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Playing Deconstructeam‘s The Red Strings Club was a delightful and frightening experience. It will lure you with its beautifully crafted world, retro vibes, and old-school point-and-click magic. Then it will swallow you whole, spit you out and show you the hypocrite hiding inside.
It is a brilliant game and was an unforgettable journey to the centre of my soul. The Red Strings Club tricked me, charmed me, and called me a fool. And I loved it for doing so.
Setting the stage for my demise
On the surface, The Red Strings Club is an adventure game with a cyberpunk narrative; big corporation wants to use tech to control the world, and you need to stop it.
At different stages of the game, you get to play as one of three characters; an AI called Akara-184, a bartender and information broker, Donovan (also the Red Strings Club owner), and his partner, a freelance hacker called Brandeis. Akara-184 is an android designed to help humans be happy. She was programmed to operate from a place of deep empathy and works for Supercontinent Ltd where she designs and installs implants at her human customers’ request. These upgrades include things like more charisma, sex appeal, persuasion, and even the ability to block all negative communication on the Internet from reaching the wearer. Name your problem, Supercontinent Ltd has an implant to manipulate, boost, or fix the situation.
Deconstructeam designed a brilliant mini-game where you create each implant. As Akara-184, you use a pottery wheel to form the specific design. Each of the characters you get to play has their special mini-game; Donovan mixes drinks that can enhance specific feelings in customers, making them susceptible to questioning, and as a cybernetic, Brandeis can do a few special tricks.
Akara-184 escapes from Supercontinents and lands in your bar where Brandeis hacks her and they discover a plot to release a program that will infect all humans with, well, happiness. It is called the Social Psyche Welfare and it will eliminate bad things from the world like depression, murder, rape, and so on. It’s also pure evil because it is mass mind control.
But things are not that simple.
Take the Digital Happy Pill
The Red Strings Club explores topics like the nature of true happiness, and transhumanism and its ethics, in a very profound way. It will make you doubt your beliefs in such a smart manner, that you’ll end up questioning everything you belief regarding the aforementioned topics.
I don’t want to spoil the game, but allow me to explain one such situation. I’m playing as Donovan, and I’m having a hypothetical conversation with Akara-184 where she places me in control of programming the Social Psyche Welfare software. I replayed the conversation three times, and I am still not happy with the outcome.
“Should I eliminate depression,” asks Akara. At first try, I said “yes” then I realized that I would be doing the thing I am fighting – manipulating human emotion and free will. On my second try, I said no, and I got the outcome I wanted (removing one side of life’s duality deprives the other of meaning). Then she asked if she should remove all hatred and murder, “No” I answered again. Should she remove rape, xenophobia, and the oppression of women?
Hell yes, I said.
Naturally, the hypocrite in me smiled back in the mirror. If given the power, we would all change the world to be a mirror image of what we consider happiness. A world without this or that. The Red Strings Club takes many topics and turns it on its head to force you to see a different side of things. It taps into the inner dialogue you didn’t know you were having.
Because we have it all figured out, right? We know the answers and what we want from life. The Red Strings Club will make you think again. And again.
Supercontinent’s top brass will visit you at the bar, where you will use your magic cocktails to manipulate information from them to help you in your cause. These corporates all present very sound arguments in favour of Social Psyche Welfare. “It will help us access our better selves,” and “It is less intrusive than the average anti-depressant the citizens of this city take on a daily basis.”
What if I told you it could remove corruption from government officials by inducing high levels of empathy and compassion for the people they serve?
Say yes to one say yes to it all, and let “society become an operating system where corporations can run whatever programs they please,” explains Donovan to Supercontinent’s Marketing Director. And that while she is under the influence of a few of his mood-altering super drinks. He is such a hypocrite.
I judge Donovan, but still, I cannot bring myself (as him), to answer Akara-184’s questions differently. I cannot tell her to allow those things to exist in society if she has the power to control it. By any means.
No price is too high to pay when it comes to righting some wrongs. To make all the world a better, happier, and safer place.
The Red Strings Club is a PC exclusive, and you can purchase it on Steam for R89.