David Homan of indie studio Slouch Couch recently revealed what he hopes to achieve with his upcoming marijuana-themed endless runner game Drugbound.
Homan believes that the more popular culture is instilled with marijuana-related themes and messages, the more the idea of legalizing the substance will be wholly accepted. Though a great effort and one that I personally admire, it doesn’t change the fact that many aspects of popular culture already feature plenty of such themes and continue to be until now. Knowing this, how can one independently developed videogame contribute towards the change in the conventional wisdom on the current marijuana laws?
We asked Homan about what he thinks about this and he has inclined to agree with the issue stated above. This was his reply:
“I hope to inform and educate people about the unjust marijuana prohibition in the US. Any piece of pop culture medium can ‘have a topic(s)’, but the media that changes peoples’ minds are the media that inform about those topics. It just so happens that the topic in Drugbound is Marijuana Prohibition.”
The inclusion of marijuana-related themes in movies, TV and videogames do not necessarily connote a supporting or informative view. We have films like Half Baked or Harold and Kumar Go To Whitecastle that do not just subtly denote marijuana-related themes but actually make the entire premise of the feature revolve around such themes. However, films like these do not necessarily address or challenge the current western sociopolitical standpoint of the legality of marijuana. It can be argued that these types of films merely reflect the stereotype that marijuana users are just peculiar characters that constantly find themselves involved in strange and ‘trippy’ events.
There is an existing stereotype that some gamers often use marijuana as a means to increase their appreciation of videogames (or anything considered shallow or superficial for that matter). Think of TV shows like Spaced or the film Grandma’s Boy. This stereotype goes hand in hand with the assumption that all types of videogames absolutely do not require any sort of mental prowess whatsoever. Considering this, would a videogame be the best medium to spread awareness of such a pressing issue within western civilization?
“I don’t know if I particularly agree with your premise that marijuana and video games go hand-in-hand. I do admit that there is some intersection between pot culture and video game culture, but in a more broad sense there really isn’t much overlap,” said Homan. “There are plenty of normal everyday people who enjoy one, but not both. I also don’t think this is the best way to spread awareness, but it is a way to spread awareness that also just happens to coincide with my own desire to create video games.”
There are documentaries such as Super High Me or The Union: The Business Behind Getting High that offer a more informative take on western marijuana laws than films that simply feature hilarious marijuana-related antics. However, the fact that these documentaries did not really gain such widespread reception shows how uninformed the public may be. Of course, I’m not saying that these ‘underground’ marijuana documentaries are essential to revealing the absolute truth about the matter. Popular culture certainly has softened up to the idea of presenting marijuana culture recently but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it has significantly contributed to the overall stance on marijuana legality. After all, most western countries continue to view marijuana as taboo.
Homan believes that the world will be seeing more politically fuelled games in the next decade or so “and not just games fighting against marijuana prohibition.”
“Much of art has been motivated politically for thousands of years now and I see no reason videogames, with their increasing accessibility, shouldn’t be included with the rest of art in that regard,” said Homan.
Videogames, however, do not exactly carry the same reputation as other forms of media that are considered an art form and it may not even be considered as a form of art by some. When people think videogames, they won’t necessarily think of a politically fuelled work of art. People who have no extended knowledge of videogames might automatically think of AAA titles like the Call of Duty franchise because these are widely advertised by high profile companies worldwide. It is damn near impossible to find a highly politically fuelled videogame that is supported by a high profile videogame company simply because most well-known developers would rather not be associated with controversial titles as it can make them more vulnerable to smear campaigns.
Homan added, “I can’t speak for other artists or videogame developers, but with Drugbound specifically I hope to invoke emotional responses. I hope to spark conversation and moments of education. I hope to plant seeds (no pun intended) of doubt in peoples’ minds. Then maybe one of these people one day will run for office, or be on a jury, or be in a position to put what they have learned to work positively in the world.”
Drugboundcertainly looks like a game that marijuana enthusiasts may enjoy due to its somewhat surreal theme. A person wholly opposed to the very idea of marijuana may possibly view Drugbound as just another drug-induced videogame that might give the wrong impression and influence people to start using marijuana. However, this assumption is the same as presuming violent videogames makes people more violent when, in fact, there isn’t any conclusive evidence that ties violent videogames to violent behavior.
“The surreal characters have more to do with my personality than they do anything to do with drugs or marijuana,” said Homan. “If a person were to confront me I would probably argue that their claim is based on little evidence and perhaps they should research the subject more.”
One of the reasons why many people still strongly oppose the idea of marijuana is due to the existing stereotype that all marijuana users are lazy, low-lives who have short attention spans. Not to mention the fact that it is still listed as a Schedule I drug by the DEA along with other drugs such as heroin or LSD. Interestingly enough, marijuana is a class B drug in the UK while LSD and cocaine are in class A.
“I would then mention to [the misinformed] that people should be able to make their own decisions in life, whether that choice is to be a brilliant scientist who occasionally smokes marijuana with her husband on the weekends, or if that choice is to deliver pizza and smoke pot 7 days a week,” Homan said. “Those choices are to be made by the people themselves, not by the government. I would then suggest to them that the wasted resources of a failed drug war is much more of a drain on society than any perceived drain on their part by people who are ‘absolute stoners’.”
There is also the possibility that people might view Drugbound as propaganda against the war on drugs. Aside from the fact that the game has you running away from the authorities while collecting marijuana, it also shows “ridiculously idiotic and offensive quotes said by supporters of marijuana prohibition in the 20s and 30s.” Homan hopes that by informing people of what they used to say about marijuana it will “make people stop and think ‘so this is one of the reasons marijuana is illegal in the first place?’” He also adds that most of the quotes are “framed in the context of historical fact which make them difficult to refute.” By including these quotes, he hopes to encourage players to do their own research instead of relying on secondary information.
Homan adds, “some players may consider the game biased, of course. I’m not going to say it’s not because I think you’re right, it definitely is biased. My job as a game developer isn’t to be unbiased. That’s the media’s job. That’s the journalist’s job. With this game (and with any other game) I will express my views rationally and I hope people are smart enough to scrutinize them.”
By developing a game that strives to promote marijuana prohibition awareness, Homan is paving the way for others, not just indie game devs, to express their political views through different forms of media. It is difficult to say how Drugbound will fare in its endeavor to change the conventional wisdom on marijuana prohibition. However, with a developer that is as enthusiastic as Homan, it might not be such a far-fetched idea that one game can make a difference no matter how small or big.