Indie games are where we find some of our most experimental and engaging games available today.
From unique art styles to mechanics not seen in your typical AAA game these are the kinds of games a lot of us yearn for.
The most daring of them try mechanics that don’t explicitly make you the strongest person around, struggling with difficult choices that you are still thinking about for weeks.
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DIGGERGUN definitely fits into this category, looking like it belongs on an LCD screen from the 90s and directly tackling the current errors of modern capitalism.
Choosing how and if you can survive on a minimum wage job with the values based on the current state of Britain’s economy.
A Humble start
Kickstarter has been responsible for a lot of our modern cultural touchstones, for better or for worse. The crowdfunding site has resulted in successes like The Legends of Vox Machina’s Animated series and flops like the OUYA games console.
Classic RPG Divinity Original Sin 2 was crowdfunded and gave Larion Studio the keys to Baldur’s Gate Series. Mighty Number 9 was notoriously crowdfunded and a debacle that to this day put a bad taste in many Mega man fans’ mouths.
DIGGERGUN is definitely not Mighty Number 9, honestly, it’s a better platform shooter without even trying to be.
Welcome to the Underground
You start deep in a mine, using your Diggergun™ you blast through rock, and kill innocent mine beasts. The mining itself is instantly fun yet simple, carving out a path within the rock to platform yourself to these strange diamond-looking rocks scattered through the world.
Naturally, your instincts to collect shiny minerals have been conditioned into you from other games, so you do. Finding the mine’s exit you leave only to see a deposit box.
“Deposit Lithium” appears on your screen.
Lithium is a real-world rare metal used today to make phone batteries and other technology, chances are you have a lump of it near you right now.
Looks like you are in a Lithium mine, and this isn’t a fun game about delving into the earth to gather the precious metals to craft armor and build a nice house.
No, this game is about the daily grind, the modern mortal coil, the 9-5. You are stuck on an island off the coast of Cornwall in southern England (horrifying I know).
As part of a dubiously worded contract, you are forced to do work you didn’t sign up for, hollowing this island out of its rich Lithium deposits. Like all jobs surely you can just quit, right?
Wrong, you have to pay this company £3000 if you want any hope of getting out. Okay, so that’s not so bad, you started with £175 you can do this.
Your new home
Your first day ends, your manager explains the rules, and now it’s time to explore your new home. This town scream business efficiency, you have a corner shop to buy snacks, a restaurant for your daily large meal, Human resources, and your flat.
The design of this town is very intentional, it takes exactly one hour to walk from your flat to the mine, so you need to wake up at 8 am at the latest.
The less time you have in the mine the less time you have to get that Lithium. If you don’t hit your 15 daily Lithium you won’t be getting paid, did I mention that you don’t get a bonus for getting more than 15? Your corporate overloads have blessed you with 0 incentive to work harder than you need to.
There isn’t much else to do in the town currently, there are hints of social interactions but on your day off so far there isn’t much to do. Having some leisure events would be a good way to spend your time off at the cost of a good chunk of your cash.
The mines are randomly generated with each level having anything from a couple of chunks of Lithium to a whole level full of it. Or some that taunt you by putting all of the sweet toxic metal behind a wall of dangerous spikes that kill you if you touch them.
Dying makes you drop all of your Lithium so you have to be very careful to not lose it all and be forced to start all over again.
A Political Game
If it’s not clear by now Diggergun has something to say about the current situation we are living in. Inflation is high, wages are low and people are struggling.
This game very quickly reminded me of my days working for minimum wage at a supermarket that shall go unnamed, waking up at 4 am to be there for 4:30 to bring the stock in for the day was a grueling experience but I needed to do it to survive.
DIGGERGUN captures this feeling of uncertainty incredibly well, and nowhere was it more apparent than when I broke the game. It was Wednesday, I woke up and somehow triggered a bug that caused the timer to stop and the dream music to play constantly, I didn’t realize this until I had 32 Lithium and it was still 8:10.
Suddenly all the stress washed away, I didn’t have to worry about time or food as my energy bar was no longer depleting. I could do what I want when I wanted. I could mine enough Lithium to build a bridge back to the mainland.
