There’s a game where you can shoot people’s clothes off with pastel bubble guns. It’s called First Person Lover, it’s here to sell you sportswear, and it gives me hope for the future.
First Person Lover was teased by Isbit Games a few months ago in a parody of the comically self-serious Hatred, an upcoming Polish mass-murder simulator starring a man-sized doodle from Dylan Klebold’s Trapper Keeper. Hatred — whose latest trailer derides the human race for living in houses and owning furniture — would normally be ignorable. But its loudly proclaimed political incorrectness managed to catch the attention of Gamergate, whose supporters promptly voted it to the top of Steam’s Greenlight program while half-jokingly requesting the developers add "social justice warrior" victims and a "Sarkeesian assassination sidequest."
Gamergate charges progressive critics with trying to take mechanics, competition, and "fun" out of games, focusing on feelings instead of systems and gameplay. In practice, it’s just an echo of the old "hardcore" vs. "casual" debate, which The Escapist’s Rowan Kaiser elegantly carved up in 2010: hardcore games are butch, casual games are femme, and the actual play matters less than which set of stereotypes something fits. "It's not the content, it's the cover."
'Hardcore' isn't a play style, it's a look
Nothing exposes the ridiculousness of this better than First Person Lover, a self-consciously traditional first-person shooter with a neon pink palette, teddy bear smoke grenades, and a respawn system based on clicking cute animal pictures. The mechanics and design are cookie-cutter but competent: you have weak melee and ranged love attacks, a street-sweeping love minigun, and a high-accuracy love bow, which you use to break down the hate-armor around hostile, zombie-like pedestrians. A voice on the radio will direct you around your objectives, until you’re finally tossing love bombs at a puzzle boss riding a grizzly bear on top of a hate-fueled rocket. It’s not the longest, hardest, or most sophisticated title, but it’s met more "real game" requirements so far than Hatred, whose developers have talked a lot about their awesome fatality animations and very little about how to make an exciting challenge out of shooting people who can’t fight back. It’s even got leaderboards!
But First Person Lover isn’t just a shooter pastiche, it’s a clever and revealing mirror. Your love guns end up blasting enemies’ dumpy suits off in a tastefully non-sexual way — they’re enveloped in a cloud of smoke and reemerge curled over, vulnerable and slightly childlike. Fast Co Design finds this mechanic "strangely date rape-y," but it doesn't come off as a method of titillation or humiliation as much as a metaphorical rebirth, like you're some Narnian god peeling off dragon-skins to reveal the decent person underneath. Instead of walking over to loot their bodies afterwards, you get "love energy" by magically clothing them in label Björn Borg’s latest fashions, which makes everyone involved ridiculously happy.
Obviously, it’s an advergame — you can even click to buy the clothes your protagonist is wearing. But arguably, so are games like Medal of Honor, which include hyper-realistic virtual firearms with the explicit goal of upselling players on their physical counterparts. The difference is that one is selling "masculine" destruction — a deadly gadget to be mastered, a serious symbol — and the other is selling "feminine" salvation — frivolous, vain, consumerist fashion.
"Can’t games just be fun?" has come to refer to a certain kind of fun in video games — the gleefully "gritty" torture porn of Grand Theft Auto and Hotline Miami, or the corny cheesecake pinups of Dragon’s Crown. But in its own small way, First Person Lover shows us the fun of silly high-gloss hero fantasies — making the world better by saving people from their own internal demons. If only we could make all our trolls love us by shooting them with glitter and making them wear designer neon underwear.