South Park: The Fractured But Whole and Gaming Niches

At the start of the new year, I accomplished a minor feat — I finally completed the main story of South Park: The Fractured But Whole. In the immediate afterglow, I grabbed a notebook and jotted down a few thoughts on the game. There are as follows:

  • Great story — totally absurd premise based in reality (the proliferation of superhero movies and their universes)
  • Really doubled down on social commentary, occasionally to the point of exhaustion
  • I need to find out more about “memberberries!”
  • Better combat than South Park: The Stick of Truth
  • Layers upon layers of South Park-iness
  • Who would play this game but South Park fans?

That last point got me thinking a little, especially when, just a few days later, I got into a conversation with a friend about games we had received/played over Christmas break. When I mentioned TFBW, she asked if it was any good. I quickly blurted out “Yes! I highly recommend it!” And she responded, “oh…well…I’m not much of a South Park fan, so…” Her answer ended there, and the conversation moved on. I didn’t push her to finish that sentence, because the implication seemed clear. She’s not a fan of South Park and therefore wouldn’t qualify to play the game…?

I made that a question because I question that particular sentiment. The “I don’t like [x], therefore I won’t like [y]” issue. It’s something that comes up all the time in life, often without us even realizing it. We assume a lot about ourselves and others – it’s part of human nature whether we like it or not.

Getting back to games, take Dark Souls. Some players swear by the games. Others, like me, think “I don’t like difficult games, therefore I won’t like Dark Souls.” Right or wrong, I’ve carried this assumption ever since the first game came out. And y’know, I’ve not challenged it. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. Because, y’know what else? Getting back to TFBW, I’m not much of a South Park fan either. Not anymore, anyway. I watched the show for a few seasons early on, and then my interest trailed off. But I retain enough knowledge about the series that a game like TFBW interests me. Yes, there’s more to The Fractured But Whole and The Stick of Truth than “South Park,” but not much more, honestly. The games really do have excellent stories, memorable characters, and enjoyably raucous gameplay, but they are very firmly rooted in lore that’s been carefully crafted and cultivated over a number of years. Sure everyone knows “South Park,” but does everyone know South Park? And despite any societal assumptions, the overlap in the Venn diagram of people who know South Park and people who play video games is likely not very large.

This brings me back around to my gut reaction in “highly recommending” a niche game like TFBW. Because in doing so, my mind immediately goes to “great story; great combat; good time,” not “this is a South Park game for South Park fans.” Even if I were to expound further upon how fun the game is to play, that barrier of fandom still exists for many (most? all?), rendering my words null and void. If I may return once more to Dark Souls, I have been told that I should play the game and that I shouldn’t, with the first thought promoting an inclusive agenda and the second presenting the games as exclusive rituals for only the daring few. More than anything, the niche-ness of Dark Souls is what turns me off, and it makes me now see how The Fractured But Whole falls right into the same category. While I don’t personally view the game as exclusive only to South Park fans, that’s probably how the world at-large sees it, because what else does it know? I see Dark Souls as a “hard game,” but I’m aware that it’s much more than that. So how do make myself break through that barrier, that perceived barrier of fandom that separated “me” from them “them?”

I’m not entirely sure of the answer, but I have a feeling it has something to do the way I see The Fractured But Whole in being willing to accept, willing to engage, and willing to admit that gaming niches — those we create, and those created for us — while comforting, aren’t always the best places to remain.

Lede image (© Ubisoft) was taken by cary using GeForce Experience.

3 Comments

  1. Hatm0nster says:

    Actively challenging one’s preconceptions is a difficult thing to do in general. We like to think that we’ve got the world figured out, that we don’t need to go out of our way to broaden our horizons. Thinking that we’ve got ourselves figured out is probably even more important to most people. Surprising oneself can be a great thing, but it can also be distressing since it means that you don’t know yourself as well as you think you do.

    Concerning games, successfully overcoming your preconceptions can even feel like a bother. My example is my experience with Bloodborne. I didn’t think I’d like the game, so I didn’t play it. My friends bugged me about it for months until I finally relented and played some of it. And you know what? I did wind up kind of enjoying it. The combat that is. The thing is that I didn’t want to like it. I didn’t want to have another series to follow. I didn’t want to get drawn into the game’s fandom and I didn’t want to get pulled into Dark Souls and Blooborne conversations. Playing Bloodborne was going to require time and attention I didn’t want give. So, I dropped it pretty quickly. I was wrong about the game, but that didn’t really translate into fully enjoying it or actually wanting to play it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. cary says:

      That’s a really interesting angle. Do you think that had you *not* been bugged to play Bloodbourne, you would ever play it? As you said, preconceived notions can quite heartily affect a players outlook on their own gaming sphere of influence. For myself, I’ll always go back to the first Mass Effect as *that moment.* That moment where I stepped outside of my comfort zone and discovered something new about what I wanted from games. But doing so can often result in the “blessing and a curse” situation. Your statement “I didn’t want to get drawn into the game’s fandom…” rings true to that notion, because while Mass Effect was a pure experience for me, having entered into the the ring of ME fandom, it colored the ways I experienced the later games, and not always for the better.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    Upon wrapping up South Park: The Fractured But Whole, I was left with three lingering thoughts, The first two were “That was totally fun, and I need to play it again,” and the third was “boy, that was a super niche game.” It’s that last thought that made me go and write this Virtual Bastion post on gaming niches and the the games that populate them.

    Liked by 1 person

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