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Whatcha Playin’, Buddy? | Gold Rushing

We’ve all seen them: ridiculous-looking games that get advertised on our feeds every hour, every minute, every day. There’s one for every genre as well: graphic novels, resource-management and task completion games, gacha money-sinks, puzzle games, and idle collection games. The marketing can sometimes go from “that’s odd” to “what the fuck” and I must admit, I’ve been curious about them. What’s the gameplay like? Are the graphics exactly like how its advertised? Is it even worth the download?


Welcome to “Whatcha Playin’, Buddy?”, this funny segment on Play Without Apology, where I play weird games on the Play Store, so you don’t have to. 


For this edition of “Whatcha Playin’, Buddy?” I think I should give some context. The game I’m about to discuss had been marketed to me for weeks by the Facebook algorithm. I imagine it was probably because I was within their target demographic. While, of course, there is no way for me to really know whether they did any behaviour-targeting for their ad campaigns (yes, they track what you do online—surprise, surprise!), they could not have been more on the money. 

I love Farming games to filth. 

Chucklefish’s screencap of their SDV game, taken from lifewire.com. Stardew in 2017, SDV won the BAFTA Games Award for Best Game.

I will concede, some narratives that surround the stories that come with farming games tend to be very White, classist and a little too idealistic.

Example: Young person, burnt out of their desk job, remembers that they have the title to a bunch of farmland somewhere far-flung, quits job and moves there, finds out farming is easy, begins to flirt with everyone there because of course everyone will fall for the new, mysterious farmer. This story is so realistic, especially when you remember our farmers, out in the countryside, having to work their backs off for a really shitty exchange of their goods— but yeah, sure, let’s just go build farmlands on the expansive mass of untilled soil that our dead relative left us.

But there are some farming games that are really just about the resource management aspect of things and that’s honestly what I’m in it for. I love figuring out how best to optimize the space, which crops to plant for the season in order to bring in the best coin, and how to automate some processes so that it all functions without having to lift too many fingers. Farming games, at their core, are simulation games, and I am the type of player that loves the grind leading to smooth optimisation. 

Harvest Moon, Light of Hope. Photo from humblebundle.com

 


Now that we’ve established how much of a farming game nerd I am, let’s move on to the game. 

When I went to go check Klondlike Adventures out on the play store, the game just became more and more intriguing. You see, the short Facebook ad activations I got were solely focused on the farming aspect. When I got to the PlayStore page, I realized, whoo boy, I was in for a ride. 

Here’s the copy on the game’s PlayStore page:

Travel to the time of Gold Rush with Klondike Adventures!

Explore the wild territories of Alaska together with valiant Kate and adventure-savvy Paul. Build a strong and prosperous city in these vast cold lands!

“Breathe life into the Wild Lands.” Someone hold me.

I could feel my brows shoot straight up into my hairline. Let’s talk about why: 

The Gold Rush happened around the mid 1800s in the US when gold was discovered on the territory of California.

Cue around 300,000 people rushing to this part of the country under the promise of monetary liberation. But, of course, not everything turned out so jolly. Violence, extortion, and extreme poverty followed the Gold Rush. The White Settlers continued to claim the Native Americans’ land for gold, several of the Forty-Niners fell into extreme destitution as they soon found out that river-panning not only turned up little to no gold, but that it was back-breaking work. Meanwhile, mining for it was expensive, exhausting, and dangerous (do you know how many ghost stories come from collapsed mines out there in the desert?). Only a few prospectors made their money, and it was probably not the cleanest money either. 

So, you can see now why I was skeptical, going into this game. Here is another piece of pop culture romanticizing the atrocities that the White settlers inflicted upon the Native Americans and their ancestral lands. Here again is some narrative attempting to spray perfume upon the dark deeds of capitalism.

If I downloaded this, it’d just be enabling them, right? 

Well, yes. But hey, I hope this article completely dissuades you from getting Klondlike Adventures. I mean, that’s the point of this series. 


So, there I go. I download, it installs, I open the game; and wowee, this game just keeps getting better and better. 

It opens with you arriving onto the scene on a sled pulled by what looks like a small army of huskies and there is this young Native American woman on the ground claiming to be in trouble. Oh dear! Whatever shall we do? 

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The young woman introduces herself as Silent Shadow (who looks like a lot like Pocahontas, by the way) and tells you that her friend is behind some ice walls and needs to be saved. At this point, my face is well buried into my palm, but I keep going. The equivalent of a tutorial happens, where I click on some ice walls, it breaks, and voila! There is her friend, with a terrible fever. She thanks you for helping, saying that avalanche was terrible, and that the settlement needs your guidance. More tutorials. I’m speedrunning through it at this point.

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First of all, “Silent Shadow”?

Welcome to Appropriation-ville, population: This Game.

Second, as you go through the tutorial, you quickly learn that there is something like a jobs board.

