Underwater Video Games Ignore the Perilous State of Our Collapsing Oceans

Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings, apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wjvydx/underwater-video-games-ignore-the-perilous-state-of-our-collapsing-oceans
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I’ve been lurking for a long time, but this article finally got me to make an account, and it is because I am A BIT upset about how Abzu is portrayed in this piece.

Disclaimer: it’s one of my favorite games. I’m biased.

With that said, Abzu does care about and take time to display the problematic situation the oceans are currently in. Each new zone needs to be “awakened” because it is in a state of decay. There’s a lot of stuff at the end that’s metaphorically about using and abusing the resources of the ocean. That’s a lot of what the game is (symbolically) about, and its upsetting to see it portrayed here as just a “wonder” game where you wander around with fish.

There is a lot of wonder in Abzu, but it also definitely addresses the ocean’s current issues and has some stuff to say. It’s not super complex. It’s not deconstructing and detailing pollution, but the changing oceans are definitely a feature of that game. Maybe Cameron saw it differently, maybe he hasn’t played it all the way through, I dunno.

It’s a great game though and I would highly recommend it.


Abzu let me befriend a manatee and now I’m like “STEP THE HELL UP, ALL OTHER GAMES”

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I played Abzu, and I feel like it hits the same problem here as Subnautica: there’s a narrative of caring about the ocean, but filtered through a metaphor that I think really abstracts it away from a real-world problem. At the same time, I don’t think it goes far enough to do the kind of cognitive estrangement work that I see as beneficial in the tabletop stuff I mentioned. A beautiful game, though!

Hi Cameron, I appreciate the response. Abzu’s message felt really clear to me, personally, but I think I understand what you mean in that the game is almost otherworldly and it’s potentially difficult to see our real world problem in the game’s fictional world. I’ve also not played the tabletop things you mentioned, so I do not have that point of comparison to see a potentially better and clearer version of this being done.

I always look forward to your columns and I appreciate you taking the time to respond.