Legendary Gary (2018) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Legendary Gary (2018)

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I love that first glimpse of the titular Gary on the title screen of Legendary Gary. Gary's eyes peek out over the start bar with intelligence, a bit of bemusement, and surprise. "A game about me?", I can hear him asking while I hover over the New Game option. Yes Gary, a game about you, and by extension a game about the forces at work to keep our motivation down while recognizing the role escapist art plays in our day-to-day existence.

Escapism through art is not inherently good nor bad, though recently I've been more annoyed by the concept or tired of seeing pop culture brought out as an attempt to rouse us from our collective depression. You see this every time someone posts a meme about Harry Potter, usually accompanied by text urging the various houses to come together so that we can get through our political moment. What that use of pop culture gets wrong is in its failure to diagnose the problem. Few want to discuss the evils of capitalism after getting a smile from their favorite wizard house acknowledging their existence. Evan Rogers understands the need to be seen through our escapism and to not only be roused but also direct our attention toward the problem that needs fixing.

I'd like to say Legendary Gary ends on the glorious revolution of the proletariat but Rogers aims for something more nuanced than my fantasy. He starts by placing the onus on me, controlling Gary, to make decisions for him that I wouldn't for myself. This hurts as I've been in the trenches of the service industry for years and, while I've been in the position to fight back or say no, Gary isn't as lucky. He needs to keep his motivation up - introduced as an in-game stat that can be earned or spent at different points in Legendary Gary - and that means returning to his chain-store hell, taking on chores he might not want to, and making decisions that will make him unhappy in the short-term but might make him a better person in the long run. Rogers understands the inherent contradiction of living in capitalism as we need to do what we need to get by while keeping our spirits up to work toward a better tomorrow.

To that point, I love how Rogers implements the motivation stat. We can work up the nerve to do the wrong thing as readily as the right, and as Gary goes about the tough business of staying alive he can motivate himself to get to work or flip some random driver the bird. I get to pick the choices that encourage Gary to be a better, more motivated, person and that sometimes means going with the option that is more painful right now but better for all parties involved as time drifts on. So not only does Rogers grasp the difficulty of living in conditions designed to wither our spirit, he also understands that the relationships we forge as a way of getting by can be a drain long-term, and that having the motivation to make the healthiest choice can still cause a lot of pain. This is all to say that my motivation to do the right thing, no matter what, sometimes meant taking heavy hits to Gary's motivation in the short-term so that things could be better by the end.So when Gary makes the choice to escape into gaming with Legend of the Spear, Rogers' plot sets up Gary's reasons with empathy and no self-conscious meta-narrative winking. There's no escaping from ourselves and Gary's reasons for connecting with Legend of the Spear have as much to do with needing a distraction as they do with Gary wanting to be the hero of any world. Rogers' decision to keep the gorgeous hand-drawn animations for the game world as in Gary's day-to-day aid in that connection, creating a parallel between the smooth dance of Legend of the Spear's combat and Gary's adventure game quest to do right by himself and his loved ones. This gets to the power of art to create connections with participants in ways they might not understand or expect and, even in escapism, we're taking a bit of ourselves into the art we choose to experience.

It's good that Legend of the Spear is engaging within Legendary Gary. It's a grand surprise that the combat system Rogers created for Legend of the Spear is the best damn combat system I've played this year. Actions are taken simultaneously within turns, health pools are low, and many special abilities come with their own sets of drawbacks if you choose to use them (the specials are charmingly earned by gardening in Gary's world). The fighting is unusually realistic with the understanding that one or two good punches is enough to put anyone away and the best fight scenes flow with brutal grace. You have the option to playback a movie of the fights once complete, and the level of care Rogers put into every action comes full bloom in the entertaining reproduction of your victory.After the fights and story come to a close, Legendary Gary leaves the possibility of different paths to Gary's relationships and possibly leading to different endings. Do I have it in me to play Legendary Gary again to indulge in my curiosity about what those paths lead to? Of course, but I'm satisfied with the path my Gary took. It's better to have lived in Gary's shoes, making decisions I could or would not make for myself, and feeling the same connection to Gary that he does to Legend of the Spear. It's okay for stories to end on the possibility of better things to come, no matter how sad or alone Gary may feel right now, and I know he's become a better person with the decisions I made without needing to ask if things can end more positively.

We don't get do-overs, and it feels right to extend the finality of my decisions to Gary. May we both continue to find comfort in art while working toward a better tomorrow.

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Posted by Andrew

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