In many ways Postal 2
is the game I’m most ashamed to own. It’s crass, deliberately offensive and gross, it’s shallow and dull and it’s sold mainly on the basis that these things appeal to immature gamers. At the same time though, Postal 2
is a game I’ve frequently found myself defending and, despite my shame and embarrassment, I’ve never been able to throw it away.
The important thing to stress about Postal 2
is that I’m not kidding around when I say that it’s deliberately offensive. This isn’t a case of just a handful of swears or politically incorrect terms – it even goes far beyond the likes of 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
. It’s filled with gore, racial stereotypes and features which push the boundaries. You have anthrax-filled cow heads for weapons, use live kittens as silencers and can taser people until they wet themselves – and those are tame examples.
What really pushes Postal 2
beyond the realms of good taste though is the way it encourages you to use the violence against passers by. Set in a small Arizona town over the course of a week, your objectives each day are banal things like “Get milk” and “Go to work”. You don’t need to get violent, but the fact that everyone in the town is a foul-mouthed, gun-toting, identi-kit bot means there’s little to stop you – and at least once a day you’ll be forced to defend yourself. It’s not long before you start shooting the place up just to relieve the boredom.
What really bothers me about Postal 2
though is that it has a tendency to turn me into an apologist. Every time it comes up in a debate I end up taking this hypocritical stance on it where I decry the content despite the fact that I did enjoy playing the game. Twice, in fact. As I said at the start of all this, I’m ashamed
of Postal 2
, but not just because I own it – because I enjoyed it.
The Plague Rocket is great for emulating the after-effects of my cooking
It seems to me that there’s something wrong there. I’m an adult and I’m rational enough to distinguish between the game world and the real world – just because I enjoy sniping civilians in Postal 2
doesn’t meaningfully reflect on me as a person, I know that. So, why do I feel so uncomfortable when people ask me what I thought of Postal 2
? Why do I blush when people see it in my games collection?
More importantly, why do I feel ashamed about doing things in Postal 2
that I’ve openly done in other games? Why do I feel bad killing old people in Postal 2
but not in Carmageddon
or GTA IV
? The answer is, I think, two-fold.
Firstly, it’s to do with the focus of the game. Carmageddon
may be brutal and may encourage you to run over old ladies, but it’s still a racer underneath it all – the point is to finish the races, not just to kill people for no reason. The same is true with GTA IV
; it may let you go on killing sprees, but it’s implicit that you’re meant to follow the plot. The plot may deal with death and destruction, but there’s context there. Postal 2
is unlike either. It isn’t just a shooter, it’s a shooter where the whole focus is on doing horrible things for no reason whatsoever. Trim the gore out of Carmageddon
and it’s still a racer, but take it out of Postal 2
and it’s not anything.
Secondly, there’s a lot of politics surrounding games at the moment – especially violence in games, which has divided people into two main camps. There are people who don’t play games and think all games are violent and disgusting experiences, then there are reasonable people who know that not all games are like that and that most of the ones that do actually have
stories (or at least something) that contextualises the content.
Now, if I demo Postal 2
to the first group then they feel vindicated and righteous; they think all games are like this and I have to apologise, backtrack and explain that they’ve got it all wrong. If I play Postal 2
in front of the second group then they recognise that Postal 2
doesn’t establish any context, is wantonly gratuitous and terrible, so they damn me for it. That game is disgusting, they say. I can’t deny it, so all I can do is mumble apologetically and try to avoid admitting that creating elaborate traps with grenades and gas cans is still fun. It’s lose-lose.
Cats: 1001 uses!
On top of all that, the problem is complicated by the fact that Postal 2
isn’t an objectively good game. There are glaring problems and issues, from dodgy quests to repetitive dialogue and NPC models. The interface is a pain in the ass, the design simplistic (no reloading, ever?) and when it first came out it was all bogged down by performance issues as well. It’s just not a very well designed game in some aspects, forcing even the most open-minded gamers to bewilder at my defence of it and making it harder to explain why I like it at all. I mean, if even I recognise that it’s not actually any good…
At the end of the day though, what it really comes down to is that, yes, Postal 2
is a violent and horrible game, both badly designed and in bad taste. It appeals mostly to dreadfully immature teens who mistake brutality for black comedy
and excessiveness for edginess. It’s probably a bad influence on those people. When all else is said and done though, I know I’m not like that and I don’t think the violence it depicts is big or clever – but I do like the game regardless of it because it feels like the ideal sort of thing for messing around in, much like GTA
is to those people who never finish the story.
Besides, I’m hardly the first person to like something that others might consider bad for them, am I?
Co-incidentally – I think I just found my B-Game
Random Trivia: Postal 2
is shown in the Black Eyed Peas video Where Is The Love?, which has children playing the game. It was also made into a film… by Uwe Boll.