As a general rule, it’s probably fair to say journalists overthink video games and players underthink them. That’s why we see critics trying to take the medium to task for its representation, its political statements, its worldview, while players want to discuss graphics and gameplay and how funny it is when Spider-Man does his cop impression. ‘It’s just a game, bro, it’s meant to be fun!’ is the usual chorus, but games are art, and no one creates art about nothing. Of course, this dynamic can be flipped in individual cases. Some journalists only want to talk about how gosh dang fun a video game is, while some players want to engage with it deeply. All things considered, this is why David Cage’s Star Wars will be the worst game of all time.
When I say ‘worst game of all time’, I don’t necessarily mean the game will be terrible. As I have written about before, I don’t expect it to be good, but that’s not the point I’m making here. It goes back to overthinking and underthinking. As I mentioned on TheGamer Podcast this week, David Cage’s Star Wars Eclipse will be the perfect storm for this overthinking and underthinking to collide.
First, a little bit of background. David Cage is the man behind Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human. It takes a village to make a video game, but Cage the auteur has always taken some credit. When I say ‘David Cage’, I’m often using it as a stand in for ‘Quantic Dream’. But if he’s happy to lap up the praise alone, the criticism can stop at his door too.
Cage has been accused of creating an abusive and harassment-filled workplace, as well as describing his games in terms like “in my games, women are whores”, and “we don’t make games for fags”. There was reportedly once even an actual android whore in Detroit: Become Human, written out before launch. Cage, of course, denies these allegations. This reputation may have stuck, as Star Wars Eclipse is having trouble hiring.
However, we know that nudes of Elliot Page’s body double were passed around the office and then leaked during Two Souls’ development (falsely labelled at the time as Page’s nudes rather than that of a double), and that women are frequently over-sexualised and subjected to humiliating violence beyond what men go through in Cage’s games.
If you underthink Cage games, you’ll have a good time. They’re usually a decent amount of fun, have a story that’s both engaging and easy to follow, and there’s been at least one very interesting character in each of his games. Connor, for example, is Detroit’s clear standout. Cage encourages this underthinking too. While Detroit feels like a heavy-handed examination of Black civil rights (with seats at the back of the bus, a Selma march, a clear ‘be MLK’ or ‘be Malcolm X’ choice), Cage has denied this link. Even if it’s a story about the yearning for true freedom with no wider context, this is undone by the fact Chloe, your menu assistant, can be granted her freedom at the end – only to be replaced by an identical Chloe after fans complained about missing her.
The overthinking/underthining dynamic will be put into overdrive on Star Wars, while Cage’s inability to write women – whores or not – will also be under the spotlight. If you want to watch Star Wars as just a bunch of pew pew stuff happening in space, then you’ll enjoy it plenty. But in reality, Star Wars takes a fascist faction, literally called Stormtroopers, all played by men, and creates the most evil regime in the galaxy. The heroes fighting against them are multicultural, female-led, and largely live by socialist tenets. In Star Wars, the future is female.
The way we engage with Star Wars has changed over time. Rey is a Mary Sue because she’s a) a woman and b) good at stuff. Luke Skywalker was the greatest hero in the history of cinema in the 1970s though, because he’s a) a man and b) good at stuff. I don’t think Rise of Skywalker was good. I don’t think Star Wars is above critique. But I think the older movies get a pass for all their leaps of logic and often ropey pacing, while modern stories are expected to be perfect and cast members like Kelly Marie Tran, John Boyega, and Moses Ingram are savaged by fans because of the very diversity Star Wars has always represented.
What you have then is the typical overthink/underthink dynamic that comes into play with Cage games, added to the ferocious and often spiteful tones Star Wars is always discussed with. Then you have Cage’s team trying to take a female-hero-centric universe and uplift it, while managing to add to the politics Star Wars has always represented. When you consider that the underthinkers, the blinkered Star Wars fans, and going by his Detroit comments, Cage himself, all want to avoid politics, you have a recipe for disaster.
This game goes one of two ways. The game is either about a young woman from nowheresville called Beem who becomes a hero and is sexually assaulted along the way, or is about a young farmer boy called Mark Cloudstepper who saves the day despite having no meaningful skills. Either way, some of you will love it, some of you will hate it, and I’m going to feel so tired by it all.
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