YIIK: A Postmodern RPG - A Misunderstood Work of Art?
After I played the Mother series some 10 years ago, I've always tried to find another game that had that same style of humor while still managing to pull my heart strings. I knew that the AAA game industry wouldn't give me what I wanted, so I turned to indie titles.
Suddenly, every indie RPG developer out there was inspired by JRPGs from the 90s. Most of these games were comedic in nature, clearly inspired by Earthbound, but they either lacked the charm or the deconstructive nature of the Mother series.
Here was a game that got right what was lacking in the other "clones" (as much as I dislike using that word), and at the same time, stood on its own. It didn't make me feel the same way I did while playing Earthbound or Mother 3. It made me feel like I was playing Undertale, instead. And that's one of the best compliments I can give to a game.
When I discovered YIIK, in mid-January, I was immediately excited for it. So much, that I bought it on day one, something I almost never do. This time, I wasn't expecting Earthbound. No, Undertale taught me better. This time, I was expecting YIIK. And, for better or worse, I got exactly what I wanted.
The self proclaimed Postmodern RPG didn't break any paradigms. In fact, it followed the same beats as most game stories did, only in a slightly weirder way.
Let's begin with our protagonist, Alex. Unlike what most people would think, a character doesn't HAVE to be likable or even relatable to be a good character. He just has to be interesting.
While what one finds interesting may be subjective, most players hated Alex in such a way that it even prompted the game's creator to respond to these criticisms:
“My mistake was thinking that video games are art. I wanted to make a game about a guy who’s a piece of shit unlikable character, who by the end of the game has to transform. But too many gamers, when they look at this, when they play a game, they’re so used to having to identify with the character, that if they play a game where the main character is unlikable or has to do some bad stuff, they immediately get triggered by it.
So, the thing is, games aren’t art. They’re toys for children and it’s considered in bad form to talk about anything meaningful, or impactful or thought provoking.”
He went on, saying:
“I was trying to make the video game version of a Chuck Palahniuk novel, or a Haruki Murakami novel. To try and do something a little different y’know? But it turns out, everyone just wants Ayn Rand-ian written characters, where the main villain is like Wesley Mouch. You immediately know what to feel about each character.” […] When you make an unlikable character, people expect Sherlock Holmes or Dr. House.
They want flawed heroes, but only to the extent that they’re beautiful and intelligent and slightly Asperger-y. But they manage to be dicks to everyone and they get away with it because they bring some sort of savant-ism that saves the world. So if you make a character who’s just some hipster obsessed with the paranormal who hasn’t grown up yet and treats his friends like shit, people immediately feel- they don’t know how to process this.
But if you put it in a novel, people get it in a novel. But gamers are, y’know. I’m just gonna say though, this is not to say my game is above any criticism, like I know my game has problems, it’s not perfect, it’s my first 3D game I ever made.”
I get it. It must've been hard to try and do something different in the medium, as far as character writing goes, just to have almost everyone reject your vision. To a certain extent, I even agree with what he's saying, especially the bit about flawed characters. What I don't agree is for him to dismiss an entire medium and gamers in general (read: your customers).
It's fine to take inspiration from any source, even if they're way beyond your current writing abilities. The problem lies in defending your original vision, even when your audience tells you otherwise. They have the final say. As a creator, it doesn't matter what you were trying to convey with a character, but what was transmitted to the audience.
Sometimes, it's impossible to distinguish the art from the artist. And when an artist works for years on a piece of work, only for it to be bashed by the audience, it can feel like a personal attack. Internet toxicity doesn't help either. But accusing your audience is simply counterproductive.
What's worse is that, arguably, YIIK is a work of art. It has its own identity, it clearly has something it wants to say. It doesn't matter if achieved its goal or not. Developers shouldn't be afraid of expressing themselves, even if they're still not as good as their aspirations.
Despite all these problems, I'd gladly give Ackk Studios another chance. I know how hard it is to develop a game and put yourself out there. They're ahead of 99% of people who tried to make games but gave up along the way.
The pressure of dealing with the internet is immeasurable. Whether your goal is to make art or a commercial product (which can also be art), you would do well in remembering one simply thing: the audience is never wrong about how they felt about your work.