Post Script

This is (not) America


Petria is, of course, an invented state. When we interviewe­d creative director Yoan Fanise in E359, he was clear on the fact that this is a patchwork of many regimes, that developer DigixArt has borrowed elements from across history and across the globe to create a sort of Frankenste­in’s monster of fascist states. And yet.

The scenery you travel through is all mesas and motels. You speed down wide-open roads lined with telegraph poles and bisected by Morse-code messages conveyed in yellow paint. There are cacti, and oil pumps that bob like oversized drinking-bird toys. It makes perfect sense: if you’re reaching for road trip iconograph­y, what richer source than America?

The depiction of Petria’s political situation relies on similarly recognisab­le signposts. An election where the blue party’s female candidate challenges the male despot in red, surrounded by questions of democratic integrity. A TV news channel dedicated to spouting what the leader, Tyrak, wants to hear. A terrorist attack that still defines the country’s identity a decade later. Detention centres holding children who’ve attempted to cross the border. References to “fake news” and “the wall”.

The game’s setting might be 1996 but it’s fairly clear that DigixArt is drawing on a much more recent period of history. It’s only right, of course, that a game would be informed by the context in which it was made – but the proximity of the two does leave us casting a more wary eye over the parts where Tyrak’s Petria diverges from Trump’s America. In particular, the fact that border crossing is entirely the domain of teenagers. Ultimately, we realise, this is a plot contrivanc­e, a way of ensuring you always see the world through young eyes while setting up coming-of-age themes. But the game is happy to leave it there, never justifying why it’s only the young who are fleeing or why the state is so focused on stopping them (being a runaway teen is, it seems, an arrestable offence in Petria).

There’s a metaphor here to be mined, we’re sure. Tension between generation­s is certainly part of the modern political landscape, and one side-character briefly alludes to the idea that Tyrak is targeting teens specifical­ly because they’re the next generation of voters – ones who are most likely to put their tick in the other box. Unfortunat­ely, this is as far as it ever gets fleshed out, at least in the selection of scenes that featured in our adventure.

This leaves the teenagers as an awkward stand-in for real oppressed groups. It’s worth considerin­g that all the border imagery borrowed from recent American history – the detention cells, the wall – is being inverted here, a way of holding people in rather than keeping them out. It’s not a story about the fear of the outsider, which has defined so much of western politics in the past decade or so, but of those within. Perhaps a ’50s setting might have been more apt, or perhaps this is where the other regimes from which DigixArt is drawing actually factor in. Perhaps, perhaps.

Honestly, even as the credits roll, we’re not quite sure where we stand on Road 96’s politics. Which might be appropriat­e for a game that is constantly asking you a similar question. Every so often you’re given a dialogue option marked with one of three icons, to express your political stance. Vote for the opposition and believe democracy will out. Give in to apathy and just worry about your immediate safety. Smash the state and burn it all down. (There’s no option to outright support the status quo – one of many signs that the game’s heart is in the right place.)

These are positions we’ve certainly wavered between ourselves, and if they inform the game’s destinatio­n as much as promised, then perhaps the slight uneasiness the finale leaves us with is a mirror. There are no easy answers in politics and, even if Road 96 is simply gesturing in the direction of these ideas, an opportunit­y to interrogat­e our own beliefs is never a bad thing.

 ??  ?? Runaway teen Zoe’s storyline is more tightly authored than other characters’ – at least until its shocking conclusion
Runaway teen Zoe’s storyline is more tightly authored than other characters’ – at least until its shocking conclusion

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