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Video Game / The Red Strings Club

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Left to right: Donovan, Akara-184, and Brandeis, from Desonstructeam's Twitter.

Sadness is not ugly, Diana. I've been bartending for a couple of decades now. I've gotten to witness innumerable forms of sadness, right there where you're sitting, and it can be a beautiful thing. It's moving, it draws us all together, keeps us thinking, wishing. So, you actively working to suppress it... just feels like a crime against humanity to me.

The Red Strings Club is a cyberpunk adventure developed by Deconstructeam and published by Devolver Digital, released in 2018. The game is story-driven with lots of alternate dialogue options, and utilizes an interesting mechanic of extracting information from NPCs by carefully aligning indicators to certain points representing the NPC's various emotions via mixing cocktails.

The player takes the role of a bartender of the eponymous Red Strings Club - Donovan who, aided by his muse Noumenon who may or may not be imaginary, makes cocktails that draw out people's feelings, a useful skill for Donovan who's also an information broker. Assisting Donovan is Brandeis, a hacker with a mastery of social engineering. The duo makes a formidable team in a vast unnamed city.

One night, as they are both relaxing in the club and making casual conversation, an unexpected guest arrives at their door - an Akara android, a new type of robot with vast empathic skills. This sudden visit will naturally change not only their lives but potentially those of every human being on Earth.

This game contains examples of:

