A Rat With An Existential Crisis

Confessions of the reluctant star from Donut Games' Rat series.

By: Richard Clark

Filed Under: Editorial Experiential Experimental Mobile

I will admit to being a modest animal. I’m what many might consider to be the lowest of the low. I’m a rat, the most despised of rodents. When people see me, there are only two possible reactions: they run in fear, or they attack with an irrational rage. They go to the store and buy traps to set, cruel contraptions that lure rodents like me into them with the promise of fulfilling my hopes and dreams of all-i-can-eat cheese. I have seen friends chase these dreams, frustrated with the status quo and convinced that their parents are merely cynical naysayers, only to have their idealistic minds crushed by a merciless steel bar. All of this because humanity dubbed us to be small monsters.

But I am not a monster. I have hopes and fears – even dreams – like the rest of you. And just because I don’t seem at first to have the means to achieve my highest ambitions doesn’t mean you selfish bipeds have the right to lure my friends and I into dark corners with the promise of staving off hunger only to crush our brains, bodies and spirits with various traps, poisons, and other modern innovations.

I will admit that most other rats are selfish, simple-minded animals. But are you willing to argue that humans are different? I’ve observed you as I crept behind your recliners and couches. I’ve seen the kinds of things you watch on TV – your relentless obsession with the affairs of Honey Boo Boo and Snooki. I’ve seen the ways you raise your kids by sitting them down in front of Call of Duty, teaching them to spend their time chasing after crumbs of cheese in your own way. I know you better than you might want to admit.

After years of seeking out food in the most dangerous places, I’ve acquired a taste for risk (and pizza). I began to have ambitions that go beyond mere hunting and gathering. There was only one person who believed in me: the head of Donut Games. I don’t know his name – all I know is that he kept giving me pieces of donut, day after day. He would sit them conspicuously close to the hole in the wall I would crawl out of, protruding slightly out of the side of a curtain. I would savor that food, come back for the sprinkles that were left behind. I grew so fat in those few, blissful weeks. And then I realized: I was being complacent.

This thought hit me suddenly, just as I was stopping to eat a sprinkle next to the window. The man was leaning back thoughtfully in his office chair when he must have heard me sigh involuntarily.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. I responded by motioning to my giant gut, and by yawning heavily. I was bored. Not with donuts, but with life.

Looking back, I think we related to one another. This guy had been relentlessly releasing game after game, each one less imaginative than the next. His original masterpiece, the Pachinko-inspired Lucky Coin, had yet to be topped. Each game seemed to telegraph a desire and struggle (and consequential failure) to do something unique and interesting. Some, like Castle Rush seemed to strive for something fantastical while only reinforcing the same tired tropes we’ve seen in game after game. Others wore their developer’s boredom on their sleeve, like Sunday Lawn – a game about mowing the lawn on Sunday. When he discovered me, he was in the midst of developing a game called Traffic Rush. A game about one of the most mundane and despised of all modern inconveniences? I mean, seriously. These guys needed help.

So did I. He first cast me in a game called Rat on the Run, basically a recreation of my days scavenging for food. It was demeaning. The whole idea of the game was that the player was fattening me up, that I was some kind of a lazy bum rat with no goals besides food and survival. When I complained, he made a mini-game called Rat on a Scooter.

So it all started on a slow, rickety scooter. I can’t say I was ecstatic in that fleeting moment, jumping over gaps and grinding on floating platforms, but I can say I was fulfilled, and full (there was a lot of pizza to collect).

And what do you know! The few players, who for whatever reason were interested in Rat on the Run, fell in love with my scooter antics. Soon enough, a franchise began to form with me as the star, with Rat on a Scooter XL. It was a deeper, more fleshed out version of my previous antics. This thing was going places.

It all happened so fast. I learned how to Skateboard, Snowboard, and how to ride a Jet Ski. My friends and family, who all once told me I was crazy, wanted to know what it was like to soar through the air in a Jet Ski, snatching cheese and pizza in mid-flight.

The answer: it’s exhausting. Just when I’ve mastered a new mode of transportation, I’m forced by the taskmasters at Donut Games to learn a new one. And while I may be living a more exciting life than before, it feels a little bit like I’m spinning my wheels. Fans of the games keep demanding more, and the pressure builds all the time to follow through with something better and more extreme. And despite all of this success, my games are significantly less popular than that game with the psychotic birds, and less critically acclaimed than that game with the well-dressed dude endlessly running through a grey-scale apocalyptic nightmare-scape.

Even as I’m pulling off insane stunts on my snowboard, I’m still a rat. I’m one of the lucky ones, sure. I haven’t had my head crushed by a steel bar. I’ve been given opportunities I could have never dreamt of. But in the crowded world of iPhone games, I don’t have a chance.

That’s why I’m fine with the games growing increasingly dangerous over time. Eventually, if I’m lucky, I’ll be the star of something like Rat on a Motorcycle in Traffic, or Rat on a Tightrope Over Spikes. It’ll be the same thing, basically, except that the game will end with me exploding into a bloody mess. I’ll be a martyr. And the iPhone gaming public? They’ll eat it up.

Filed Under: Editorial Experiential Experimental Mobile

About the Author:
Richard Clark is the managing editor of Gamechurch, the editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture, and a regular columnist at Unwinnable.

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