What We’re Playing: Deponia

Chris: Players of indie games may think a review of Deponia is a little late. With the original released in 2012, and the final trilogy actually being wound up in October 2013, I’m exactly two years behind the times. But with a reading list up to my eyeballs and a playing list about as long, I figured what the hell.

Deponia is a 2D point-and-click, a genre undergoing a tremendous resurgence in the thriving indie gaming industry. Many people who back in the 80’s and 90’s played the likes of The Secrets of Monkey Island, or any of the other nostalgic treasures from LucasArts or Sierra, are now all grown up and have disposable incomes.

The distributors of Deponia, German company Daedalic Entertainment, are a bit of a powerhouse in the 2D indie gaming market, with some pretty respectable titles under their belt (not all of them great, but some are not too bad). Quite a number of their games have undercurrent themes – environmental degradation is one of them (in A New Beginning for instance, writers practically beat you over the head with their environmental themes).

Given Deponia is the name of a junk planet, I started off thinking it might be promising; that there might be some take away messages. Deponia is the home of the hapless and arrogant Rufus and his community. There is no end to Rufus’s self-aggrandising, nor his stupidity. His one redeeming feature is his rather sensible desire to abandon a place where people literally live in refuse. He therefore spends every waking moment dreaming up and then failing at ridiculously convoluted plans to escape to the nearby planet of Elysium.

These plans always end in disaster, and usually in some sort slapstick absurdity. The humour in general in this game is heavy-handed, playing off Rufus’s exaggerated stupidity. If you don’t mind a bit of silliness, it might just tickle you from time to time.

But if I was hoping to find, below the surface of junk, some nuance or something thought-provoking, I was much too distracted by something else to even bother looking.

On a surprisingly successful attempt to escape Deponia, Rufus finds himself aboard a strange vessel, where he sees a beautiful Elysian woman and he instantly falls in love. In the process of trying to ‘protect’ this woman, Rufus knocks her off the craft and sends her falling down onto Deponia, where he must retrieve her and help her get home.

This is where I started grinding my teeth. Firstly, the woman is so two-dimensionally imagined that the writers didn’t even bother giving her a name. That is, her name is ‘Goal.’ Her name is exactly what the creators saw her as. (Why not call her Aim, Desire or Object?) This might be a coincidence, given the game was originally written in German, but I’m fairly dubious.

And while that itself is grating, it doesn’t get better. Goal spends almost the entire game unconscious, while Rufus literally manhandles her from scene to scene, pining over her and claiming from time to time that ‘she belongs to me.’ This whining is at first so pathetic it might be laughable. As though the writers were self-parodying the apparent misogyny people claim of geek culture.

But this dynamic doesn’t significantly change throughout the game. The few occasions Goal does wake up, she’s a little feisty but essentially passive. The most ridiculous instance of this is when Rufus informs Goal that her fiancé is one of the villains. She immediately believes him – dumping the man she’s meant to marry without a second thought – and asks Rufus what to do next. And when, at last, Goal does perk up and tell Rufus how unpleasant he is, deponia_296961he just goes ahead and conveniently ‘switches her off’ by pulling out a consciousness chip – a device that none of the guys in the game seem to require.

I thought I might be a little overly sensitive on the issue; it is, after all, a title that is apparently targeted toward teenage boys. But others have given this issue much more air, and written about a number of other sex and gender issues in the game, which doesn’t fill me with much hope for it’s sequels, Chaos on Deponia, or Leaving Deponia. I started out playing a game from three years ago, but it felt like it was stuck in the last century.