Over the last ten years, I've totally fallen out of touch with video games. I don't dislike them by any means, but while I was a rabid player as a pre-teen and closely followed video game news and trends, I have no idea what video games are supposed to be like any more, especially indie games. With that in mind, I decided to check out No Wave, an online game (which you can play here) based on the no wave punk scene in New York during the '80s. Much like no wave music, the game is more of a gritty, raw, and cerebral experience than a traditionally enjoyable one.
The game's main character is Jim, a Brooklynite experiencing his first underground punk show in New York. Before entering the club, you meet the bouncer, who gives you a choice of green or red pills (he seems to be giving them out for free, so he's unusually nice for a bouncer at a punk club). Once inside, you can do two things: try and hit on this one particular girl on the dance floor, or shout at the band on stage (the band is either Swans or the Birthday Party/Boys Next Door, depending on which pill you choose at the door). Though this could just be a result of me not being very good at the game, every choice you make in the club ultimately gets you beaten up and kicked out: cutting the power because the band isn't loud enough; jumping on stage because you love the band so much; being a misogynist pig to the girl on the dance floor; accepting an invitation to dance by the same girl. There could very well be a second level, but I can't figure out how to beat the first one.
No Wave isn't so much a video game as it is a "choose your own adventure" story with awesome music. All you do is simply click to the place in the club where you want Jim to go, click on the person you want to interact with, and occasionally select the way you respond to them. Whenever a fight breaks out in a video game, you would expect to be able to fight back, but in No Wave, the screen simply fades out and brings you back outside to try again (the game is over once you get kicked out in all four ways.)
Admittedly, it's pretty pointless to criticize a game for being unconventional when it's inspired by such an extreme, inaccessible genre of rock music. No wave music is, by design, difficult to listen to and bizarrely structured, much like No Wave is, by design, difficult to look at and bizarrely structured. However, "difficult" does not mean "bad." The game has constantly pulsating lights that are probably not epileptic-friendly, and the character design is intentionally blocky and old-fashioned, but just like Swans and Sonic Youth, it's beautiful in its own hideous, disgusting way. Even when you lose the game, the screen still says, "Or maybe you win. Who knows?"