This is the twentieth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1704 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,175,279.81 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. This particular entry in the Scratching That Itch series is also an honorary member of the Keeping Score series, which discusses games and their soundtracks. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our next random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is Don’t Move, by STVR. Included in the download is the Extended Original Soundtrack, also composed by STVR, which means this post is also an honorary Keeping Score post! Don’t Move’s tagline in the bundle reads:

Ninjas, failure, and player investment manipulation.

I like that Don’t Move is up front about the player investment manipulation, and isn’t trying to pretend it has the player’s best interests at heart. It’s refreshingly honest. It makes me want to try out the game… hey, wait a minute!

Don’t Move is a satirical game. Presented in a simple pixel art style, it puts players in control of a ninja, standing in the center of a corridor lit by torches (or braziers?). The only controls are to move the ninja to the left or right, but after too many steps, the ninja suddenly disintegrates, respawning in the center again. Do this a few times, however, and new features will start to unlock.

It’s a very on-the-nose satire of a design philosophy that has infected many modern games, from big budget releases to smaller mobile games. These often use psychological tricks to entice players to engage in repetitive activities through a steady stream of virtual rewards. In-game currency, experience points, achievements, trophies, unlockable cosmetic rewards… sometimes players are showered with these so often that such games nearly parody themselves. To its credit, however, Don’t Move is often genuinely funny in its satire of this phenomenon. At first it just starts tracking how many times the player has attempted to move. Soon, it’s also tracking distance walked, and time elapsed. Later, there are progress bars and other awards, always accompanied by big, exciting-looking pop-up messages. Yet all the player has done is moved left and/or right, over and over again, while a simple, repetitive chiptune track plays in the background.

Given the game’s title, and its brazen declaration that it was manipulating my investment in it, I tried not moving for a while. But this doesn’t do anything (or does it!?). To progress, I had to keep moving and dying, over and over, while the numbers slowly went up. It could be argued that at this stage, the game is making the point that I really should stop, as it’s a pointless endeavor. But I’ve always found that to be a weird argument. Sure, I have the choice not to play the game, but I’m playing the game in the first place because I wanted to see how its satire is crafted, exactly how it states its anti-player-manipulation message. Well actually, in this case I’m playing the game because I picked it randomly out of the bundle, but you get my point. What would Don’t Move do if I stuck it out through all these unlocks? Do they go on forever? Is there a hilarious joke at the end? Maybe persevering to find the answers to these questions means that Don’t Move successfully manipulated my investment, or maybe I continued onward for you, my readers. Either way, satirical games must beware that they don’t actually become the thing they are satirizing. Don’t Move comes pretty close.

I can report that there is an ending, and I’m glad I saw it because it’s clever. But the joke was stale long before I got there. In fact, in contrast to most of the game, there’s one aspect in which it’s not clear how to proceed, and I couldn’t figure it out. I ended up checking a guide online. The internet indeed knows all. This guide hinted that if I’d figured it out earlier, it would have sped up some other parts of the game. But there’s so little guidance for that, that I suspect most players would be stuck grinding out slower progress like I was. It’s not too bad — I finished the game in under an hour, stumbles and all — but the humor certainly wore off before then.

Will you enjoy Don’t Move? That depends on how funny you find it. My problem is mostly with the pacing, so I’d encourage players to check a guide if they find that’s slowed down too much. If following the guide does actually speed things up, it might solve the pacing issues and bring the humor out more. Otherwise, I think the slow latter half means Don’t Move loses momentum, and is likely to lose players before the end.

If you missed Don’t Move in the bundle, it’s for sale for a minimum price of $1. A special offer is listed for those paying $60 or more: inclusion of the Don’t Move Roguelike Edition. It is hopefully clear that this is meant in jest, but if you bought the bundle, then good news! You get the Roguelike Edition included as well! I gave it a spin, and it is exactly the one-note joke one would expect. Even those who pay a small amount, however, get versions of the main game for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android, as well as the Extended Original Soundtrack. Speaking of which…

The Score:

I originally assumed the soundtrack was also a joke. There’s not much music in the game, with a single, short, looped track playing for the vast majority of the time. That track almost seems designed specifically to be annoying and grating, as a way of reinforcing the message about repetitive and pointless play. But the Extended Original Soundtrack is a generous offering, all things considered. Composed by the developer, STVR, using FamiTracker, software which emulates the sound chip from the Famicom/NES system, the soundtrack features 11 tracks and nearly 15 minutes of music in total. Several are extended cuts or remixes, turning short bits of incidental music into full tracks. The extended version of the main music track turns it into something a bit less repetitive, and many other tracks I didn’t even recognize. Overall, the sound leans towards the noisy and squelchy, rarely employing harmony among the limited voices available on the 8-bit chip. Often, STVR uses single voices for bass and treble lines, although some voices are roped into percussion duty. The soundtrack pales in comparison to the classic NES scores, but some players may like it. As a free addition along with the game, I’m not complaining.

We’ve reached an even 20 now, with just 1684 1721 left to go!