Cart Life broke me in less than half an hour.
I started the game as Andrus Poder. Andrus Poder is from Ukraine. He works on his English by translating Ukrainian poetry while on the train to his new life. He has a cat, Mr. Glembovski, who he cares for deeply.
Andrus purchased a newspaper stand for $2,000. He rented a room where Mr. Glembovski wasn’t allowed for something like $125 a week.
Andrus tried to walk to a mega mart for a litter box and some food. It was closed. Andrus went home, showered, and brushed his teeth. He woke up hungry. He took the bus to the mega mart again, purchased some peanut butter and jelly, and went to work. Andrus was too hungry to open his own shop.
I fumbled. I couldn’t figure out how to eat. Andrus was hungry. I couldn’t figure out how to eat. Andrus was hungry. I tried to go into a bar and buy food. The bar wasn’t open. Andrus was hungry.
I closed the game application.
I knew that Cart Life would be a sad thing. I knew that something bad would happen. It is definitely part of my personal information politics that I am constantly waist-deep in stories and narratives of economic failure and systemic disenfranchisement and abjection by systems (the State, capitalism, etc.) These issues are important to me, so I stay educated on the specifics of things.
But there is something especially heart destroying about having to watch as an intelligent person and his companion animal are reduced to nothing.
Cart Life, in the twenty minutes or so that I played it, communicated to me so well that I was doomed to fail that I ejected myself from the experience to save myself the sadness. I don’t think that has ever happened to me before. The game, with its aesthetic and mechanics, was able to inform me so quickly that it would be emotionally effecting that I was able to make a gut check decision about it.
I’m writing a lot of words about this, but honestly, I’m just shocked. I’m shocked that it did this to me. I’m shocked that I wasn’t prepared for it, and I’m shocked that there is something so immediate about the effect.