From the Sims to more this-is-the-real-life games, simulation games have always attracted a lot of interest, even for those who are not really into video games. The ability to be in someone else’s shoes and try an alternative, though virtual, reality is a great temptation for many of us.
It could be argued, that the majority of such games allows people to create a positive and comfortable scenario of virtual life; a life where one’s avatar is rich, successful, attractive and with minor everyday problems. However, Cart Life, a retail game developed by Richard Hofmeier back in 2010, puts the gamer in a quite different position. The gamer has the ability to choose among characters (three in the full version and two in the free one) who are struggling with the American, harsh everyday life of owning and running a street cart. Being either a smoking-addicted, broke immigrant who has just arrived in the States or a single mother who is trying to win the custody of her daughter, the gamer is struggling to ‘make a living’ with the options that the local society is giving to those people, according to the philosophy of the video game.
Each character has a specific personality, daily routines such as eating, drinking and sleeping, a social life, duties, as well as life events like crime, punishment, triumphs etc. Thus, it could be argued that Cart Life is not just a retail game, as its creator puts it, but a rather complete role-playing game. During this game the player gets to face the ‘real’ life of some of the less privileged ones in the American society.
It could be suggested that this game is a sort of social and political comment to the contemporary American life as well as a criticism on the American Dream. Immigrants who come to the ‘promise land’ for a better living and single mothers who have to fight for their right to their child and their self-sufficiency in a country where everyone is supposed to be equal, are proposed as examples of the other side of Western living. Nevertheless, It could be somehow speculated that presenting an immigrant as a tobacco-addicted old man with a cat and a mother instead of a father fighting for her/his child’s custody is a stereotypical approach. On the other hand, in order to create and structure a solid story for a video game one has to develop distinct and sometimes stereotypical characters in order to get his/her point through.
It would be really interesting to see what real-life carters would say and feel about this game’s approach. Does it bear any resemblance with actual life in the streets and make a solid comment and critique or is it just another way for average and wealthy people (since they own a pc to play the game) to pretend to be sympathetic towards the less advantaged social groups?