What does it mean to be human?
Limited nucleotide diversity. Abstract reasoning. Existential dread. Arguing about stupid stuff on the internet. Telling the neighbours that you recycle when you secretly don’t, because who even has time to sort out the trash and besides, dolphins can suck it, and the neighbours are probably making it up too so whatever.
And, mostly for me, maybe, being an inconsistent hypocrite. I’m the worst, apparently. And this is the lesson I’ve learned playing The Red Strings Club.
With its nostalgic retro-pixelart aesthetics and “narrative experience” blurb on Steam, I’d assumed this game would be something like Beneath a Steel Sky, perhaps, or… actually, that’s the only other cyberpunk point-and-click game I can think of, and it’s been out almost 25 years already. So that’s a problem, but also a whole other thing. Anyway, The Red Strings Club isn’t like Beneath a Steel Sky, or anything else I’ve ever played, for that matter.
Instead, it’s a series of conversations and decisions that expose your own cognitive dissonances while mixing virtual cocktails, installing cybernetic implants, and using clever social engineering to infiltrate a megacorp and disrupt its deployment of a questionable firmware upgrade. The “questionable” part is very important, but I can’t explain much more than that without blowing the plot. The point is that it’s complicated. And ambiguous. And something about the moral and ethical limits of self-determination, which – it turns out – I believe should be entirely unlimited, except when I don’t.
And at the end of the game, I chose love over saving the planet, so besides being an inconsistent hypocrite, I’m also a sentimental asshole.
In The Red Strings Club, you take turns playing as one of three characters. Donovan is the owner and bartender of the game’s eponymous boozer, and also an information broker. Brandeis is a freelance hacker and tech-anarchist. Akara-184 is a Supercontinent Ltd “empathy android”, whose job is to make people happy. Each one has their own sort of mini-game, but serving more as props than puzzles to be solved. Donovan, for example, makes drinks that exploit an NPC’s prevailing emotions and prompt them to divulge whatever he wants to know – but there’re no wrong choices, only different consequences. Okay, some wrong choices. I got one person killed. Oops. Sorry, Diana, but it’s not my fault the game uses auto-saves.
Depending on those choices and consequences, I expect some parts of the game will change somewhat significantly from one play to the next, but I recommend going with your most immediate impulses the first time. I’m starting a club for inconsistent hypocrites, sentimental assholes, and people who can’t even maintain basic confidentiality when it’s part of the job, and applications are open.