IF Comp 2012: Kicker (Pippin Barr)

Kicker is a brief, parser-based game in which the player takes the role of kicker in American football. As usual, the jump will be followed by non-spoilery comments; then if I have anything spoilery to say, there will be spoiler space. As usual, the fact that I am reviewing this game means that it does list beta-testers.

Full confession: I am only dimly aware of the rules of American football, and I’m not a great fan of what I’ve seen. So I’m probably not the intended audience for this piece, and the review I’m about to offer may read a little bit like an anthropological report conducted by space aliens. Here goes!

Kicker puts the player in the role of a player who must periodically go on the field, make a signal, kick the ball, and run off the field. For all the rest of the game, he sits on the side-lines, where he can watch the game in a bored fashion, or try to make eye-contact with other players, all of whom appear to despise him.

Kicker helpfully lets you know when you’re going to need to do one of your football duties by telling you directly something in bold face, like “It is now time to run onto the field.” Thanks to this intervention, it’s possible (as I did) to “win” the game without having the least notion of what’s going on in the game more broadly, and also without taking any important actions on my own playing initiative. This was not really a terrific or compelling experience, and I was bored well before the game ended, even though it didn’t last terribly long.

Occasionally I tried to interact with other characters who were also seated, but they all seemed to hate me. I wasn’t sure whether to read some of the descriptive text to imply that I had a crush on the quarterback, but if so, it clearly wasn’t working out for me, as he didn’t seem to like me any more than anyone else.

I don’t really know enough about football to know whether there were times I could have done something besides just running out and kicking when I was told to do so. I dimly had the impression that the football events might be dynamically generated, which is kind of cool if so; but I know too little about football to appreciate said content.

In any case, playing this, I formed the (maybe totally wrong!) idea that Kicker is intended as a critique of the rules of American football, in particular of the way they create despised roles for certain participants of the game; and possibly also a critique of the hypermasculine culture and the discomfort that a gay player might feel as part of that culture. If so, then Kicker belongs to the genre of games that are about a lack of agency; also games that perspective-shift to a non-heroic side character; and games where being boring is the point.

All of those are strategies that can work in the right context, and maybe for football fans Kicker is funny, biting, or insightful. It didn’t really do a lot for me, but I’m willing to accept that might be more my problem than the author’s.

8 thoughts on “IF Comp 2012: Kicker (Pippin Barr)

  1. I ended up feeling that it was mostly intended as a parody of Bonehead and Fan Interference, both morose games about sports events that you can do very little to influence. I didn’t get the gay interpretation at all; rather, it seemed as though every response was individually crafted to make the PC look as pathetic as possible, not necessarily worrying too much about consistency. (So if it suited the response of the moment to make the PC have homosexual yearnings, I can see the game doing that. Or if the opportunity arises for him to be rejected by the cheerleaders instead, that works too.)

  2. “I don’t really know enough about football to know whether there were times I could have done something besides just running out and kicking when I was told to do so.”

    Nope! You can practice, which may or may not have an effect on your kicking, but a placekicker who tried to do anything besides running out and kicking when told to do so would be about as welcome as a symphony percussionist who got bored waiting for the four cymbal clashes in the score and decided to improvise during the adagio.

    The football events are dynamically generated — when I undid (I hadn’t been paying attention to the down-distance stuff in the status line and wanted to see what had happened) I got a new result. I think Barr tweaked the algorithm (or maybe didn’t know any better) to make scoring less common and so reduce the role of the placekicker blah blah blah football stuff.*

    Anyway, this game is definitely in tune with what I know of Barr’s overall aesthetic; his best known game is probably The Artist Is Present, which simulates standing in line to see a performance art piece/exhibit.

    Sam — I can sort of see that, though both Bonehead and Fan Interference are very much based on specific historical games. And isn’t the point of Fan Interference that you can affect the game, if you solve a lot of elaborate puzzles to get into the right place in the stands in time? I confess I never finished it.

    *That is to say, the punts were implausibly long and there were almost no long downfield passes; in my game there were two safeties and only one touchdown, which is far out of proportion.

  3. For me, the most enjoyable thing to do in this game was to watch the crowd, repeatedly, until the game said there was nothing more to see. (You can do the same thing with talking to the punter—the other despised, hyperspecialized team member—but that can get more depressing.)

  4. Hey, i wish I could respond to this, but sadly the competition rules don’t allow it. At the least I can say I’m really pleased and honoured to see the game reviewed on this site, and very interested reading the response here and in the comments (as well as elsewhere)! (I guess that stays within the rules of not commenting on the game. Hope so anyway!)

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  6. Pingback: Kicker Kickededed | Pippin Barr.

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