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New GamerGate Favorite 'Postal 2: Paradise Lost' Is a Golden Shower of Bad Ideas

But it's better than we'd like to admit.

by Emanuel Maiberg
Apr 23 2015, 5:00pm

Image: Running With Scissors

During my first two hours with Postal 2: Paradise Lost, a new piece of content for a first-person shooter that's now more than a decade old, I managed to pee on a stripper locked in a prison cell, massacre the employees of a Chinese fast food place called "Cock Asian," and sic gun-toting test lab apes on animal rights activists, then pee on their corpses.

You can easily pee on anything with a bottomless bladder by just pressing "R" and pushing the left mouse button, so I peed on a lot of things. At some point, I was locked in a prison cell, and I peed on a light fixture, which due to a weird bug, created an endless pee fountain that flooded the cell.

Pee functionality didn't impress most critics when Postal 2 was first released in 2003. Computer Gaming World, a prominent PC gaming magazine at the time, gave Postal 2 its first ever score of 0 out of 100, saying that "until someone boxes up syphilis and tries to sell it at retail, Postal 2 is the worst product ever foisted upon consumers." Developer Running With Scissors now treats this as a badge of honor.

They're proud of Postal 2, but the decision to release an $8 expansion pack that requires players to own the original game is still bizarre at first sight. It's not like it makes Postal 2 look like a new game. Paradise Lost uses the same game engine Postal 2 used in 2003, which didn't look that great back then, and looks terrible today.

Running With Scissors' VP of Business Development Mike Jaret told me Postal 2 has been gathering a new and enthusiastic following since 2012, when it was released on Valve's digital games distribution platform Steam.

At first, Valve wasn't interesting in hosting Postal 2 on its platform, but when it introduced Greenlight, a program where developers can submit games and have players vote on whether they'd like them added to Steam, Postal 2 was quickly voted in.

Peeing on people until they puke. Image: Running With Scissors

It was included in the second batch of games ever approved via Greenlight, though Jaret said it would have been in the first batch if Valve didn't remove it for a while by mistake, assuming that it was an unofficial submission.

"All I know is that a lot of people bought it," he said. "We were trying to think about the next logical step and we tinkered with a couple of ideas, and then it became obvious that with all the copies that we were selling that what's most important and what's easiest for us to work on since we have guys that have been modding this game for a decade is some quick and dirty downloadable content."

What started as "quick and dirty" ballooned into a 14 month-long project, which uses the same environment from Postal 2—a small town in Arizona called Paradise—but sets it in the wake of a nuclear explosion.

It's very similar to the original game, with take-no-prisoners, South Park-style satire, but nowhere nearly as funny and smart as South Park.

Life on the internet has burnt out the parts of my brain responsible for feeling outrage years ago, but I understand that much of Postal 2's jokes are hugely offensive. Sexist, racist, you name it. It's all here and you're right to be upset.

The worst of Postal 2: Paradise Lost I saw (and admittedly I didn't get too far into it) involved a mission in which Running With Scissors, itself an entity within the game, sent me to sabotage a rival game developer. With jokes about downloadable content and microtransactions, at first this seemed like "punching up" at big game publishers and their aggressive monetization methods. Then I noticed that all the posters in the office were parodies of Double Fine games.​

Image: Running With Scissors

The studio was founded by Tim Schafer, creator of classic adventure games like Grim Fandango and generally a well-liked person in the industry.

One poster in particular pokes fun at Spacebase DF-9, a PC game Double Fine sold as an early beta. The original plan was to keep adding new features, some of which Double Fine abandoned after development didn't go as planned. Players were understandably upset and Spacebase now has mostly negative reviews on Steam.

It's a fair shot, but things escalated to borderline incitement when a Tim Schafer stand-in came at me with an automatic weapon and I had to murder him.

"I would say we just poke fun at everybody and this time the person that gets it, gets it," Jaret said. "We poke fun at ourselves all the time too."

