The new mobile phone game Kids is getting game journalists all hot under the collar. Christian Donlan on Eurogamer wrote that ‘Kids is a horror game that doesn’t look like a horror game‘, saying: “It’s one of the most interesting horror games I’ve ever played. It’s not about spooky hospitals or old mansions where dogs might dive in through the window. It’s about crowds and complicity and bad decisions and how consensus is created.” And Alice O’Connor over on Rock Paper Shotgun noted that “The RPS rabble who played Kids at EGX Rezzed this year declared it one of their favourite games of the show but refused to say way, whispering cryptically about needing to see it fresh yourself”.
Suitably intrigued by this high praise from writers I respect, I downloaded the game myself. And I really wish I hadn’t bothered.
First things first, Kids isn’t really a game. It’s barely interactive and only lasts around 15 minutes. It could quite easily have been a short film and had pretty much the same effect. It’s seemingly a metaphor about following the crowd and how groups reach a consensus. It’s also about throwing people down a hole and then squeezing them through some guts before they plop out somewhere else. And then doing the same thing again. And again. And again.
Of course, you have no choice but to follow the crowd. The game literally doesn’t provide the means to do anything except that. There’s one point, however, where you actually have to (literally) swim against the flow. But again, that’s your only option. As I said, it’s barely interactive.
Kids has clearly made a big impression on people who have played it. One commenter on the above Eurogamer article said: “This was a pretty powerful experience. I played through it, made my girlfriend play through, and then have just left it to kind of ‘sit’ with me since. … A really interesting use of games as a medium.” Another had a very strong negative reaction, saying “i felt absolutely horrible for the rest of the day after playing this”. I, on the other hand, didn’t feel anything – apart from wishing that I could get my £2.99 back.
In my opinion, Kids just comes across as naive when it clearly wants to be profound. It’s the equivalent of the artist screaming into your face “Wake up sheeple! We’re all just part of the machine, yeah? You’re being subsumed into the groupthink!” It felt like I was watching something by a first-year art student who has just read The Communist Manifesto and now wants to tell everyone about these amazing new ideas.
It’s not the first time I’ve found myself profoundly at odds with the cultural consensus. I really didn’t like Firewatch, for example, ending the game with a shrug rather than being moved by this analysis of human loneliness. Frankly, I just got annoyed with the woman on the radio wanting to chat with me all the time. I spent the game wishing she’d just leave me alone, which I gather wasn’t really the point. I was also baffled by the high praise for the film Frozen, even from one of my favourite critics, Mark Kermode, someone I usually agree with. I thought it was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. I still don’t get why it’s so popular.
Still, there’s a delicious irony in all this. As games journalists rave about a game that shows how we blindly follow each other, I’m over there, swimming the other way…