Slowly but steadily, video games are stretching the limits of how we define them in incredible and inventive ways. They can convey a lot of ideas, from the mechanical and systematic to the literary and emotional. With Broken Rules’ Gibbon: Beyond the Trees, we can add another important link to the medium’s evolutionary chain – games as a form of activism.
Gibbon is undeniably and intentionally cute. Using the studio’s signature painterly style, Broken Rules creates a warm and vibrant atmosphere in the jungles of Southeast Asia for the game’s adorable ape family, and a short but poignant vignette drives home this family’s love and adoration for each other.
The game then proceeds to teach you the all-important lesson of how to be a monkey (well, technically an ape). Rather than giving you full control of the protagonist, Pink, you instead guide her momentum and cadence. There’s a button that propels you forward, another for swinging, and a bit further down the road you discover that you can backflip. It doesn’t take long for everything to coalesce and feel natural. Swinging (or what I now know is called brachiation) becomes sublimely delightful. Soon enough you’re climbing, jumping, sliding and pinging off your partner in what feels like a very balletic display of kineticism.
All of these things make the gibbon family very endearing, which is good not only because, well, you want your protagonist to be likeable (most of the time), but having that affection helps you as a player take notice when things stop being idyllic and start getting real. At no point does Gibbon ever stray too far from its combo-laden swinging, but the situations you find yourself in give you poignant reminders of the struggles that befall wildlife through no fault of their own. You’ll see instances of the effects of global warming, deforestation and poaching in dramatic and stark fashion. It really gave me pause for thought, especially knowing the apes’ plight is no fault of their own. Gibbon conveys its message wordlessly, remaining startling and tender all the while.
Gibbon is an interesting bridge between folks reading about and actually seeing the devastating effects of humanity’s actions. While Gibbon does go back to being a little more light-hearted with its post-game mode – because after all, it is a game – it does an admirable job of raising awareness on the whole. As a game it’s very enjoyable, and as an interactive bit of advocacy, it’s brilliant. But I wouldn’t expect any less from Broken Rules, because they are excellent at marrying an engaging experience with thought-provoking storytelling.
Come to Gibbon: Beyond the Trees to live a few moments as a beautiful, howling ape – stay for the opportunity to learn something that you may use to change the world.
Gibbon: Beyond The Trees was developed by Broken Rules, and it’s available on PC, Switch and Apple Arcade. We played the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: review code for Gibbon: Beyond The Trees was provided by Future Friends Games. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.