That's true. Postal lampoons Jaret, Running With Scissors CEO Vince Desi, Postal III, which was outsourced to a Russian developer and which Jaret called a "debacle," and the Postal movie.

"We've got a designer and the designer wrote what he wrote," Jaret said. "We laugh and we do it. There's not much thought that goes into a lot of this. We just like to have fun, that's it."

Given its politically incorrect shock value, it's not surprising that GamerGate has rallied around Postal. Running With Scissors has also supported GamerGate in posts to its official forums, disagreeing with feminist criticism from Anita Sarkeesian and taking a stand against what it perceives as a lack of journalistic ethics.

Milo Yiannopoulos, a columnist on conservative website Breitbart who's currently writing a book about GamerGate, voices himself in Paradise Lost, and to be fair, you can set him on fire and pee on him like everyone else.

Being pooped on by an elephant is one of the tamer moments. Image: Running With Scissors

Schafer, by contrast, has spoken against GamerGate, most recently while hosting the 2015 Game Developers Choice Awards. I asked Jaret if this had anything to do with the Double Fine ribbing, but he didn't want to discuss GamerGate. When I asked, Double Fine declined to comment.

If it was only a bunch of bad jokes, I'd dismiss Postal 2: Paradise Lost as nothing but an elaborate juvenile gag, but that's not the case. It's certainly juvenile and offensive by design, but Paradise Lost is also pretty interesting to play.

The most common complaint against first-person shooters these days is that they're too linear. You're a guy with a gun, you're in a war, and you're pushed through a very narrow corridor of bad dudes and huge action set-pieces for six hours before the credits roll.

Postal 2: Paradise Lost is nothing like that. It's open, dynamic, and gives players the freedom to experiment, improvise, mess up, and express themselves through play.

I could explore Paradise as I pleased and complete objectives in whatever order I chose. Take for example my war crimes at Cock Asian. I could have waited in line for my food, shot everyone, or use treats to have feral dogs attack employees while I grabbed a meal and snuck out through the back.

The size of the world and the way different systems interact—the character AI, the way different items affect it, the ability to shoot or pee on anyone—it's almost like the white trash, delinquent cousin of the original Deus Ex, the cyberpunk opus that's often cited as one of the greatest games of all time.

It's sad that Running With Scissors has sided with GamerGate, which uses fig leaf arguments to justify its associating with cowardly but devastating online harassment, but understandable given the studio's history.

It'd be a better world if Running With Scissors let its design chops shine without cloaking itself in the trenchcoat of generic, white dude rage

The first Postal, a proto-Hatred (a recently announced mass shooter simulator that's been similarly reviled), was in fact a victim of censorship, being banned in several stores and countries. A couple of weeks ago, it was banned from the Google Play store.

"I'm not sure I understand that to this minute," Jaret said. "Because that game is not gratuitously violent. It has a violent overtone, but it's not more gratuitously violent than a series of other games that are on there that are much more graphically violent."

The Grand Theft Auto games, for example, which look far more realistic and in which you can murder just as many innocent people, are still for sale on Google Play.

It's hard to resist tearing Postal 2 apart given its revolting ideology, even if it's way better than packaged syphilis.

"It's been clear from the beginning that we've been cast aside or scapegoated in the industry," Jaret said. "We felt the way the media sometimes treats different developers, with this coming to light, yeah, we kind of were honest about the way we feel about it. It is what it is. I'm not here to rile anybody up or anything like that."

It'd be a better world if Running With Scissors let its design chops shine without cloaking itself in the trenchcoat of generic, white dude rage. Postal 2's defining feature is the freedom to pull out your dick and pee all over anyone or anything with impunity, which is the most quintessential GamerGate thing you could do in a game, but I can't deny that it creates some fun, clever, and interesting moments.

If Running With Scissors ever made a game that wasn't so intent on offending, I'm confident that it could earn the critical success the studio insists it doesn't care about. Sadly, that's not going to happen.

"I think the term you're looking for is selling out," Jaret said. "I don't need to be Scrooge McDuck swimming in money. I just want to continue to make games and make the people that like us laugh."