The Sinking City, a game I’ve been very eager to get my hands on, released today and I can’t recall a time I’ve ever been more disappointed by a game. Both in its accessibility and it’s gray-area approach to H.P. Lovecraft’s antisemitism and racism.
You play as Charles Reed, a private investigator with supernatural abilities struggling with his deteriorating mental health, and you spend your time in the game in the fictional city of Oakmont trying to solve your own mystery concerning your visions and you find yourself being frequently hired to solve various mysteries for townsfolk while you’re there.
Upon launching the game, you’re presented with a screen not unlike that of Mafia III:
Perhaps it’s just me (though I doubt it is) but I just don’t feel like putting a statement that you disagree with these beliefs but included them in a fantasy game anyway is quite enough, nor does it absolve you of responsibility for what you’ve created and how it’s interpreted.
You see, I refuse to believe that fantasy and historically accurate racism are things that need to coincide. There have been plenty of sci-fi and fantasy authors who have addressed social issues without including historically accurate depictions of them. Just read any one of Octavia Butler’s novels to see this masterfully done.
Some of the first dialogue players see when starting the game is an exchange between the main character and an NPC who goes on about “filthy migrants” and how the city has fallen into crime and squalor since their arrival, how they’re only there to cause harm.
I think it’s incredibly irresponsible to include this sort of language in a game being sold in a country that currently has child immigrants and asylum seekers locked in cages, dying inside concentration camps while people stand idly by with the attitude that they are, in fact, also “filthy migrants.” We don’t need this ideology reinforced in our entertainment media.
I believe it’s down right dangerous to depict antisemitism and racism the way this game does without taking a STRONG and beat-you-over-the-head-with-it clear stand against it and this game simply fails to do that. They seem to believe they’ve absolved themselves of that responsibility by simply including that nice little statement about it before your game begins. To me it feels like they included it just because it was part of what Lovecraft did and this was their homage to a blatantly racist and horrible man.
Innovation doesn’t just have to come through a game’s mechanics, writers can innovate too and these writers would have done well to be innovative in creating their own world, their own lore, and leaving the abhorrent beliefs of a bigot behind.
All that said, the accessibility (both Deaf/hoh and mobility) is not a whole lot better.
In terms of mobility, there is no button remapping on console, no toggle option for sprint, looting, or weapon aiming, and both right and left stick presses are required.
As for subtitles, you can turn them off (they’re on by default) and that’s it. There are no size options, no speaker labels and the biggest problem…
No background for the text and quite often, the nicely sized subtitles are still impossible to read.
The immersion for Deaf/hoh players is lacking too, which came as no surprise to me, as this is so often the case in games that play with hallucinations and attempt to gamify mental health. There is no shortage of noises and sounds that add to the creepy, WTF was that vibe of the game, but all that is lacking for Deaf players because none of it is visualized.
The game is entirely playable with these issues but how much Deaf/hoh players will be able to enjoy it, well, that really depends on your patience and willingness to miss out on immersion.
Menu screenshots below: