Games are never about the small stuff. You can argue that’s all of media but that’s particularly true about games. For the most part, these digital interactive environments are bombastic, fast-paced experiences that are expansive and all about the big-idea stuffs. Or, at the very least only on a surface level. Even those that seem to be quieter, often focus on events that throw us out of our comfort zone or gamify those moments (see Façade and Animal Crossing). There’s usually not a moment in a game where the protagonist or characters pause whatever they do and talk about the small stuff. Well, with some exceptions.
Notes from the Cape is a game all about the small stuff. A game made by a commune involving Gerrark, ArtDecade, and SuperDeluxeJoe, originally coded for Tynmo before Renpy, Notes from the Cape is a handful of short, bare-to-the-bone episodes, with almost no interaction. Some episodes, like the camping and the pasta episodes do insert some branches, but for the most part these are short stories that you read with the space bar as your buddy, all the while watching sequential panels of moments within these characters lives and escapades. And I don’t write ‘escapades’ lightly.
When I asked ArtDecade, the main creator of the series why to go this route, he wrote back, “Mostly I wanted to write gay characters living their lives without the burden of having to include the various bigoted and traumatic elements of the real world. A lot of gay fiction is about dealing with those things, and that’s very good! But I didn’t want to write that, especially because there was also porn involved in the Cape. It seems strange to me (personally) to combine porn and very serious real life concepts like homophobia or trauma.”
And you can see that with the earlier episodes. While Artdecade had a knack for finding the right moment to depict and there are some moments that do have some sort of emotional depth, the to and fro between two people would mostly be about inconsequential details, often spoken robotic. However, as Gerrark becomes more prominent in the series, you see a change in not necessarily style but in sophistication.
Friends with the ArtDecade since Minneapolis, Gerrark’s first entry into the series was the Willy Bear Beach 2 game. However, as time went on, Gerrark became a frequent collaborator along with the series, until becoming the main writer. Once Gerrark started to work, there was a push more towards focusing on the small anxieties of the characters. Not only that, but it allowed some of the scenery and visuals to speak for themselves a bit more often. As such, the dialogue became more evenly paced and had more personality with each episode. Not only that, but as time went on the themes became more prominent.
Through out the story, the serene aesthetics and socialist commentary often goes hand in hand. As ArtDecade states, “…creating a peaceful world for them was a fun solution that let me include things like socialist ideas and planned economy, military/police-less society, etc.” Sometimes, it goes in for the obvious. A day in the life of a baker becomes a history lecture on how this world had gotten rid of police and what came afterwards. But most often then not, it’s again, the little things. An artist working with the city council for an event sign. A coffee shop owner working on lunch boxes for public service. The ins and out of volunteering. The way of how each this system affects the character’s lives are sprinkled in. It seems to good to be true. Almost as if something needs to be changed.
At the beginning of the series, the last war ends with WWII, as “The War to End All Wars”. As for why this decision, and specifically not go into a sci-fi route, they wrote, “…it would…posit the left wing ideas in the series as something for the future. I liked the idea of showing what could be possible now, in our time, with just a few changes in common thought and perceptions.”
But there’s a, pardon the cliché, Catch-22 to this thinking. Either these socialist ideals come to us from the far-off future or the past has to be rewritten. And this tug-of-war isn’t just a weird misstep with the game’s part but rather it seems to be a tug-of-war that the game constantly fights.
The episode before the last, “Welcome to the Cape” was released during the time that it seemed to be quite clear that Biden would get the nomination. The episode is quite unlike the others. Instead of a short snippet into the lives of those from the Cape, we instead get essentially a rundown of what life would be should we live within a socialist system. But the crux of the plot is that your are immigrating to the Cape from a capitalist society. Already there seems to be a compromise within the vision, from a narrative that originally had it’s world be predominately socialist. And with the 29th episode being used as a guide to how we can live in a better world, it unfortunately leaves the last episode, somewhat empty.
Now, with the long gap between these two, it’s obvious that some forethought was put through in the last episode. Both with the intro and ending as well as having a more visual focus rather than relying on dialogue. But there’s something missing to it. Things are mentioned rather than shown and it seems like, had there been a two-parter it would be a way more satisfying conclusion to end it.
But, we only have the 30th episode closer. That, and Cape Kabu, a sort of card game that plays sort of like strip poker. And while the ending may have had a weird, almost detour energy to it, there’s a lot within the middle that still holds on. Or atleast to myself.
I will confess, part of the reason why this series means more to me than just a few horny slides to crank to is just how certain episodes and games happened to release in times of my life that honestly had made me think. Willy Bear Beach 2, a game about anxieties of the what the futures may hold, came out as I was about to leave college. When I finally was able to move out of my home in Miami over to Atlanta, Myriad of Colors was dropped on the home page.
The thing about this series, more than just its presentation and raunchiness is, albeit lucky timing, that it was able to speak of things that were in my mind that I hadn’t had the words to. This is why this series is still near and dear to me. And with it’s focus on a more realistic, conversational tone, it’s been able to resonate and appreciate all the small things that you don’t often see.