PUNKS (still) NOTDEAD

by G. Christopher Williams

1 April 2015

If games are based on systems of rules, they seem the least likely of mediums for the anarchic sensibilities of punk. In PUNKSNOTDEAD, you punch until you die. That's the game.
 

A synopsis of the content of PUNKSNOTDEAD, an indie game made in 12 hours in 2013, is explained by mooosh, the game’s developer: “12HOURS/1979/GET PUNCHED/PUNKS NOT DEAD/EAT SHIT.“ To which, I can only respond that if punk’s not dead, then, well, fair enough. I hear you.
  
It’s kind of surprising to me that I haven’t played PUNKSNOTDEAD until recently. The concept of designing a game with punk aesthetics and punk sensibilities is one that has interested me in the past. In particular, I have written several times about the influence of punk on the design of the games made by Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture (see, for example, ”Trolling the Player: Punk Aesthetics and the ‘Anti-Fun’ of Suda51’s Games,” ”Lollipops and Chainsaws: Doesn’t Anyone Listen to Punk Anymore?”, and Shadows of the Damned: Punk’s Not Dead?”).

The genius (in my mind) of Suda51’s integration of punk sensibilities with his game design is the manner in which he is capable of translating the ugliness and rawness of punk into game mechanics. If games are fundamentally ordered things, systematic things, and based on rule systems, they seem like one of the least likely mediums to allow for the anarchic sensibilities of punk. However, Suda51’s wonky controls and frequently purposeful additions of boring mini-games are a giant “fuck you” to the player. Like Johnny Rotten flicking his own snot on his fans or just the middle finger of punk rock to the world, frequently Suda51 turns the “rules” of the game into an expression of generalized antagonism. He builds games that antagonize the player and that antagonize the idea of games themselves.

PUNKSNOTDEAD is even more basic than Suda51’s approach to games, which while raw in tone and design are still big, bulky experiences. Due to its brevity and simplicity of expression, PUNKSNOTDEAD feels all the purer as an expression of punk attitude. Perhaps, this is partly parody. Perhaps, this is partly homage. However, the truth is that parodies of punk, like The Edge of Etiquette’s “I Hate You!” from the Star Trek IV soundtrack are often not all that far from the true spirit of some early punk rock. If “I hate you, and I berate you, and I say screw you!” is a bit of a joke, remember that, according to Johnny (Rotten) Lydon, “anger is an energy,” and “Rise” really is one of his mellower songs in attitude and tone.


The game is accompanied by a soundtrack that consists of an edited version of a 1 minute and 21 second long song called “Get Punched” by LOW DMG. I am a fan of punk, both old school, new school, and everything in between, and I have to say that I haven’t heard quite so pure a punk song in many years. Most of the repeated lyrics of “Get Punched” are variations on the phrase, “Walking down the street, I get punched” (for example, a variant might be, “You’re walking down the street, you get punched.”).

My favorite lines in the song are: “Going down the street to get lunch/Walking down the street, I get punched/Going to my mom’s to get punched/Walking down the street, I get punched.” To which my immediate response is, “So true, so true.” This is a wrathful description of the world and a mournful one as well. To the cynical punk, this idea just has to make sense. Even going down the street to get lunch, well, you’re going to get punched. Welcome to a the cold, brutal, aggressive universe of the committed cynic. Welcome to punk rock.

“Get Punched” sets the perfect tone for the game itself in which you play a pink stick man, who after exiting a car to walk down the street is almost immediately surrounded by indistinguishably similar pink stick men. As you are surrounded by more and more people, the only action you can take besides moving left or right or jumping is to punch.

There is no clear motivation to punch. You simply can. When you do punch a stick man, he will go careening wildly off in the direction that you punched him causing other stick men to similarly rocket off in other directions and sometimes explode into a million pieces. While punching, you scream obscenities, “Eat Shit!”, “Get Fucked!”, or “Fuck You!” Occasionally, one of the pink stick men will turn green, warning you that he is going to shoot at you. You have several ways of responding to shooters. Punch someone else into him, punch his bullet back at him, or jump over the bullet. That’s it. That’s the game. You punch until you die.

If you find this lashing out for the sake of lashing out somewhat sensible, you might just be punk. If you also find it somewhat vaguely funny at the same time, you probably are really, really punk.

On showing the game to my wife, herself a very big punk fan (Her very first live concert experience was at a show where The Ramones opened for Debbie Harry. My wife was there to see The Ramones, not Harry), she said about the game, “I admire the egalitarianism of the violence.” And she’s right, PUNKSNOTDEAD is a representation of pure aggression and rage, unbounded and unconcerned for any markers of identity, be they political, gendered, racial, class-based, or anything else you can think of. Hell, you may as well be punching yourself in the game. And maybe symbolically that is all that you are doing, punching at existence by punching at anything and everything that lives and breathes. Everyone looks absolutely identical. The only thing being expressed is that you are just kind of sick of people. This is old, old school punk, apolitical altogether, and only concerned with screaming, “This all fucking sucks!”

“Beat on the Brat” immediately springs to mind when playing the game. As I said, the song accompanying this expression of the frustration of existing and the game’s own response to that frustration by giving into the fantasy of simply lashing out in general leads to an overall tone that is wrathful, mournful, and much like The Ramones’s classic “Beat on the Brat,” intended to be darkly and teeth grittingly funny.

Punch, punch, punch. Scream “Eat Shit!” After all, as we all know, “Going down the street to get lunch/ Walking down the street, you get punched.” So, what else are you gonna do?

You can download PUNKSNOTDEAD and play it for free at GameJolt. Oh, and get fucked.

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