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Not Tonight 2 Proves Video Games Must Be Political | CBR – CBR – Comic Book Resources

Not Tonight 2, a document-checking RPG, proves that video games should embrace their politics, rather than pretending that they exist in a vacuum.

It’s probably fair to say that most of the video games industry is utterly terrified by the concept of politics. On some level, it’s an understandable fear: Creating products that cater to everyone, no matter their political stance, is just good business. The more people play your game, the more you sell. However, maintaining the philosophy of political neutrality is nearly impossible when you’re also trying to sell your game as an interactive work of fiction. At best, this leads to a laughable attempt by some poor PR company trying to tell players that a game set in a post-Brexit dystopia is somehow not political. At worse, it results in a game that soft-balls its story, delivering a narrative that’s weak and unfulfilling.

With that in mind, it’s rare to find a game that not only leans into telling a political story but actually commits to the idea. Indie developer Panic Barn’s Not Tonight 2 is one such experience, a game that isn’t afraid to chastise the world around us now by looking to the future and speculating as to what could happen if things don’t improve. Yet what’s remarkable about the game is how it utterly commits to its vision, communicating through both a traditionally written story and its mechanics.

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Not Tonight 2 will look familiar to anyone who played Papers, Please, a document-checking game with RPG elements. In many ways, it’s an expansion of Lucas Pope’s core concept of analyzing documents, looking for errors and rejecting anything that looks awry. It’s a satisfying loop, especially when paired with a story that takes full advantage of this kind of interaction. Set in a dystopian United States that has suffered the equivalent of a second Civil War, players are tasked with venturing across the country to help their friend Eduardo Suarez following his arrest at a particularly charged protest.

Not Tonight 2

Not Tonight 2 offers a journey that’s qualified not only by its grim vision of the future but the humor that permeates our modern world. The games isn’t afraid to discuss how the United States became such a waking nightmare by drawing many parallels to reality. Corrupt leaders, xenophobic policies and the spread of a deadly pandemic all factor into the game’s warped reality. While it may be occasionally heavy-handed and sometimes struggles to balance its heavier themes with light-hearted comedic scenes, it manages to be an engagingly political narrative simply because it’s not scared of getting in your face and telling you what it thinks.

Video games are an exciting medium for storytellers as the level of interactivity allows creators to give players an opportunity to explore and engage with ideas on a level that’s more tangible than simply watching a movie or reading a book. It’s a chance to present conflicting concepts and ask a player to choose what they believe. Yet this is often an opportunity squandered as developers are forced down a path of “everyone is good” or “everyone is bad” to appease every side of the political compass. One need only look at BioShock Infinite‘s notorious handling of the Vox Populi rebellion.

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Not Tonight 2 isn’t afraid to point towards a political stance and say, “Hey, that’s not good.” While occasionally didactic in its writing, it often feels like a natural observation given that the player is experiencing the world through the lens of three characters that take many of these realities for granted. While Kevin, Mari and Malik may comment on the state of the world, the existence of quarantine zones and militia checkpoints are just daily life. It’s their casual attitudes that communicate the severity of the situation.

Not Tonight 2

Yet the true victory of the game, the cherry on top of an already densely decorated cake, is how players interact with Not Tonight 2. In order to earn enough money to embark on their quest, the characters work as bouncers for a variety of establishments. In a fractured country that has placed such an emphasis on forcibly keeping people out of its borders, working as security that is required to turn people away is a real consolidation of the game’s themes. Sometimes, the reason for rejection is valid; customers are too young or refuse to wear a medical mask. Other times, the game asks players to really consider the situation and make a difficult choice.

Not Tonight 2 certainly isn’t a perfect game. Its attempts at dark humor often fall flat, and its occasional obscurity in terms of progression can pull players out of its complicated road trip. Still, it’s admirable what the game is trying to do. While AAA publishers may be deadset on avoiding politics in any shape and form, the indie scene is experimenting with ideas and narratives that prompt players to think beyond themselves. It’s fearless development that doesn’t sacrifice principles for profits, something the industry desperately needs.

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