Over the past few years there has been an increasing focus on “meaningful games.” This basically puts attention on titles looking to raise awareness or help players emphasize with the challenges people face around the world. To some, these games are simply too depressing to play while others find them an intriguing chance to step into someone else’s shoes for a while. We Are Chicago is one such title which looks to bridge the gap between serious narrative and coherent gameplay. As the name so readily implies, its storyline is focused around families living in Chicago’s south side and their daily lives.
Unlike some games which take real world situations but add a fictional element, such as Sunset by Tale of Tales, We Are Chicago is very focused on presenting an unfiltered look at life. This has been accomplished by developer Culture Shock Games actively going out and listening to stories told by actual residents. Not only does getting these true accounts make the game more authentic, but it certainly helps drive home why this game needed to be made to begin with. For many, there is a distinct lack of awareness of what goes on in cities such as Chicago, and in particular, for people of color. We Are Chicago will not correct this lack of attention, but hopefully it will help encourage more game developers to partner up with people to share their stories as well.
Some may now be wondering just how We Are Chicago actually plays. The developers took inspiration from studios such as Telltale Games to frame their game around. It shows, as in many ways this looks and feels similar to one of their adventure products. Sure, there might not be nearly the same level of polish, but a gripping storyline can and does manage to grab players regardless. In the case of the IndieCade demo, there was just one story on display. It centered around a family having dinner when a son brought home a friend from work. At first the welcoming atmosphere and home setting feel familiar enough for most. Then a gunshot rings out in the neighborhood. It wasn’t close, but turns the conversation to the reality that this family lives in constant fear of gang-related gun violence. This will also be familiar for some of us, but may prove a huge wake up call for other players.
Players are then put into the position of continuing the dinner conversation by selecting dialog choices. They may opt to delve more into distressing talk or even try to avoid that conversation completely if it makes them uncomfortable. It seems that this is a game that will really benefit from multiple playthroughs just to hear all that the NPCs have to say. Unlike most dialog options in other games, the choices here feel like they carry more weight. It’s a bit hard to explain why but something about the “real” setting changes one’s outlook on where they want to take the conversation. There will be multiple stories included in We Are Chicago to follow the lives of others, but only this single scenario was available at E3.
There is no doubt that some gamers out there have already tuned out and will not end up playing We Are Chicago. That is just fine, as some people truly only come to games for fun and escaping reality. A game such as this forces people to come face to face with the very real struggles of others out there. Anyone interested in pursuing more serious games should check out We Are Chicago. It may not prove the most gorgeous or high-action adventure title out there, but what it does provide is very much worth experiencing.