PAX East 2017: The American Dream’s Take on Gun Culture is a Hilariously Dark Satire [Preview]
Ah, 'Murica. Home of the free. Land of the brave. A place where we love our freedom and apple pie almost as much as we love our guns. And boy, do we love those guns! Sure, you’re more likely to be shot by a toddler than by a terrorist, and some people feel the ability to bring a machine gun to Wal-Mart is more important than healthcare and basic civil rights, but there’s nothing like a good person with a gun to stop a bad person with a gun, right? U-S-A! U-S-A!
If you’re still reading this (and haven’t already closed out the window, opened up Twitter, and started a furious tirade about social justice warriors), then maybe you’ve also noticed that America’s gun culture is just a tad over the top. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Australian development studio Samurai Punk, whose VR game The American Dream is a humorous—but deceptively disturbing—look at the United States’ gun obsession. The American Dream presents a 1950s world where “all of your everyday needs are solved with guns.” It’s a cleaned-up sitcom version of a decade plagued by civil rights unrest and communism hysteria, and guns play a central role in that imagined utopia.
The VR title, which we played on Oculus Rift using Touch controllers, is presented like an amusement park ride, the simple kind of all-ages affair that straps you in and rolls you and your loved ones from attraction to attraction. It’s like if It’s a Small World armed all its passengers before shipping them off on their global tour. You’ll start off with baby’s first guns, acting as an infant in a crib. Compared to having to lean forward to eat baby food served with a pistol, shooting at rows of yellow duckies didn’t even seem that weird.
Once we’d acquired basic entry-level gun skills—which included reloading as necessary—the ride moved along to a rat-infested bagel factory. Here we got a look at just how handy dual-wielding can be in everyday life. Not only are guns used to shoot holes in bagels, they’re also handy for destroying rats before they make it into the oven—or after, if you’re not quick enough. Meanwhile, your faithful pup watches, presumably judging your progress.
The colorful graphics and ridiculous scenarios on this wild ride through America’s love of guns is presented so humorously, it’s easy to ignore that dark, troubling vibe underneath. But it’s there. Though The American Dream is obviously an exaggerated view of those “good old days” old white men keep telling us about, it hits close enough to the mark that it’d be easy to focus on the humor and ignore the disturbing implications hiding below the surface. It’s a slow burn, and it’s chilling to realize this is how other countries see us—and that our reputation as the gun-crazy U-S-of-A isn’t undeserved.
The American Dream is going to piss off some people. That’s unavoidable. What’s important is that being provocative isn’t its only purpose. The shooting and reloading mechanics, while not revolutionary, are plenty of fun. And long after you’ve stopped laughing (“A baby with a gun! That’s silly!”), the meaning underneath it all stays with you.
The American Dream will be out on major VR platforms in 2017.