on the streets as if homeless, with trust funds back home all the while.

Furthermore, in-fight health goodies include things like fried chicken, hot dogs and grape soda. If we’re thinking about the prevalence of obesity in poor, minority communities, then fast, unhealthy, cheap foods have been repeatedly attributed to the ever-growing problem. The fact that it pops up in this game only serves to highlight this fact.

But, why all this focus on a video game? Well, for one, video games have developed as a media and expanded into a culture that surpasses 2-bit dots running around mazes. As a medium, they’re complex in ways that movies and books can’t be.  They open spaces of liminality, where the participant can be the creator, the enactor, and the interactor. And for this reason, they’ve proven themselves to innately be sites of discussion and complexity, though there are than a few games that would prefer to stay away from socio-political critiques.

Beatdown, however, is aware of its potential to offer more than a few hours of escape from reality. The game is not an allegory for all that’s wrong in the world. That would involve the assumption that the issues that it sheds light on cannot be voiced in today’s society. Rather, the creators are aiming to bring a sense of urgency to these issues. It’s making it blatantly clear that these are socio-political issues that should permeate the virtual just as heavily as it permeates the real. Social discrimination isn’t something that disappears once computers and the virtual is involved; misogyny doesn’t magically disappear just because the main character needs a sidekick with big boobs; the lack of representation doesn’t become a non-problem because (ambiguously tanned white men with) brown-hair and stubble is the new fad.

In the end, I can’t say how the game will turn out or if it’s promised deliverables will actually see the light of day. But even the game fails in this endeavor, the creators of the game are actively conscious of the socio-political and economic issues that are embedded into any urban space, New York City included, and are willing to at least try to engage with these issues. And that’s a step in the right direction.

Kimberly Bain
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Kimberly Bain is the Post-Baccalaureate Resident for 5CollDH and a staunch supporter of the Dothraki academic referencing system. You can learn more about her here.