The Children of Gaming

south-park-stick-of-truth

Trading in their penchant for branching narratives, Obsidian instead give South Park: The Stick of Truth the focus of traditional RPGs’ stat management and simplistic plots to better gut gamer culture. With South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone on scripting duties, Stick of Truth even has that authentic mix of pitch-black toilet humor and wry commentary. Players are dropped, as The New Kid, into Parker/Stone’s Colorado village of idiots during a LARP war between two factions: the Kingdom of Kupa Keep, led by Cartman (slyly christened “the Grand Wizard”), play typical fantasy humans, meek personalities on a genocide march against the Other (for pretend) in service of a cruel dictator who gouges them for money (for real); the “elves,” led by Kyle and Stan, are theoretically good, but in practice isolationist, indifferent. Of course, this is all a game to the kids, even when a crashed UFO and black ops-types actually threaten everyone’s lives (South Park’s adults are typically clueless). New Kid goes through the motions–questing, leveling, looting, making friends. He explores town through the prism of fantasy tropes and Paper Mario-esque combat mixing turn-based strategy (which other kids complain about) and quick time event reflex tests. Parker and Stone break the fourth wall all over the game, but Stick of Truth‘s triumph is its portrayal of Kenny. Taking on the role of Princess like an English Renaissance actor (girls don’t game with the boys), Kenny checks off Action Heroine traits–including a special ability to show some skin to distract enemies–his entire view of females informed by an exclusive boy’s club. The others aren’t any better, Cartman’s crew assuming Kenny will be raped by the “elves” during an abduction. Players are invited to soul search if they see themselves in these oblivious children.

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