Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings, apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.
Imagine, for just a moment, that you were going to create a game like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI for the contemporary game market. As a developer, you might want to figure out what made those games so special: A cast of characters who have individual personalities, evocative pixel art environments, and story arcs that pay off in emotional and intriguing ways on their way to dramatic endings. At the same time, you wouldn't want to simply replicate those games from twenty-plus years ago. You'd want to spice it up by being in conversation with storytelling ideas that have come into the wide world of games. Maybe you'd ruminate on drone warfare or global warming in your brand new throwback game.
Or maybe, if you've got that spark of something special, you would come to the conclusion that a real improvement on the genre would be to give the player a companion. That companion, Tokachu, could be a sloth-like creature that has somehow been melded with marijuana. And from this basic bit of worldbuilding, you could spin this universe of pot-infused creatures out into an entire world that depends on, and is formed around, weed humor. If Chrono Trigger was sort of steampunk, then this game could be "weedpunk," a weird smashing together of storytelling tropes with the wide world of pot culture.
Tokachu existed, if only for a short moment, and the game I am building up for you here was almost a real one. The game was called Weedopia. It is everything I have ever wanted in a game. In keeping with the theme of this Postscript column, the game failed to cohere.
I want to be clear that I don't enjoy the ideas of Weedopia ironically.
I picked up on Weedopia during the middle of its Kickstarter campaign back in October of 2014. In a blog post from the time, I wrote that what I loved about Weedopia was its absolute commitment to its theme. If the video on the Kickstarter page was to be believed, then this was the kind of game where everything you did was built from the ground up to be themed around pot.
The game had Harvest Moon elements, but instead of growing carrots or wheat it was different strains of marijuana plants. The game had boosts to stats, but the mode of delivery (bong, traditional pipe, or other) could alter what that meant. There weren't crystals to collect, but there mystical stoners who had to be recruited to defeat the evil Lord Nohemp, who was invested in exactly the kind of political campaign that his name entails. Everything that could be weed-themed was weed-themed, and I was in love with it from the moment that I saw it for the first time. I tweeted about it extensively.
I want to be clear that I don't enjoy the ideas of Weedopia ironically. I legitimately enjoy the idea of melding a very traditional game genre with pot humor.
Video games, for whatever reason, have never had the strong connection with pot that other media has. I can honestly say that about 50% of the films that I enjoyed as a middle schooler and young adult were basically just longform pot jokes. Half Baked was a truly transformative experience for me, Kevin Smith's films up through Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back were like comedic gospel, and I watched a VHS copy of the Method Man and Redman vehicle How High an embarrassing number of times.
All of those movies about getting high were comedies, and they were all about how standard comedy situations are always made funnier by the fact that the characters were blazed the entire time. These movies hinge on how silly people act when they're high, and then they extrapolate that silliness into their entire world. In How High, they grow a magical pot plant that, when smoked, summons the ghost of their dead friend Ivory. The weed ghost helps them in their plan to graduate from Harvard. This is, if I need to say this, silly.
Those pot plants are played "straight" within the film in the sense that those things are possible in a world where smoking weed is just a normal part of comedic life. The jokes aren't pot jokes; they're jokes made in a film that takes pot for granted as part of how the comedy is going to work.
It seems to me that video games have tragically missed this genre of comedy, and if I were pressed I would say that it's because memes do similar work on games. Weed is a shortcut in the films where it is a major mover and shaker, and it is always there to explain the behavior of the people who are in the film. These people are going to act goofy as hell, and it's because they're high. In games, we don't often need shortcutting for why characters act the way they do, because 90% of the time they will just tell you that they're mad or that they're hunting for their long-lost father figure. If there needs to be a humorous moment, they just just holler some kind of meme in place of the joke (insert obligatory Borderlands 2 reference here).
Weedopia was doing the work of bringing pot humor to games. We were going to get a classic game framed around the excesses and weird jokes that are built for stoners and people who like to laugh alike. It was solid all the way down, and it went so hard for its premise that it was almost unbelievable.
Sadly, it wasn't to be. Weedopia didn't find the backers that it needed, and video games were denied a cornerstone genre of comedy content that film has been enjoying for years. Worse, the creator seems to have scrubbed Weedopia from the internet as much as possible (I did find a video of some jerks making fun of the game, though, which was very disheartening to me as a fan).
In the end, we didn't get Weedopia, and maybe we didn't deserve it. The world is still open, and waiting, for the One True Weed Game. If you're making it, please let me know.