The Tomorrow Children: Q-Games Explores Gaming Communism - Games Weekly

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Tomorrow Children: Q-Games Explores Gaming Communism

The Tomorrow Children is a strange game. The latest project from the team that brought us the excellent PixelJunk series is an amalgam of building, combat, and online social experiment, with a healthy dose of Marxist philosophy thrown in the mix. After a couple of hours exploring the alpha, I’m still not sure exactly what I’m playing, but I'm fascinated by the grand ambition of the project.

An experiment goes horribly wrong in an alternate version of 1960s Russia, and as a result, humanity is driven to the brink of extinction. The world is left a blank, white void, and you are a human consciousness implanted into the cloned body of a little girl tasked with reviving civilization. Only the community can triumph over such horrible odds; the rights and property of the individual have no place in the monumental project to bring humanity back from the brink. Amid the Soviet-era overtones to the visuals and audio, you and your fellow players set to work building a city in the void.

Communist ideals are certainly an odd subject for a game, but Q-Games is exploring the idea in some fascinating ways. As the game begins, I choose one of several classes that guide the kind of work I want to focus on. For instance, miners are great at digging and resource transportation, where engineers are more capable at building things with the supplies that miners bring back. After choosing the citizen class (a well-rounded choice), I’m deposited in the center of a fledgling town a paltry collection of buildings and machines in the middle of a vast white plain. From here, I can see other players who have been randomly assigned to this town as they move, ant like, about their work each choosing the way they contribute to the welfare of the state.

Gameplay is focused on one of three central tasks. By venturing away from the town, some players track down and explore islands filled with minerals to acquire Matroshka dolls, which can be hauled back to town and transformed into revived humans to populate the town. Other players engage in the secondary task of taking recovered resources and building up the town. That might take the form of crafting tools, new facilities, and vehicles, or simply running on a treadmill in a simple minigame to generate the electricity needed to power everything.

Meanwhile, a third group of workers ensures the burgeoning village is protected from terrifying monsters called Izvergs. Whether they look like giant spiders or shambling Godzilla beasts, these creatures threaten the state, and you need to build artillery batteries or equip weapons like rocket launchers and jet packs to defend against the threat.

The most unusual aspect of The Tomorrow Children is that everything is shared. Other than the personal tools you carry in your inventory, the product of your work is available to all the other random players who happen to be part of your town. You may be the citizen who brings crystals back from the corpse of a destroyed monster, but someone else will likely use those crystals in a task of their own devising. Your only personal reward comes when you stop working and head to the local ministry of labor, where all your work has been catalogued, and you’re provided ration coupons which can be used to acquire additional and better tools to continue your personal contribution to the community. Alternately, if you choose, you can simply laze around town and refuse to help out.

The Tomorrow Children’s subversive endorsement of Soviet community practices is tongue in cheek; there’s an amusing silliness and self-awareness about the futility of it all, and in the way the story suggests the same practices that nearly destroyed civilization can now be used to rebuild it. From a gameplay angle, The Tomorrow Children draws on games like Minecraft, but adds a touch of MMO housing and community practices, as well as an odd twist on RPG leveling the progression of a communal town rather than an individual hero. My playtime only showed off the very beginnings of a town, with only a few contributors present. I can’t tell yet if the whole weird experience will be great fun, but I can confidently state The Tomorrow Children is different from anything else out there.

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