In a recent interview, the development team behind the recently released Tonight We Riot explained that the creative intent behind their side-scrolling brawler was to make “a really honest, straightforward, unapologetically leftist game.”
First released for the Nintendo Switch on May 5th, Tonight We Riot is the premiere game from “worker-owned cooperative” development studio Pixel Pushers Union 512.
Described as “a revolutionary crowd-based retro brawler,” the game sees players taking to the streets and leading a worker’s revolution, directing crowds of protestors as they incite riots, fight against the police, and grow their ranks by ‘liberating’ various businesses:
Speaking with Kotaku, members of Pixel Pushers Union 512 elaborated on the ideologies that influenced Tonight We Riot and their goals in communicating and teaching that ideology to the players.
According to Tonight We Riot Code Steward Stephen Meyer, the game was made as an answer to the “neocon fantasies” seen in series such as Call of Duty or Rainbow Six, which “enforce this idea that the very best way to make the world a better place is by massive military force, that you don’t need organization and societal change” and promote “xenophobia.”
“There’s tons and tons of games that have been delivering pretty strong political messages, whether they meant to or not. Most of the games in the [modern military] genre are like [neoconservative] fantasies. They enforce this idea that the very best way to make the world a better place is by massive military force, that you don’t need organization and societal change. And there’s lots of xenophobia in there, too. You see these neocon fantasies all the time and you don’t really see leftist fantasies. In our tiny little way, we were trying to be an answer to that.”
Acknowledging that an average player may not agree with the extremist leftist tactics depicted in Tonight We Riot, such as mass rioting or directly attacking the police, Meyers said that the game would present their “argument” to the players through the setting and gameplay in a way that would make sense even to those who are not “politically savvy.”
He explains, “If you start up the game, load up the first level, and then just take the controller and set it down, the first thing that’ll happen is riot police come in and beat all of you to death.”
Meyers then added, “We’re able to be the ones who are crafting the story, we’re crafting the world, we’re crafting our form of the argument, so it’s on us to set it up in a way that explains it to the player even if they’re not, you know, politically savvy. We set it up in a very realistic context. Yes, the cops will definitely escalate the situation; there’s studies to back this up. They will beat the shit out of protesters and damn right they will kill them.”
Art Steward and Pixel Pushers Union 512 founder Ted Anderson stated that he was inspired to make “a really honest, straightforward, unapologetically leftist game” after playing Bioshock Infinite and finding it’s message of revolution and uprising against an oppressive government to be too neutered, with Anderson concluding that the writers of the 2013 shooter were “very liberal but very uncomfortable with the idea of what a revolution actually entails.”
“I really loved [Bioshock Infinite], but I felt that the people in charge of writing the story kind of painted themselves into an ideological corner. I felt like whoever [wrote] it was probably very liberal but very uncomfortable with the idea of what a revolution actually entails. It’s not a Tea Party and that people are probably going to get hurt. I was like, ‘What would happen if you made a really honest, straightforward, unapologetically leftist game?’ I’ve been playing video games since I was like four years old and I’ve never seen one. I sought to really honestly pursue that and see where it would take us.”
Anderson cites the Industrial Workers of the World, an early 20th century labor movement, as one of the main sources of the game’s inspiration, telling Kotaku that he wanted to “promote” the individualist philosophy that “You count, you and the things that you do matter.”
“That’s also what I wanted to promote. I think that in this world especially, when there’s such scary times going on around us all the time, a lot of folks look to try and find someone who’s going to lead them out of it when they themselves, in their own small little ways, are helping out. Just by being a good parent, just by being a good listener, just by checking in on a friend, you’re being someone who’s making an impact. You count, you and the things that you do matter. You’re not just this cog in this gross machine. You can change things in solidarity with your friends and fellow workers.”
Tonight We Riot is now available on the Nintendo Switch and PC platforms.