"To Be or Not To Be": A Hilariously Irreverent Romp through Hamlet
A new game was released on February 4th that I knew would be a game changer (no pun intended) in the field of Video Games as Literature. As soon as I saw the game for sale, I gleefully purchased it. Unlike the bitter disappointment that was "Hamlet: Or the Last Game..." yadayada, I had faith that this new game, titled "To Be or Not to Be," would be excellent, regardless of its unoriginal title. After all, Kate Beaton of "Hark! A Vagrant" was involved!
I got around to playing the game a week later, and played through several storyline options, of which there are probably hundreds or thousands, being that this game is based on the format of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel. Not only is this game hilarious, but it shows clear knowledge of its subject matter. The game satirizes the play upon which it is based (William Shakespeare's Hamlet) with finesse, but also finds time to parody or satirize many other cultures and ideas, such as modern teenage culture, feminism and anti-feminism, Elizabethan culture, etc. The humor is vast, yet retains some semblance of intellectualism in every passage.
One of the greatest things about this game is that it IS, in fact, a video game, but is almost entirely text based. "Choose Your Own Adventure" books were often short and contained few individual "adventures," but in the case of "To Be or Not To Be," had it been in book form, it would have been thick and daunting, as there are so many different adventure options to choose from. It is possible to play through the story almost exactly as it goes in the play, and I tried to do this, but there are so many hilarious options to choose instead that I have yet to actually play the story in its truest form. The game also uses these options to pick apart the flaws in the original story (usually flaws as seen through a modern lens), and you can't help but to take a more rational route than the one chosen by the characters in the original story. I also hear there is a storyline in which you can become a pirate, but I haven't found that one yet.
Most importantly, however, is the fact that the game almost achieves the impossible by making Hamlet (the person) actually likable! Ophelia is portrayed as a highly intelligent feminist, significantly ahead of her time, but Hamlet is shown for what he truly is: a 30-something-year-old teenager.
To conclude: this game can be enjoyed by anyone. Even if you never read or saw the play (or any of the terrible film adaptations), you will enjoy this game. It is comedy at its best, while still teaching Shakespeare laymen the basic premise and plot of the story (just don't expect to be able to write a school paper having played this game alone! Your teacher will become suspicious when you start to talk about ninjas).
You can read my brief Steam review here, and as another treat for Steam users, I have started a Steam group for anyone interested in the subject of Video Games as Literature! Check the group out here!