The American Dream doesn’t look subtle in its satire. The virtual reality game from the Melbourne-based studio Samurai Punk depicts an America where literally every task is performed with a gun. Cooking? Yard work? Child care? All it takes is a well-aimed shot to knock out every chore and obligation. It’s a cartoonish depiction of a very real issue that won’t be fully addressed in America until our broken, money-driven political system is fixed. It’s also a sad look into how other countries view the US today. Make no mistake about it: despite what our current president might say, the world is absolutely laughing at us and our government’s refusal to consider almost any kind of new gun control policies. This trailer for The American Dream sums up the ridicule with which many more civilized countries view America.
Australians, more than most, have earned the right to mock America’s idiotic approach to gun ownership. After one of the worst mass shootings in history took place at Port Arthur in Tasmania in 1996, Australia passed a new gun law that heavily restricted the ownership of automatic and semi-automatic weapons. People who already owned such weapons largely had to get rid of them, with the government starting a buyback program as an incentive. Since that law passed Australia hasn’t had a single mass shooting of the kind that has become increasingly common in America. Americans can be killed by the dozens on a regular basis by guns like the AR-15 and our politicians, indebted to the NRA and afraid of losing reelection, do nothing; Australian authorities reacted quickly and overwhelmingly after the country’s worst mass shooting, and they haven’t seen one since.
The developers of The American Dream live in a country that has clearly benefited from the kind of gun control regulations that American politicians refuse to even consider. It makes sense that their reaction to America’s gun lust is absolute derision. Here’s another promotional video for the game, which uses live-action video to make its point even more crystal clear.
I haven’t had a chance to play The American Dream yet, but as much as I can appreciate the satirical tone of these ads, I also see a couple of potential problems. The first one relates to the often fraught relationship between tragedy and comedy. In a country that sees gun violence as frequently as America, it can seem insensitive to joke about the subject. If that trailer was released the morning of a mass shooting, it would basically have to be pulled down or deemphasized until some time had passed; considering how often mass shootings occur today, though, there’s a good chance enough time would never be able to pass. If you’re the public relations wizard working on this campaign, you’ve probably been checking the headlines constantly to make sure nothing happens that would make an American Dream ad seem in especially poor taste.
The other note that keeps me from unreservedly liking these ads (and, thus, anticipating the game) is their midcentury aesthetic. The concept of “the American dream” will probably always be tied to that sort of 1950s suburban Americana, with an ideal nuclear family with a working dad and stay-at-home mom living in a tidy tract house outside of the city. The current “arm everybody at all moments” mentality of gun owners didn’t much exist back then, though. It’s a relatively modern mindset created in large part by the NRA, which transitioned from being a hobbyist group focused primarily on hunting and sports shooting to the political juggernaut lobbyist that we know today in the late 1970s. The idea among some gun fans that everybody should own guns and should always have one on their person doesn’t reflect the 1950s era that influenced the Mad Men schmaltz of these ads. As with the Fallout series, that injects an ahistorical note into the game, which slightly undermines its point. It feels like a safe choice, too, from a parody perspective—instead of mocking the current day America that has made gun control such a massive issue that needs governmental action, it sets the real world at arm’s length, preferring to target a mythical America that never truly existed outside of TV, movies and the minds of Ronald Reagan voters. It might be a harder sell to put a game like this into a present-day America that looks just like the one currently getting shot up all the time, but it would also be the braver and more scathing choice.
Perhaps the game itself does this. Maybe this is all just marketing. The American Dream doesn’t look subtle in its satire, but then satire doesn’t have to be subtle to be effective.
The American Dream will be released on Wednesday, March 14, for PC and PlayStation 4, and we’ll have more thoughts on it then.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.