VA11-Ha11a: A Dystopian Video Game Makes Caracas’ Crisis Cyberpunk Cool
A group of Venezuelan game designers came up with a dystopian fantasy set in a lightly disguised Caracas’ bar. Welcome to VA-11 HALL-A, have a drink.
“Time to mix drinks and change lives.”
VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action, or Valhalla, pa’ los panas, is a video game about a bar in a dystopian future where massive inflation, shortages, crime and corruption have led to a constant decline in the quality of life for most of its citizens.
The city is called Caracas. I mean, Glitch City.
In the game, you are Jill, a 27-year-old bartender dealing with all sorts of clients and, through conversations with them, you slowly discover how Glitch City muerde.
The game starts with Jill checking out the day’s news while talking to her cat (this futuristic cat talks back). Apparently, the announcement of new economic measures has spawned another wave of emigration.
In the bar, none of the characters mention the emigration problem, or most of the news you read about (like the government’s attempt to ban all protests); the citizens of Glitch City are used to dealing with crazy stuff.
One of your patrons vents after a beer, though:
When I started this job, it only took the news of some elderly woman to guarantee clicks. Now you need an elderly woman carrying a sick baby boy getting hit by a truck. Death is not enough, they need a full sob story behind it.
VA-11 HALL-A is a video game. Kind of. Your role is to prepare drinks and let the story unfold. The dialogue can change depending on the amount of booze you give to clients, and there are several endings depending on what you do. But you’re definitely not shooting aliens or strategizing with swords and dragons.
It feels like a graphic novel, something walking the border between literature and gaming – it’s a game you read, as much as play. Sukeban Games, the Venezuelan video game studio behind it (Venezuelans, nojoda!), went for a retro/Anime aesthetic, and they just nailed it; you can tell from miles away that this is a tribute to the Japanese Anime culture. Everything from the anthropomorphic animals and the over the top dialogues just screams Anime to me, and a quick look to their wiki shows the many references I missed.
Dark, but not too “darks”!
Playing VA-11 HALL-A, I was half-expecting to see a doctor walk into the bar and talk about the lack of medicines, or some underfed kids asking for food, but the game never goes there. All of the characters seem well-off, as none is concerned about prices when paying for drinks. Even when the new wave of protests start and the “White Knights” (their GNB) start to get lynched by angry mobs, they all try to keep working and maintain their normal life.
At first, I was disappointed, but then it hit me: this game is not about showing the worst of Glitch City, it’s about living. For the common Glitchcitians, this is as good as it gets.
Jill, our main character, has a job that pays the bills, she even has enough money to buy small things like movie posters. She shows up at the Christmas party in her work clothes, so she probably can’t even buy better, but at least she isn’t sick and doesn’t have to deal with the healthcare crisis. Her life is good enough to forget about her city’s problems, as long as she ignores that she has a dead-end job and no savings at 27.
Sukeban Games did an amazing job at depicting how life always finds a way in Venezuela, because I, just as Jill, also try to have a normal life despite the crazy city I’m in.
VA-11 HALL-A feels like a huge statement. The authors created a dystopian game while living in an increasingly dystopian Venezuela. They could’ve depicted real-world tragic scenes to attract more players. Instead, they chose to show the relentless people that smile and work their asses off everyday keep their half-functioning country half-working.
Amazing job, guys.
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