  • Advert-Overloaded Future: The buildings and skyscrapers are covered with a decent amount of ads and neon billboards.
  • Always Night: We don't get to see much of the outside, but when we do, it is either twilight or rainy night.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: While Akara says that they love humans and are fascinated by them, they don't shy away from using the ENTIRE HUMAN CIVILIZATION for who knows how many decades as a glorified social experiment/toy. They are also not above murdering Brandeis to keep the masquerade alive. Additionally, they are not nearly as understanding and omniscient as they think, as evidenced by their flat-out refusal to acknowledge Donovan's supposed powers and how shaken they are by Gost's entire existence.
  • Artificial Limbs: Brandeis has a cybernetic left arm with which he can interact with wireless technology, and also a regular one.
  • Big Bad: Radhika, the newly-installed CEO of Supercontinent Ltd, is the unseen antagonist for much of the game... only for the game's ending to reveal Akara to be the Man Behind the Man, and the true enemy of the protagonists.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: There are cameras presumably covering many, many places which Akara can access to help Donovan, such as to alert him when someone is coming to the club. The AI behind Akara also constantly monitors human society itself, through public surveillance systems, internet and other technology.
  • Black Dude Dies First: The game opens with a Flash Forward of Brandeis falling from a window to his death.
  • Black Market: Gost can get you ANYTHING from the black market (except weapons or living things) within 24 hours, or so the legend goes.
  • Book Ends: The game begins and ends with Brandeis falling off the Supercontinent Ltd tower to his death, while the same Lonely Piano Piece plays.
  • Brain/Computer Interface: Brandeis can connect a cable from his head to computers and quickly sort data for relevant or interesting information with his implants.
  • The Cameo: Gost makes a quick cameo early in the game.
  • Child Prodigy: It turns out that Radhika, the new CEO of Supercontinent is the smartest person who ever the age of 15.
  • City Noir: The city certainly has this vibe, with twilight and frequent rain.
  • Corporate Warfare: PROXYMA and Supercontinent, though they are somewhat subtle about it.
  • Crapsaccharine World: You can seemingly banish depression, sadness, anger and other bad emotions with implants while getting good looks, a boost in popularity and high persuasion skill, at the cost of bits of what makes you human. The world is presumably run by corporations who, while providing useful, quality services and not actively warring against one another, spin webs of corporate intrigue, and woe betide you if you get involved too deeply in the power struggles. Finally, most of human society has been quietly influenced by a powerful internet-based AI for decades, who loves humans but also sees the world as a game/toy, putting into question just how much humanity did achieve on its own and how much of it was the AI's manipulations.
  • Cyberpunk: Hackers, AI, corporations, and booze. What's not to love?
  • Destination Defenestration: Brandeis' ultimate fate at the hands of Supercontinent's security.
  • Deus Est Machina: Akara is actually a superintelligent AI that has, ever since their birth in 2009, absorbed virtually all human knowledge available on the internet or from what can be gleaned through cameras, chats etc. They can also subtly influence human society in myriad ways, and has by the events of the game become powerful enough to head their own megacorp with ease.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: One of the last things Brandeis can do before he dies is tell Donovan that he loves him repeatedly. To make matters worse, he has the choice of doing this or revealing the truth about Akara.
  • Evil All Along: Akara, whose true nature is that of an omnipotent AI that has been guiding and overseeing human development and evolution since its birth. It sees the entire world and everyone in it as a game it can manipulate, and it allows Brandeis to be murdered after informing him of this awful truth.
  • Foregone Conclusion: You know from the very start that Brandeis won't come out of the story alive - the first shot is him falling out of a skyscraper. The game spends most of its runtime answering how that happened.
  • Good Prosthetic, Evil Prosthetic: The implants people use have various functions, ranging from increasing one's eloquence and looks to decreasing empathy and instilling distrust and rebelliousness towards any authority. It pretty much depends either on what implant you are using and/or how you are using it.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The moral and ethical grayness of the world and the people in it evident as the game progresses. People are complex in their reasons for doing things and one can hardly find a truly bad/evil person in the game.
  • He Knows Too Much: Akara manipulates Brandeis into putting an end to Supercontinent's brainwashing scheme, before "allowing" him to die by refusing to act as he is shot and blown out the window, since he had learned about Akara's true existence as an all-knowing omnipotent AI in the process.
    • Much, much earlier in the game, Ariadne is killed for discovering Supercontinent Ltd's scheme to brainwash the masses.
  • I Am Legion: Every Akara unit shares the same mind - that of an all-seeing and omniscient AI that came into existence long before the Akara android was supposedly developed by Edgar. This trope is exemplified during the penultimate scene of the game, where Brandeis is confronted by an entire room full of Akaras, all speaking in unison.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: "If it were that easy to leave the Red Strings Club, I'd have done so ages ago."
  • I Fell for Hours: Brandeis' drop from the Supercontinent tower at the game's end employs this trope, as he manages to have a full conversation with Donovan as he falls. The closing credits play as the camera descends down the length of the skyscraper, still not reaching the bottom by the end.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Crazy enough to vow to implement his ideas for a perfect society through puppeteering humanity from behind the curtains, at least.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • Donovan's "muse" who supposedly grants him insight into the souls of humans is never properly explained, Akara claims that he's deluded himself and thus unlocked certain abilities in his brain, while Brandeis thinks that Don is genuinely special in some regards.
    • Gost. His emotion icons are unusual and unique, he appears right at the club's door without Akara seeing him anywhere else, and he can seemingly disappear into thin air.
    • The Red Strings Club. 'Trapped by the Red Strings' indeed.
    • Donovan himself. The flashback near the end implies that he cannot leave the bar due to a bad knee and a disease that makes him unable to be around implants in a implant-dependent society, or it could be that he's supernaturally bound to it.
  • Mega-Corp: PROXYMA and Supercontinent are both multi-billion dollar enterprises that hold much sway over a vast metropolis.
  • Morality Chip: Implants can affect your behavior, including morality, but a person still has free will.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Played with. Akara kills Brandeis for reasons related to Donovan, but the fact that he's Donovan's partner and Akara just admitted they developed romantic attraction towards him doesn't come up.
  • Neural Implanting: Used to boost or shift many human attributes, from intelligence, to sex appeal, to social media followings, to even anti-capitalist sentiment.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You…: Averted in the case of Brandeis' fall from the skyscraper: he's rapidly bleeding out and suspects that he'll probably die before he even hits the ground, which is confirmed shortly afterwards.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: A natural, given the genre and the setting.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": A rare case of a realistic aversion in a videogame puzzle, specially considering it features a hacker as a supporting character. When Brandeis infiltrates Supercontinent Tower and tries to access a computer, trying to guess the password using personal information gets him nowhere. Instead, he needs to carefully ask for the passwords impersonating the owner and his coworkers through a phone. Some guesswork is indeed involved, not with passwords, but rather with security questions.
  • Police State: Enforced by the will of corporations and a somewhat weak government.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Akara can pass for a normal human with relative ease once dressed.
  • Russian Roulette: Winning Akara's Larissa quiz earns you a chance to play this. The odds are weighted heavily in your favor.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Ariadne, the plucky hacker, is given just enough screentime and characterisation for her sudden death not long after her introduction to shock the player. It's her demise that kicks off the plot once Brandeis and Donovan find out what she had uncovered.
  • Skyscraper City: Rendered quite beautifully in pixel art graphics. In the bridge scene, you get a beautiful view of the island that the city is built on, showing off its jagged skyscraper skyline.
  • So What Do We Do Now?: A big theme throughout the game. The world managed to solve the majority of long-running social issues, technological progress solved various dangers and class warfare has been minimized. Corporations, while still scheming and running circles around a weak government, are more benevolent than most cyberpunk megacorps; various characters, including the "cyberpunks", agree that Supercontinental managed to do some actual good. As such, humanity is rapidly running out of challenges: most guests at the Red Strings Club struggle against apathy and are uneasy at the thought of a world devoid of hardships, while science has moved on to removing the final obstacle on the way to a perfect world - negative feelings.
  • Straight Gay: Donovan and Brandeis are a couple, and neither is really what one would call camp. It's common knowledge, and this being the future, no one really makes a big deal of it aside from Larissa being maybe a bit jealous of Brandeis. The optional character Irving by contrast manages to be camp and punk all at once.
  • Transhumanism: The implants people use have the ability to enhance your intelligence or looks and even change your personality to a degree. We also see sophisticated cybernetic body parts in use. However, radical alterations of human body and/or mind are absent. Akara tried something in this direction, raising an extremely gifted child - Radhika - by herself and nurturing her intellect. She is said to be the most intelligent person who ever lived, and is a match (albeit still a weak one) to an internet-spanning super AI intelligence.
  • The Bartender: You play most of the game as Donovan, mixing cocktails and extracting information from your patrons.
  • The Internet: A great deal of social interaction, business and other aspects of life are conducted through it by the time the game starts.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The game never explicitly states what date it is, but it's far enough in the future that some twenty-somethings don't know what an analogue phone is. Steam is still around, though, and sleek black rectangle smartphones that can take photos and make calls seem to be in regular use.