Even 'Wholesome' Games Can (And Should!) Make You Feel Terrible

The Violent Video Game has become a well-worn trope. The idea that games are mostly murder-simulators is a thought that still pervades the mainstream awareness of games, even if over a billion people have probably played Candy Crush. Even though "non-violent" games have existed for as long as the medium has, that generalization has caused certain sections of the games industry to develop a new umbrella term in response to the "violent" game: the "wholesome" game.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/4aya9d/even-wholesome-games-can-and-should-make-you-feel-terrible
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Signs of the Sojourner is so good. I haven’t finished it yet but I love how devastating that feeling is when you return home and realize your vocabulary is so different than it was before that you find it hard to connect with your brother. Hit me in the feels.

As someone who studied Communication in college I think this might be my favorite representation of conversations in any video game.

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Oof, that title hit me pretty hard because I have zero trust for “wholesome” games any more, lmao.
I played undertale before I came out as a trans girl and the queer themes in it were pretty formative, loved the game. Cut to 3 years later and I’m playing deltarune and, oh, that game just outright opens with a weird, tone deaf bit with a fake character creator and how you can’t change yourself (which is vaguely transphobic bullshit, lmao) and ends with revealing that actually, the world deltarune takes place in is one where the lesbian characters from undertale either don’t exist or actively hate each other.

So uh, yeah, between that and the similarly “wholesome” steven universe’s pivot into the idolization of mediocre men and het relationships / reproduction I don’t trust any “Wholesome” media to be anything but just the bare mimimum soft cishet bullshit. Apologies for uh, wildly dodging the topic of the article but this has just been on my mind for a few weeks lol

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That honestly feels a bit harsh.

I get where you’re coming from, but just because a work has one or two things you don’t agree with doesn’t mean the whole work is poisoned. Neither Deltarune nor Steven Universe have anything particularly bigoted or gross in them, definitely questionable stuff (like some stuff I don’t agree with explored with a small handful of SU characters, one I was surprised to see broken down in a late series episode), but I wouldn’t say they’re erasing queer rep or valuing heterosexual relationships more than queer ones. There’s a lot of stuff going on in both (themes of empathy, uncertainty with growing, existentialism, ect) and one of them is technically a demo. Decisions have other goals and we haven’t even seen the payoff in the former case. It seems intent to make previous players uncomfortable on purpose, thus why it ends the way it does.

I find this sort of attitude unhealthy and it was a trap I got in myself many a time (just last year in fact). I think it’s important to untangle your feelings from a work from time to time to get a better understanding of it and why you reacted the way you did, both for your own growth and for growing a better critical eye at media.

As for the topic, I can recommend Speed Dating For Ghosts, which definitely falls into the wholesome but makes you feel bad category since it’s a goofy game about speed dating with ghosts, which tends to result in some unexpected swerves that explore the emotional complexities of existing (especially with Gary).

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Signs of the Sojourner isn’t actually out on Switch yet. Neither is CrossCode.

My life is just a long wait…

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not the aforementioned fake character creator? such brazen emotional manipulation of the player isn’t gross?
what does it matter if it’s a demo?

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I can’t say I appreciate the insinuation that my feelings are unhealthy (or unexamined) but uh, I’m just sharing an anecdote about how I’ve found wholesome media hides some (what I would call) hurtful themes that I rarely see people engage with. If you like it, that’s fine, but I don’t.

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The game is clearly making a divide between the player and the character they “control” through the game. It’s a mirroring of the big reveal of Undertale in a darker, more complicated way, like the rest of the game, thus why the main character rips out their heart and reject control the player had over them.

The fact the game is a demo that establishes this running theme of control and agency without full on payoff in said demo suggest this is going to be explored more when the story continues.

It’s not arguing that you have to be your assigned at birth gender, it’s arguing you cannot be this character in this other world (this series treats meta elements more like this is another world than this is a fake world, ala Metal Gear Solid 1’s forth wall breaks, to make you connect more with the characters and their struggles). In that lens, it’s making it clear the main character of Deltarune is not an extension of you, but his own person, and you’re supposed to question the full implications of that.

EDIT: I just wanted to add an apology. I didn’t mean to start anything or derail the thread. I wasn’t trying to question anyone’s feelings, just try to give some advice based on my own experiences with tangling my emotions with things I’ve hated or liked, but I clearly handled that badly.

Just going to drop this topic from here on, sorry.

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Just for the record, Steven Universe definitely has some unadressed antiblackness that’s really gross. Or maybe it does address it later, after I stopped watching, but it was enough for me to drop it before it did.

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I heard SU did come around and address that character, though I still haven’t finished it so I can’t vouch for how well they did it.

‘Wholesome’ games almost all have pretty heavy themes in them, and I generally enjoy that part of them. It’s part of the appeal of small games, often with only one or two writers and little to no publisher meddling. And it’s part of creating something that feels good, addressing the things that can keep us from feeling that way IRL.

Even something as utterly innocuous as Pikuniku has a (more?) evil Andrew Yang-style capitalist as the villain, which in many ways is a more relevant take on ‘corporations bad’ than Umbrella, Abstergo, etc. It’s part of the charm.

I’m still trying to connect with Signs of the Sojourner, and while I love the characters and worldbuilding, I think the gameplay ends up falling really flat for me. Maybe it’s because my first playthrough of it, I never ‘lost’ a single conversation, so the ending I got felt kind of arbitrary. Subsequent playthroughs where I’ve thrown games to make sure the main character wasn’t friendly with some NPCs led to some great stories, but it felt like rigging relationships in the same way reading a guide for a dating sim so I buy the transfer student the right beans for Legumentine’s to make him fall in love with me.

But it is a cool system, I hope it clicks eventually.

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The Pokémoba actually sounds kind of good?

Well I was NOT ready for the Mr. Driller bomb.

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