(CONTENT WARNINGS: Alcohol, Violence, Implied Drug Use, Implied Domestic Abuse, Mental Health)
The skeezy little rats under the bleachers smoke their cigarettes in blissful ignorance, not realizing the extractor fan is on full blast putting them on Mr. Mahoney’s war path. With Suzy nowhere to be found, you’re stuck playing errand boy for the jokers, wannabes, and wall-flowers, slowly drip-fed a goose chase for your high school sweetheart.
Shaun Aitcheson‘s bleak vingette of americana paints a far darker snapshot of the 80s than any nostalgia-baiting episode of shows like Stranger Things would lead you to believe. Industrial jobs at the time were easy to come by and well paid, lulling most families in the soon-to-be Rust Belt into a false sense of security, a Springsteen fantasy spiraling out into a well-funded atmosphere of adolescent decadence. Teenage rebellion with all its trappings of underage drinking and smoking has always had a presence in American society, but the brazen proliferation and expectation by default of this era was a relatively new invention.
Football game puts you in the shoes of Tommy, a disillusioned former high school athlete who seeks only to re-unite with his girlfriend, Suzy. Determined to get her a gift, he finds himself stumbling down a dissociative sequence of flashbacks and navel-gazed musings on his way to deliver the parcel. Executed flawlessly with a perfectly paced point-n-click formula and dripping with atmosphere, Aitcheson & Laurie Mh have established that Cloak and Dagger absolutely does not fuck around when it comes to polished adventure experiences. Too often, titles in this genre space are incredibly punitive in regards to your time, making you pay disproportionately for every inch of story; while this difficulty curve is a well-respected facet of the genre, Cloak and Dagger‘s comfortable ratio of puzzle-to-narrative is laudable.
In the 80s, the kids, were in fact, not alright despite what many would like to believe in rose-tinted retrospect. A second-hand premonition of driving off an economic cliff nagged at the corner of the red hot blooded American collective unconscious, life was good… too good. Many early Gen Xers were determined to jailbreak themselves by any means from the free-market illusion, to swerve off the scripted path laid before them by hypocritical baby boomers who themselves were once rebellious adolescents now turned squares. Buy a suit, get a normal job, mortgage a house, enter a loveless marriage, raise kids you hate- when faced with the prospect of the nuclear family, any wayward Soviet ICBM lobbed your way sounds like an inviting alternative.
In the long run, the self-destructive appetites of renegade youth in the 80s proved either prophetic or hyperstitious, paving the way to the inevitable downfall of post-war economic booms with pot-holed asphalt and cultural commentary by way of cult classic films. For every waxing nostalgic baby boomer, you will often find just as many surviving Gen Xers who celebrate the culture fracking frenzy we find ourselves subject to today in the form of pop culture worship, funko-pops, and comic book film franchises.
Tommy’s plunge into panicked nihilism is an earnest demonstration of the harsh alienation many teenagers faced during the period, disjointed and awkward in the presence of their peers, relying on vice to cope with the existential dread of illusory family life and connect with one-another even if it meant doing so on a superficial level. The Shopping Mall, once sacred halls for those willing to worship at the altar of capital with their parent’s factory earnings, served as an apt psychogeographic map of the American youth in this period. Now, decades later, the aesthetic imprint of these spaces maintain this ontological primacy by becoming the literal manifestation of Greco-Roman pastiche dotting the noosphere, primarily through the musical motifs of Vaporwave and MallSoft.
On the topic of music, it would be beyond negligent not to mention the exceptional soundtrack work done by the delightfully moody UK band JUPITER-C featured prominently throughout several lengthy sequences. The main theme, “Hold Me” is easily one of the most catchy indie soundtrack tunes I’ve heard, give it a listen:
Football game is a nostalgic flashpoint, setting the stage for the psychological apocalypse that gave rise to grunge music and subculture, a generation that quickly realized how hopeless things were. Perpetually, as the decades tick by, it’s hard not to view the nihilistic and violent self-centered drive of characters like Tommy with pity and contempt..
… At least he could own a house if he wanted to.
(Updated 3/07/2020: Some minor edits were made to improve the flow of the grammar)
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice