Of the various embarrassing ways the viscera of socialist states have been weaponized for liberal political ends, the 2017 game “Black: The Fall” is perhaps the most childish and poorly executed. One has to ask who its target audience even is. Most millennials have either positive views regarding socialism or communism, or are simply ambivalent to the question altogether. Anti-communism just doesn’t have the shine it once had, when socialism was creeping across the equator and it genuinely seemed capitalism was on the ropes.
Today’s anti-communism is more often than not an explicitly fascist position, or just an embarrassing liberal one—odd how often those two get caught up with each other. Among the general public, only an unsystematized, unconvinced anti-communism exists. People either don’t care or don’t sincerely believe that communists are literally coming to turn your democracies into dieselpunk dystopias where people are shot by automated turrets for tripping on their shoelaces. So the developers are ladeling the bottom of the borscht pot, apparently hoping there are enough members of the John Birch Society under the age of 80 to buy their game. At least, that’s what I gather.
At first sight, my curiosity was piqued. I was dying to see how these fools were going to unironically attempt to revive this ridiculous representation of what socialist society looks like in a modern format. Though I wasn’t interested in paying something like 15 dollars for that trash, so I rolled my eyes and moved on. Luckily, I got it for free after a friend discovered it and sent it to me as a joke. So I spent a bit of time getting acquainted with the socialist hellscape they had imagined.
I shouldn’t have to note that the game is intensely unoriginal, even as far as anti-communist dystopia goes. Most all production in this universe is done on weird bicycles(?) hooked up to various machines, so your character spends a lot of time pedaling to accomplish various tasks. Besides being terribly inefficient, it is clear that this particular socialist hellscape really values developing the badonktive forces. Really looking forward to the next five year plan and the “kegels for the people” campaign, though.
In addition to being unoriginal, the game also struggles to make its point as thoroughly as it imagines it does. You begin with your character lowered in an elevator akin to those used in old mines—another totally original splash of symbolism—to a catwalk leading to one of those bicycle things—henceforth known as the People’s Peloton.
The People’s Peloton somehow powers the machine that produces what I imagine are quality steel billets, that are shipped off to god knows where for further transformation. Above the machine is a timer and a painting of Nicolae Ceausescu, the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Romania. The timer counts down from 10,000 while you pedaled the bike. At first, I tried to play the game how they wanted me to play it, running through the door in the short window of time it allotted you and avoiding being shot by fully-automated luxury communist turrets, and all of the other inane puzzles, including avoiding literal monsters employed as security and management in this futuristic socialist state.
That shit was boring though, and admittedly, despite the accurate depiction of state-capitalists, I didn’t even finish it. So I decided to return to the original level, with the big timer and the beautiful machine churning out quality steel for the socialist motherland. I was curious what would happen if I pedaled on the machine until the timer ran out. It ticks down while you pedal, so if the People’s Peloton stops, so does the timer. I am ashamed to admit that I spent almost 3 hours doing that before it hit zero.
When the timer hits zero, your character gets up and walks back to the elevator and returns home. It doesn’t show you what “home” looks like, but that is the implication. So, in my view, basically you win the game. That was good enough for me, anyways. What is interesting, however, is that the implication is that a whole workday for a citizen of this glorious socialist republic is only about 2.7 hours. In addition to that, I am a human being and have a bladder so I did have to get up during this experiment, and my character would stop pedaling. Nobody would come to bother you, or ship you away for loitering around. So you could easily extrapolate that one even has the right to discretionary breaks.
Also, I could be wrong, but I have seen many steel mills and none of them work as simply as just pedaling on a bicycle for a couple hours, and churning out enormous billets of quality steel. These are very dangerous and intense processes, which are, for most of the world, translated into thousands of work-deaths and unimaginable poverty and super-exploitation. Yet, in the nightmarish world “Black: The Fall”, all of this is avoided as the means of production are both simple and effective. Honestly, if you were to “beat” the game the way I did, you could easily walk away thinking that this game is showing us what technology could do for us with the help of socialist central planning.
I also got an achievement for making it through the monotonous 2.7 hour shift, but not without another boring jab on the part of the developers that I’m sure sounded hilarious when they pitched it in their Rick & Morty fan group: “ignorance is bliss”. Ignorance, I assume, to the fact that the world is run by literal monsters and everything is just about working until you die (probably by automated firing squads). This is, from the perspective of those of us living in the real world, the ultimate projection. Somehow capitalism-imperialism, according to the developers’ twisted imaginations, is not a dreary world of death, with monsters at its helm. They are completely comfortable with criticizing the “ignorance” of those who never make it past the first stage in their game, to see the “horrors of communism”, but not to incite real criticism of that same mentality in our very real dystopia.
They are kicking the proverbial dead horse, I’m afraid. In attempting to deliver to the lowest common denominator something they believe is politically profound, they produce less actionable philosophico-political critique than a Jaden Smith tweet. It is easy to make silly, half-hearted jabs at socialist states that have long been bulldozed by imperialist propaganda, and then to pretend that you are speaking truth to power. But how many of them are willing to adopt power, and to use it to break apart the horrid conditions that actually exist? Keep in mind, in real life, in the Third World, the shifts are 12+ hours, the labor kills people, and at the end, if they survive, they have starvation, immiseration and war to look forward to. Many would die for the promise of a world that belonged to the workers, and many did.
Even their villains are unconvincing. Ceausescu was hardly the model Marxist, and socialism in Romania corroded under his leadership the same as it had throughout the whole of the Eastern Bloc, but one can hardly prove, even as a metaphor, what this game attempts to. Not only did the communists successfully drive out the fascist dictatorship which existed in the country during and before World War II, but replaced it with a state focused on human development rather than capitalist accumulation. In 1948 Romania suffered from one of the highest illiteracy rates in europe, with more than 4 million illiterate adults. That year the communist party launched a campaign that eliminated illiteracy within 6 years. Additionally, as was the case in the whole of the Eastern Bloc, education was made the right of every citizen, and was therefore made available to everyone from elementary to university level.
The Communist Party led a collective march toward urbanization and industrialization, which would only be reversed in the so-called democratic revolution of 1989. From the revolution until the 1980s, industrial output steadily increased by 13% annually, and wages increased by 8 times their original value. Consumption was increased by 22 times its pre-revolutionary rate. During this time 80% of its population had been moved into new apartments, and farmland was collectivized, taken from semi-feudal landlords and given to the peasants who had been responsible for working them.
Capitalism-imperialism has destroyed all this and more, in Romania and throughout the world, as it has created a world very much like the fictional one depicted in the game. Since the collapse of the socialist government a generation of Romanians have grown up on the streets and in the sewers, forced from their homes after the collapse of state housing programs and the closure of orphanages. Beyond Romania, more than 2.5 billion people lack access to basic sanitation and 1.6 billion people are homeless. More slaves exist right now than have ever existed previously, and real open-air slave markets exist in Libya. This is what capitalism-imperialism has created, and what it continues to sustain throughout the world by means of war and ruthless exploitation. This veil, however, is not one they wish to tear off. Rather it is this world system that is the unspoken protagonist of their story.
Luckily for us, this game is complete dogshit and nobody likes it. I can’t believe I sat through 3 hours of fucking pedaling. Fucking nerds.