D4 is an episodic game that’s been sitting on my hard drive for a while since it was free on Games with Gold, and since my internet is super slow I decided to boot it up while I was waiting for some other things to download.
I was immediately taken in by its silliness. For example…
There are fortune cookies in main character David Young’s apartment that usually reveal a pretty typical kind of fortune accompanied by some ridiculous facial expressions on David’s part. The shocked expression shown here is my personal favourite, and you can see that the fortune pokes fun at the founder of D4′s developer, Access Games.
This sort of silliness saves D4 from becoming the boring, gritty film noir that it had threatened to be. The premise of the game is that David’s wife, creepily referred to as “Little Peggy” throughout, and he has spent two years consumed in trying to find out who did it based on very little information.
Peggy’s fridging is the beginning of a game which is frankly terrible for women. Her ghost regularly appears to David, so she is sort of in the game, but the primary female character’s name is Amanda and - bear with me here - she’s actually a cat? Or so I assume - D4′s first season ends without really explaining, well, anything, and with no second season in sight I’m going mostly on guesswork here. But Amanda has no dialogue except for meowing (yes, literally), shares her name with the cat that Peggy had before she died which has mysteriously vanished, and David, who regularly “sees” his dead wife and has other trauma based mental illness symptoms including amnesia, has no memory of where she came from.
This doesn’t stop the devs from sexualising her though. She walks around in a leotard and if you raise her happiness enough through buying her presents your reward is a dance which includes a lingering shot of her butt.
This is the first time that D4 confuses bizarre, enjoyable silliness with something more problematic. The second is much worse.
Later in the game, we meet Olivia Jones. Our very first introduction to her involves David creeping her out because of how much she looks like Peggy. Whilst David’s initial staring is perhaps forgiven since anyone would be stunned to come acoss their dead wife’s body double, things don’t get much better from there.
There are repeated interactions between David and Olivia that made me vaguely uncomfortable. For example, during turbulence on the plane that they’re on, they fall (literally) into that old trope where the dude lands on top of the woman and the sort of just chill there for a second instead of scrambling away because, come on, that would be the most awkward thing ever. In this particular example, Olivia clearly feels awkward, but David doesn’t seem in any hurry to get off her.
Later things take a turn for the worse. David and Olivia are locked in a small, dark room, and Olivia has a sprained ankle. Throughout the game, there is the option to “push” objects and people, for small amounts of credits (i.e. money) and amusing reactions. It’s just one of those silly things D4 lets you do, and usually the person you push will just say “oh!” or whatever and have no tangible reaction.
If you push Olivia in this scene, you essentially smack her butt, and she says “not there!” You can then continue doing it for the same reaction. Let’s just be 100% clear about this - you are given the option to sexually harrass Olivia. After a second she will move away, but you can still do it - and if you continue for long enough she will push you back and you will get an achievement called “Cut it Out” for “angering” Olivia.
That isn’t silly. And the fact that it’s treated in the same “haha, just part of our quirky gameplay!” as the stupid facial expression I showed at the beginning of this is, frankly, unacceptable. Sexual harassment isn’t funny. And this is one of the clearest examples against the argument that claims that “it’s just a game!” and “no one thinks that this is acceptable in real life!”
I was sixteen the first time that a stranger grabbed my ass, in broad daylight, in the middle of the street. I was so surprised that I didn’t do anything, didn’t turn around, didn’t say a word. My lunch break finished. I went back to school. When I got home later, I cried.
Since then I’ve often wished that I reacted like Olivia - hitting him back, voicing my anger - but I guess that would have been part of the amusement, according to D4. That would have been the achievement.
D4 should have been a light hearted, funny game that I probably would have recommended despite the fact that it will probably never be finished and leaves every single one of its plot points unanswered, simply because it was enjoyable to experience. But the fact that apparently no one involved in the process of making the game thought that harassment might be over the line and actually not funny at all turns out to be the most ridiculous thing about it.