Thursday, May 3, 2012

-REVIEW: Cargo: The Quest for Gravity-
a principled madness

Title: Cargo: The Quest for Gravity
Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge
Price/Platform: $19.99/Steam

Insanity, at a price that can't be beat

Put aside your petty squabbles. You’ve spent your days and hours whiling away your life with nary a reward to show for it: a pittance in pay, a meager sum of wood chips, and a gravelly voice with an unsatisfied sex drive. This is the life you have led and this is the life that you loathe. This is the reason you complain and this is the righteousness that you intend to display. But please, stop. You’ve got nowhere left to run. You’ve got no one left to blame. You’ve got nothing left to lose.

Just have some goddamn fun.

The apparent difficulty in life isn’t so much a problem as it is a situation: just something that seems to persist in spite of our best efforts. The worst part of all is that any persisting situation seems to imply to our fragile carbon-based brains an underlying system: a game of sorts. If this system persists than it is presumable that there is something that is “persisting” it, supporting it, perpetuating it, and as such there must be some kind of mechanism which, if understood properly, can be changed. This is the promise of all the sciences, religions, and motivational speaking.

But who’s right? The end of any of these analyses is only ever death, that unfortunate point in time where the mechanical workings of our fragile carbon-based bodies just wink out. Moments before this moribund winking we are afforded mere nanominutes and microchrons to decide whether what we chose to spend our petaminutes and megachrons on were entirely worthy. And, more often than not, the conclusion we come to is, “Shit. Can I go back and do this over?”
Having seen time and again a soul reach said point and utter such words I’ve come to a different conclusion: life isn’t a system. Life is just a series of events that are undeniably interconnected but by no means traveling in any predictable manner. Life is a vessel for ambition and opportunity, a manifestation of metaphysics sandwiched between the dirty necessity of a physical world and the pure desire for an imagined one. This means that, at its core, life is about work, work is about fulfillment, and fulfillment is about satisfaction. And satisfaction is defined by fun.

Cargo: The Quest for Gravity seems to agree.


Whatever goals you have in Cargo are subordinate to one thing: Fun. As axiomatic as this is, Cargo is the only game bold enough to proclaim it so explicitly. So while the idea of making Fun the Key to Fun in a game that is presumably being played in order to have Fun is so ridiculously redundant, absurd, and childish, it’s only so at face value. Dig deeper and you’ll find more. Much more.

The idea that Fun is an end in itself is, by itself, not a difficult idea to grapple with. This makes playing Cargo easy to accept. So in spite of Flawkes’ rather slippery ambulance and the buddies increasing creepiness, Cargo never really trips one’s instinctual see-a-chubby-nude-short-guy gag reflex. And, of course, observant readers will note that I’ve made a leap of logic here by describing the game’s aesthetic by way of its design philosophy, which is good because I’m about to get much, much more indirect.
Cargo’s primary means of interaction is building and driving vehicles of various kinds in order to fulfill the needs of chubby nude short men in a world where nothing makes sense. Gravity has lost its grip on reality because the earth has ceased spinning, but the vehicles you build and your chubboshortnude passengers are still subject to its whims. At the same time, these chubboshortnudes produce Fun, which can be consumed in order to reinstate the power of gravity. By this logic, the power of gravity exists within the chubboshortnudes by virtue of their ability to produce the very thing that can be used to revitalize it. In the same way, it also exists in you.

What does this mean? It means that the goal in gravity isn’t simply a matter of Fun, it’s a matter of life and death. Cargo: The Quest for Gravity should instead be called Cargo: The Game about Life and Shit as Told Through the Lives of Chubby Short Nude Guys Who Enjoy Being Pleasured by a Short-Haired Engineeress Until They Explode because that’s exactly what it is. In Cargo Fun isn’t called Fun just because Fun is a fun word. It’s called Fun because there’s no other word that more closely matches the reality of life: that all pursuits are in the name of the production of fun. It’s not that fun is spontaneously found; it must be created, it must be mined, it must be serviced out of the hearts, minds, and exploding bungholes of all God’s creatures, and that even at the end of the world, when the humblest of these creatures are but retarded imitations of the glorious hypersexualized beings that we are today, this objective will not change.

And on top of all this lies the idea that the production of fun is in fact an extrinsic reward as well as an intrinsic one, but the one that contains usable, productive value is in fact the kind that is received and not the kind experienced. By insinuating that Fun is in fact a currency exchanged or resource mined as opposed to an intrinsic value agreed upon and self-evident in all creatures, Cargo implies that Fun is not truly valuable unless it's the kind that you're helping other people have, even if those people happen to be the most repulsive beings in the known universe. So while it never outright denies the idea that you can't have fun by yourself, it unequivocally states that real Fun, equitable, exchangeable, for legal tender Fun can only be found in the service of others.


What little is left after understanding the point of this game is by and large pointless, as are most things. But that doesn’t mean Cargo lacks depth or playability. Its focus on providing a powerful, if somewhat obtuse, design-and-build mechanic, a number of varied environments, and a gentle, easygoing aesthetic wrapping make it palatable enough to simply enjoy watching. But the journey to understanding the message of Cargo is one that will not soon be forgotten, and that’s something that can’t really be said for too many games nowadays.

Disqus for the mediocrity codex: just like everyone else, sometimes