So, I’ve been playing a lot of video games. (At least, as many as I’ve been able to get to while my research program is going on. Tough times, right?) Among those is Team Meat’s addicting and infuriating platformer SUPER MEAT BOY. In this game, you play as a little block of meat and try to get from one side of the level to the other, where Meat Boy’s cutie-Q girlfriend Bandage Girl is waiting.
Oh, and there are blades.
If you’re successful in navigating through the level, you’ll momentarily reunite with your beloved, only for Dr. Fetus (a monocle-sportin’, spaceman-lookin’ kind of dude) for pop out of nowhere and steal Bandage Girl away from you again. Womp womp. This is the basic routine for Super Meat Boy’s 300 or so levels.
As much as I’m used to playing some strange games (BINDING OF ISAAC, anyone?) I still haven’t stopped wondering why the hell someone decided to make a game that features a main character made out of raw meat. Of course, the English major in me delights in this conflict, because it means I get to do my favorite thing:
Read into the gameplay!
The longer I kept thinking about Meat Boy, the more I kept coming back to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. This incredibly depressing book was on the summer reading list for my 10th grade English class. I was really unexcited about having to read this old, stuffy literature, but I really ended up enjoying the book once I actually got down to it.
If you haven’t made it over to Sinclair’s corner of the lit-o-sphere, I’ll give you the basic rundown of what happens in the book.
Immigrants move to America. America sucks. Working in factories really sucks. Working in meat factories is especially awful, because you get to see all of the gross, diseased meat that is somehow allowed to be packaged for human consumption. (Gag…)
So, call me crazy, but I can’t help but be reminded of Sinclair’s seminal muckraking text when I start playing Super Meat Boy and see…meat.
So. Much. Meat. Meat, dripping its gross meat juices all over the place, getting all over walls, working into the crevices between spikes on the floor. (Okay, that part probably wasn’t in The Jungle.)
Let’s begin to unpack (HA! Get it? Like meat! Like unpacking meat!) the greatness that is Super Meat Boy.
I took this screenshot moments before falling into the boiling sea of meat.
The first thing you’ll notice about Super Meat Boy (or SMB from here on out) is that there is meat and meat juice everywhere. I’m not gonna lie. I was kind of grossed out by this at the beginning, which is what sparked the correlation I saw between the game and The Jungle, which is also pretty gross.
My reading of the game goes like this:
The Protagonist – Of course, our meaty protagonist has to be Jurgis Rudkus, the tenacious immigrant who is willing to work a dangerous job at the meatpacking factory to support his family. If you’ve read the book, you know that Jurgis has a pretty rough time for the entire book. With gruesome workplace accidents occurring throughout the text, the reader is always stuck wondering if Jurgis will be the next person to have his arm cut off in some terrible factory catastrophe. So when I look at our little meat pal, affectionately called Super Meat Lad (in my head), I find something similar in the struggle he faces throughout the game. Just like Jurgis is fighting to protect everything he holds dear, Super Meat Lad is doing his best to recover the love of his life, Bandage Girl.
I’m also reminded of the way Jurgis and his family are talked into buying a home that they cannot afford, which puts them in a precarious financial situation that results in them losing everything they have. Bandage Girl doesn’t seem to have many assets. Just saying. And the villain reminds me an awful lot of the Americans who are bent on making Jurgis’s life a living hell.
The Scenery – SMB is all about industrial, factory-like settings. Obviously, the levels and the obstacles within them vary from stage to stage, but this only makes the connection between the game and Jurgis’s forced commitment to his terrible job more prominent. The player literally cannot escape from the filthy environment, in which meat juices end up covering every surface as the character navigates the level, and the player must constantly be aware of dangerous aspects of the environment. I’m pretty sure that the dangers in The Jungle were justified by a sick commitment to keeping costs low and were not a conscious effort to kill the book’s characters (although I sometimes wondered if this couldn’t be the case….). In the case of SMB, of course, the aim is to make the level difficult. There’s something poetic about leaping over lethal fans that makes me want to reach into The Jungle and give ole’ Jurgis a pat on the back. Or a hug. Or possibly antidepressants.
I know most of this sounds humorous, and it’s meant to be. However, I think it’s about time that we start looking at games critically the same way we look at literature. Obviously the creators of any given game are bringing their life experiences to the table, which means that the game will automatically be touched by its creators’ experiences in the same way an author brings his or her experience to works of prose.
I’m sure there’s more to say about this game, but that’s all I have at the moment.
What do you think about Super Meat Boy? Simple game or adorable, meat-filled piece of literary brilliance?