We Are Chicago
Now Available on Steam
Developed by Culture Shock Games
Growing up in a low-income, predominantly African-American, Asian and Latino community in West Oakland is what made me who I am today. Everyone knew each other and said hello on the street, we all respected each other and everyone watched out for each other, no one cared what race you were or where you came from in the end, or especially how much money you made or how wealthy you were.
With the amazing submersion in culture and a more raw, more real side of American history and community came its own territory and set of downsides, of course. Poverty and constant unnecessary death from gang violence were an unfortunate reality that everyone strove to break free from. For me Oakland is a mecca for culture, music, art and education that I lovingly call home, but also a hotbed for hatred and violence caused by misunderstanding, frustration and greed.
It doesn't matter where you're from who you are or what you look like, We Are Chicago is relatable to anyone who's ever felt like they were outside of their element in their own town. To anyone who remembers the awkward years of school, or felt like they didn't fit in with the routines of others. Where the influences that drove you become bad ones, and negative elements start to move in. The life of living in a city.
We Are Chicago has a very Do-It-Yourself feel, a kind of approach collaborated on by community members and leaders as opposed to long-time game developer vets. It doesn't have the fanciest graphics and can even feel slightly stiff in the animations department but what We Are Chicago lacks in technical modernization or polish it more than makes up for in genuine heart for its subject matter and its outright addictive storytelling through dialogue trees with multiple moral choices.
I have to admit I was slightly thrown off by Aaron's role as a silent protagonist. With voiced dialogue for all of the cast it was hard to figure at first that I was my own silent character, and not one of the friends we're first introduced to. It had a positive effect in the end, however, giving me more room for creativity in imagining just what this character is like and how he speaks or even better, putting myself in his shoes and his position. You really feel immersed in the role of a youth struggling to beat the bad elements closing in around him.
It takes a look at a part of America with a serious eye that's hardly, if ever, looked at in the gaming demographic. Something this demographic shamefully laughs or brushes off when presented with a picture of reality, and something these developers have done a great job of accurately portraying without the hype or the flashy and violent packaging other games with an urban city setting have. This is something anyone with an open-mind should be able to seriously appreciate.
That doesn't mean We Are Chicago has no violence, it's actually centered around gun violence but not in the same positive or attractive light that we're used to thanks to years of desensitization from the media. Instead of embracing or promoting it as we're used to videogames doing the developers have shed some light on the very real consequences of income disparity and in turn, the violence and strife it causes all the way down to the youth of our communities. It's all incredibly eye-opening and sobering, and it has a very positive end-message and goal.
As the creators state; "In addition, Culture Shock Games is incorporating content into the game to benefit two Chicago non-profits and donating a portion of proceeds to support All Stars Project of Chicago, and Reclaim Our Kids, who are empowering at-risk youth in underprivileged communities of Chicago." This is an experience that's good entertainment for the mind, and has a positive effect on our communities, and overall for our currently sick country.
In the unfortunate period of American history we're currently in where close-minded intentions are emboldened, We Are Chicago couldn't have come at a better time to put real topics in the spotlight. I sincerely hope to see this become a successful trend in the gaming media in the days to come.