The American Dream is set to launch on March 14th, and the moment, most unfortunately, couldn’t be more timely. The game’s gun-fueled gameplay takes US gun culture to the extreme, examining a world where babies are born packing heat and guns are the answer to everything. In the wake of a string of tragic mass shootings in the US, the nation is embroiled in debate, pitting the loss of innocent life against the constitutional right to bear arms. At the same time, part of that conversation has seen renewed finger pointing at violent video games as part of the problem.
Having started development back in 2016, The American Dream launches this week, March 14th, on PlayStation VR, SteamVR, and Oculus Rift, priced at $20. The game’s new launch trailer gives an idea of how it takes gun culture to a comedic extreme, and shows “just how simple it could be to live American life to the fullest, where guns are an integral part of being a good and patriotic American and can be used for familial bonding, cleaning the house, preparing delicious meals, dancing, gardening, fine dining, delivering sweet newborn American babies and so much more.”
Developer Samurai Punk promises “more than 20 heartwarming, pulse-pounding, brain tingling, action-packed stages—each featuring a key moment in the average American life. For every task you encounter in your life chock full of Freedom™, there is a gun that can help—from pistols to tactical sporting rifles, you’ll get to try them all.”
A deft hand is required to navigate the fine line between commentary and offense, especially when the backdrop is painted with real blood. In many ways, the game’s portrayal of US gun culture is funny, but, with three major mass shootings in the US in the last six months alone, also strikes a number of decidedly not funny chords.
For one, America’s debate about gun rights has reached a fever pitch that hasn’t been seen in some time. Gun rights in the US have been historically very difficult to change because, to an extent, the right to own guns is protected in the country’s constitution, and powerful lobbying groups work hard to that right. In the wake of recent shootings, the renewed calls for gun rights reforms seem to be gaining more steam that in the recent past, but the debate about solutions to mass shootings rages on.
Part of that debate has naturally been focused around answering the question “why do mass shootings happen?” Violence depicted in video games has resurfaced as one area of blame among some. To explore that notion, President Donald Trump recently hosted a meeting on the topic, though was criticized for not inviting academics who study the alleged link between violence and video games. The White House uploaded an unlisted video to YouTube titled ‘Violence in Video Games’ which showed violent exceprts from popular games. Surely footage from The American Dream would have fit right in, even though the context of the game as satire would have been lost. The violent video game video and its contextless implications has struck a chord with gamers who have overwhelmingly downvoted the video.
One of the common rebuttals against violence in video games is that they are protected as a form a free speech, and are also an important expressive medium. Indeed, it’s the free speech protection that allows games like The American Dream to parody important topics and help foster discussion about them.
And one, perhaps unintentional, element of The American Dream is a revelation of what US gun culture looks like to outsiders. The game’s Melbourne, Australia based studio, Samurai Punk, are offering up an external perspective for all to see; a depiction through the eyes of another can sometimes be more helpful than just looking in the mirror.
In the end, the game appears to be just a handful of fun shooting mini games for VR, but its release at this particular moment could hardly be considered without looking at the broader picture. We’ll find out if and where it fits into the discussion (and whether or not it’s worth playing) when it launches on Wednesday.