The Backlog 02 – Not Just Hell

This month’s issue of The Backlog discusses Papers, Please (2013) and whether or not a game has to be “exciting” and “joyous” in order to be fun.

The Backlog is a zine where we pick a single game that deserves your attention, and we craft a focused essay around it.

The following zine is available for free online, or you may visit our online store to purchase for $2 (plus 50 cents shipping).


Not Just Hell

Jean Paul Sartre is known for one of the most egregiously misunderstood lines from the history of the stage. “Hell is other people,” has become the misanthrope’s greeting ever since No Exit’s original release. The entirety of the play consists of three cloyingly negative people arguing while trapped in a room. The point that is often missed, however, is that these characters could have easily been kind to each other, but they chose not to. While yes, Hell is other people, Sartre’s play is actually arguing that Heaven is, too.

And I don’t think my interpretation is a stretch seeing as how that play was released in Nazi-occupied France by a man who actively assisted the French resistance. In his essay “Existentialism as a Humanism”, Sartre argued that people can only be judged by their actions, not on their intentions or beliefs. Such an argument isn’t often brought up in video games, which have a tendency (at least in popular titles) of avoiding moral ambiguity in favor of satisfying work/reward hooks. Even a BioShock or a Fallout will create the illusion of gray areas only to revert to the more familiar “good vs. evil” dichotomy before the end.

This month’s game sits among indie gems such as Cart Life (2011) or Depression Quest (2013) in that it plays on the monotony of everyday life, presents the player with increasingly difficult moral quandaries, and significantly changes the narrative based on the player’s choices. What is often missed in these games, or even refuted, is exactly how much fun they are. This issue of The Backlog is all about looking past the negative and finding pleasure where everyone else just sees Hell.

(click here to read the rest of the issue)

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