This is where you complete a checklist of items that you can either grow, produce, or find on your settlement (I say “settlement” because you have to add houses to the space every so often so that you get more people to work on the land. You’re not just building a farm here; you’re making a village). What’s so wrong about this bulletin board, you ask? Well, just that nearly every job is for some Prospector/General/Captain in some other far-off settlement that you’re supposedly trading with and also, these goods of yours are transported by another Native American named Dull Echo. How convenient that its the Native Americans doing all the heavy lifting in this game.

And also – “Dull Echo?” Strike two.

Who’s naming these characters???


So, what about actual gameplay?

As most mobile farming games go, it’s pretty standard: you start out with a simple, fast-growing crop (beans, in this case) and it helps you complete a few tasks, earn some coin, level-up. The levelling up earns you access to more things like a new part of the farm, more farm animals (you get an additional cow at level 5, and some new chickens at level 6), and more options for crops. It’s nothing new or groundbreaking but it definitely lulls you into that simulation grind. 

Unlocking new areas is easy, with the only thing stopping you being the “energy” mechanic. You, as the player, are working on a finite amount of energy that eventually refreshes as it goes. Otherwise, well, you’d just be levelling the landscape, wouldn’t you?

Mining certain pillars of rock gives you different types of resources: from rocks, to clay, to iron ore, and eventually, gold. More often than not, mining these will eventually give way to “discovering” new places. You get to find random boxes where you pick up random gems like moonstones and malachites that you can trade with this random guy with a heavy backpack and a scraggly blond beard that pops up out of nowhere. Complete all his trades and you’re rewarded with some tools that will supposedly help you “fix” your station/village/settlement.

Then, of course, there’s the overarching plot that takes you to different locations (such as “Wind’s Song”—strike three), where there are other resources that you can take for yourself as well. Granted, of course, that you have the energy.

Have all the strikes, game.


One good part about the game’s structure is that everything refreshes rather quickly and resources are not the hardest to get. The game also has structures (sweets shop, furnace) in place that allows for a faster refresh of energy. 

I will admit: this mechanic is pretty good.
 
I also appreciate that the movement of resources across the different structures makes some measure of sense.

For example, one resource in the game are sequoia logs. To cut a sequoia tree down, you need at least 50 energy for the smallest sequoia tree (ouch). One medium sized tree gives you about ten logs. You need five logs to make wood veneer, which, in the early game, you will need to help build the Smithy. The movement of resources form structure to structure has some logic to it, which allows you to plan things out.

The maximum energy you can get through simple refresh is 49 energy, but if you play the sweets shop game (which is available every 5 hours), you can get up to a maximum of 25 more energy. You can also gain a maximum of 45 more energy from the furnace, if you have foraged enough resources to spare. This could bring you to a potential total of 119 energy. That’s good enough for maybe one medium sized sequoia tree and a half, or one huge sequoia tree (at least 85 energy).

The paywall also does not seem too necessary, which is pleasant (and honestly, if it were, that would just be the cherry on this White Imperialist cake).

That said, though, their “welcome pack” for gems (gems allow access to exclusives, like… a tribal chicken and a tribal cow… and I guess faster processes) is at a steep Php 215 which gives you 80 gems, 100 additional energy, and 10 dry ice (used to speed up cool down of structures/buildings). But I haven’t necessarily felt the need to cash out for this game.

The graphics are also admittedly a nice blend of 3D and 2D, bright colors, cute animals, and lovely landscapes.

The animation is smooth and Klondlike Adventures also doesn’t break my phone’s memory card. You can’t play it without data or a WiFi connection though, so be prepared for that. This isn’t a game you can take into the actual wilderness.

That said, I cannot ignore the revisionist narrative that permeates throughout the entire game.

It hooks itself on “exploration” and “discovery,” coupled with the very colonist thinking of “well, struck my axe here, I guess it is mine now.” The plot you follow is one where you are often accompanied by either Silent Shadow, Dull Echo or Paul (the guy that had the fever) as you fly off to other parts of the land. There are literally parts of the game where you have to set up dynamites to open up new areas. Literally the only thing that’s stopping you from levelling the landscape is their energy mechanic, which is the game’s attempt at lengthening playtime. 

Furthermore, the character designs are trope-y (Dull Echo literally looks like an eskimo—where are we, even?), and while I’m not expecting Oscar nominations for this game’s plot, I’d have hoped that we could have left these storylines behind in the 90s and 80s. We’ve had enough time to learn and know that the Gold Rush was not a glorious time in history. Stop romanticizing it. Full stop. 

So, what’s the takeaway here? Play something else.

There’s probably some other farming game out there with better character designs, a better plot, and a utilization of mechanics that’s just as seamless as this game offers. There’s nothing wrong with exploring a part of history, but the way it has been framed here is more than a little unfair to the heritage, culture, and sensibilities of the Native Americans depicted in the game. Play better games.


Sources:
(2019, Aug 29) California Gold Rush. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion/gold-rush-of-1849
(2014, April 16) The California Gold Rush, Slavery, and The Civil War. Retrieved from http://blog.tavbooks.com/?p=933
(2015, Aug 15) Crisis Chronicles – The California Gold Rush and the Gold Standard. Retrieved from https://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2015/08/crisis-chronicles-the-california-gold-rush-and-the-gold-standard.html

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