At the end of every year Paste’s games contributors write about their favorite game of the year that didn’t make our best-of-the-year list. Today Dia Lacina writes about a game that turns players into predatory capitalists—and why that still felt so great to play.
At the end of 2019, I wanted to try a Kairosoft simulation game. Colin Spacetwinks had written about them for me at CapsuleCrit, and when Mega Mall Story 2 ended up on their Top Ten for Giant Bomb, I figured why not? $5 can feel like a lot when it might be deleted in minutes, but this had become a nagging itch.
Good lord is scratching it good.
The first thing I built was not the Gift Shop (as the tutorial instructed), but obviously, a capsule machine. Right next to the entrance’s vending machine. A nod to my game of the year, Shenmue 3. I watched my mall manager flit purposefully between floors waiting for our first customer.
I built a candy shop. Then the gift store. I watched as customers filtered in to explore my offerings. I named my mall Junes after Persona 4. Because every day’s great there. And I wanted every day to be great here too.
Going to the mall was a treat for me as a child. I loved the odd planning of the structures, the stimulus overload from a conglomeration of mismatched brand experiences. But building out Junes, part of me became despondent over the idea of truly growing my mall. At three asymmetrical stories, I was thrilled. I had achieved a balance of my personal sensibilities. It was charming and fun and absurd. There was even a creepy one-sided gay romance budding between a regular and one of my stores’ clerks, and my payphones kept selling out—of what? Who knows? Interpersonal connection, I guess.
My customers kept asking for more, though. And I loved them. I wanted them to love my mall. Even if I wanted them to think about their consumption habits, to just enjoy the space as a communal environment filled with the delightful. They wanted to fucking shop. I wanted them to be happy.
But, really, I wanted their love and fealty.
I fixed myself in purpose. I would build them a monstrosity of capitalistic impulse. A five-star wonder of conspicuous consumption. I would build and court and cater to their appetites like a helicopter parent until I owned their love and respect and maxed out credit cards. I maximized my floor combos, placing stores not for my aesthetic sense, but to maximize my extractive, addictive potential. My conversion rates soared. I had sales and induced frenzy. As my mall became more grotesque, so did I.
It was breathtaking.
Spacetwinks calls it “the Mall of Babel,” and they’re not wrong. I was making a tower to vanity and greed. It was extremely satisfying. Ticking off request after request, growing taller and wider and more byzantine until I breached God’s domain. Flooding the heavens with a cacophony of shoppers and their armfuls of indulgences to buy, and buy, and buy. Every action was in service of this predatory spire of consumerist terror. Feeding its gaping maw and cavernous stomach. Leveling my ranking up to entice more devotion.
I broke ground and dug deep, building out towards hell.
Angels and devils both need to shop too, don’t they?
It’s become fun for people to criticize Animal Crossing’s Tom Nook not as the helpful indigenous critter he is, but as a vicious and evil landlord, banker, and merchant. They’re wrong. Wildly so. But in Mega Mall Story 2, I couldn’t help but feel I had been courted into becoming that reading.
My hopeful start for Junes had become corrupted by a malicious lusting greed for devotion. And every system in the game pushed me towards cultivating that impulse. I honestly stopped caring about how much money I was making. I only cared about watching the little people filling my stores carting loads of packages to the bus stop. Filling their homes and emptying their bank accounts. It was as intoxicating as it was unpleasant.
I deleted that save.
I have a new mall now. It’s just two stories. A simple small friendly space.
Maybe this time it’ll be different.
Maybe I’ll be different.
Dia Lacina is a queer indigenous writer, photographer, and founding editor of CapsuleCrit.com, a monthly journal dedicated to microgenre work about games. She tweets too much at @dialacina.