When you play video games, and especially RPGs or adventure games, there’s a piece of you that wants the Grand Theft Auto fantasy fulfillment, i.e. The ability to throw the plot into disarray by being a jackass.
Specifically, I think of The Legend of Zelda when you’re given a quest by a ruffian (who thinks he’s more clever than you) and cheats you out if your reward. Of course, it’s a plot mechanic to get your hero to trigger a series of events that end up working out in your favor, but on a preliminary play through, you whip out your bombs and hope he explodes.
You hope against hope that the game developers allow you to cheat the game; that a real, human reaction is warranted and possibly rewarded — but that’s seldom the case.
Which is why, Ryan North’s To Be or Not To Be is a breath of fresh air.
The game is a choose-your-own-adventure version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. You know the story; Mr. North knows the story. So how can a play that almost all people know intimately well be choose your own adventure? North plays upon those aforementioned carnal emotions.
The simply phrased but only real question we need to ask ourselves, “to be or not to be” is called into play.
What if Hamlet killed himself?
Then there’d be no story.
Mr. North begs the question, “Are you certain? Hamlet’s father died but his ghost continued… Why not Hamlet?”
I have to assume this is what sparked the idea for the entire game.
All too often there’s a movie or a tv series where a character has a critical piece of information and, because they don’t share it, drama, danger, and/or death unfolds. I’ve mulled this over with countless stories; too many times to count.
“Joey, just tell Monica that Chandler is going to propose, it’s all a ruse.”
“Harry, your dad was the Green Goblin and he killed himself.”
“Mr. Potato head stop what you’re doing and listen to Woody; he and Buzz are actually friends now.”
I want to shake some sense into them; bypass the torturous drama and mistrust and make everything alright. But you can’t and the story is usually better for it…
To Be or Not To Be plays off that. Why should Ophelia take Hamlet’s words to heart. Why doesn’t she slap some sense into him. Why does she listen to her horribly inexcusable father.
North builds out the various paths in ways that make sense, are fun, and not shy of a critical eye.
The game makes it clear which path good ol’ Bill Shakespeare took even if, when you take away the language barrier, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
He points out the inconsistencies and irrational behaviors. North isn’t simply playing with the story and throwing in gags, he’s studied the text, the history, and the controversies that make it a problem play.
If it feels like I’ve digressed more than I’ve assessed, then consider this review a job well done. Ryan North delivers an experience and it’s meant to be explored first hand. You’re meant to discover the fun nooks and crannies. That’s something I don’t want to deprive from anyone.
The game is a gift that quenches that insatiable feeling you get every time you imagine telling Billy not to be a hero; every time you tell Ned Stark to go back home; every time you tell great artists to take a look around and see the lives they’ve touched before taking their own life.
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