Sunday, November 15, 2009

Misogyny, narcotics and financial management skills. The other night I remembered that my brother Matt had a graphics calculator on which was loaded a game called PimpQuest. One summer I played a lot of that game on his calculator, and I wondered if it was online somewhere. Hooray! it was.

The point of PimpQuest is to pay off $100,000 that your brother owes to some mobsters. They have given you 30 days, and you have to raise the cash by pimpin'. There's a loan shark from whom you can borrow money, and there are women on 'the corner' to whom you offer money to be your hoes. However you can't take on any hoes until you have a vehicle large enough to transport them. (I don't know why as they never leave 'the corner'.) You can also raise cash by buying various drugs and selling them at a local nightclub.

Periodically you will be attacked by various characters ranging from "a rabid squirrel" to "Batman", and you will have to either flee or beat them down, depleting your "health". You earn money from killing your foes. There is a mall where you can purchase weapons to win your fights more easily. These range from a kitchen knife to a sub-machine gun. You can also take drugs or drink beer to recuperate your "health" after fights.

The game is pretty racist and misogynist, mostly in the way it depicts the hoes. There's an Asian ho and a Russian ho (who speak in broken English and are among the cheapest to convince to work for you). If you slap the hoes they will earn you more money, although you have to be careful not to beat them up so much that their "happiness levels" will go down so far they'll refuse to work. You can also fuck the hoes, which raises your "health" but instantly empties their "happiness".

I know it is a totally wrong game, but I have been playing it compulsively, game after game, the way I used to play Tetris or Crystal Quest on my tiny little Mac Classic. And I have been consumed by my pimpin' goals to the point where I would feel annoyed when a certain ho (whom you have to remember not to slap too much as she has less "happiness" than the rest) wouldn't work.

How fucked is that? I call myself a feminist, and yet I am feeling annoyed that my assaulting a woman is not resulting in her earning me more money. This is how wrong the game is.

The other thing I found noteworthy about the game is that it's all about money, and the way you play it reveals a lot – not only about the assumptions in the game, but also about the player's attitudes and approaches to money.

At first I was borrowing conservatively from the loan shark, only buying and selling drugs in small quantities, buying the cheapest option from the cars and weapons, and paying incremental amounts into the bank account that the mobsters had set up for me. Of course I was nowhere near being able to pay off the debt, and I was gunned down in a drive-by.

Then I began to realise that the secret of winning the game was incurring more debt. I wonder if this game would be developed now that, post the global financial crisis, there is a sensitivity to debt – a negative association of debt with precariousness and imminent disaster. This can be strongly contrasted with the positive association of debt immediately before the crisis, when it was seen as a set of stepping stones to social stability and mobility; you leveraged your existing debts to get access to more wealth, and there wasn't a catch to it.

You see, the way to win PimpQuest is to borrow big and spend big. A larger, more expensive car will fit more hoes. The more expensive hoes will make you more money. A more expensive weapon kills your assailants more efficiently and at least cost to your health. The loan shark trusts you with larger amounts once you can demonstrate your ability to pay back smaller ones, so I made my priority in the game to borrow and pay him back, and eventually he would lend me enough money to cover the initial debt.

You then spend the remainder of the game making enough to pay him back, plus 20 per cent interest. I still haven't mastered that bit; his thugs killed me last time. I wonder if there is another, less overtly hateful, Flash game that could illuminate similar financial issues.

Update, 11:28pm: Success! Day 25, and I have paid off all my debts and also paid off the loan shark! What am I going to do for the next few days? Have a holiday, ladies! I'm sorry I hit you so much – I was just trying to make a livin'! It's hard out here for a piiiiiiiiiiiiiiimp!*

* Gag possibly only relevant to those who remember the Three Six Mafia performance from the Oscars.

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