Once time began to move again it all came rushing back, this dream-like bug making it all the more oppressive. It’s Sunday, I went to the Admin building and got my paycheck. I had earned well over £356, amazing only 10 more weeks of this, and ill be out of here in no time.
Student Loan £10
Take-Home pay £77
After all of my hard work, my deft managing of the resource system, and spending my time perfectly. Leaving no space for social interaction. I had made only £77, and with the food I had bought that week, I was now on less than what I started with.
Heartbreaking. You get no bonus from mining additional Lithium, like a lot of modern workplaces your quota is also the bar for what you are getting paid for, the bare minimum.
I started a new week, maybe I was just playing wrong? Very quickly your situation spirals, I passed out one day from exhaustion, while in the mine. I lost all my Lithium and a good chunk of my cash, I stayed underground until it was 9 pm to get my daily 15.
I woke up feeling awful, my mental wellness degrading fast. So I worked hard the next day, getting my 15 early so I could finish early and get some rest. I go to bed and wake up feeling so depressed that I cannot go to work so I go back to sleep.
This ends with me missing 3 work days. So now it’s payday and my new wage is:
Leaving me on £-60 overall, my debt has just increased, and I cannot afford the medication I need to fix my mental health.
It may sound like I’m complaining about this but no. I loved it, up until now only some of the best games I’ve ever played have been able to fill me with palpable dread. While many games are empowerment fantasies this, for now, is a disempowerment fantasy, you aren’t a super-powered hero, you aren’t going to use your digging skills to break through your enemies and shoot off into the night sky. You are here to mine and mine until your either die from exhaustion or suffer a mental break.
Anyone who enjoyed the saddest part of Papers Please where you had to choose between heating your home in the freezing Arstotzkan winter or giving your dying grandmother medicine with your slave wage will love this aspect of the game. This genre of disempowerment games reflects our world in ways that make us feel uncomfortable, DIGGERGUN fits nicely into this category of games.
You aren’t meant to be able to escape the gravity of the debt you are in. Try as much as you want, and put in all the hours you need, but the sheer mass of the money you owe will stop you from ever reaching escape velocity. You are trapped on your own.
A Little Help From Your Friends
DIGGERGUN has a social system, people you can meet and talk with, all of which to be trapped like you. While it’s not fleshed out much in the demo it is very likely that talking to people down here is key to getting out of this actual hell hole.
The brief dialogue in this game is charming and engaging. From the small snippets about how romances are banned down here to the brief conversation, you have with Lily. A woman who is also trapped down here with you.
If you can start the worker’s revolution with anyone it seems like it’s her, or you could just rat her out to management to get ahead.
Your one free day each week on Sunday, it’s very possible that this is when most of your social time will be taking place.
Similar to other games with a social sim element you have a dedicated time slot to talk to people and improve your relationship with them. However, currently, there isn’t much to do with these people, maybe a nice date at the restaurant.
How does it play as a game though?
The mining has a solid gameplay loop, shoot the rock, get lithium. You are always managing two main resources in the mine, time and energy. Managing time is simple enough, get 15 Lithium as quick as you can, mess up once however and you are losing a whole day of work.
Your energy is depleted with every action, and you use food to fill that bar back up, simple enough. If you lose track of either of these your day can spiral.
Money and Wellness are the two other big resources to manage, if you start to run out of cash you cannot buy food or medication. Well, that’s not true, you can keep buying things, but your money just keeps going into the negatives.
The game is clearly designed for a gamepad, and the current keyboard layout with no ability to rebind keys currently has some less than intuitive key choices but your brain rewires itself to it all pretty quickly.
Ultimately I am very excited for DIGGERGUN, the developer Kabloop clearly has a lot to say about the current world we live in and has a real gift for materializing the worst traits of our current lives, all I can do is hope that they offer a way out.
There are hints of a deeper story just waiting to be uncovered as you dig deeper into the world and meet new interesting characters stuck in the same situation as you.
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The version of the game played here was a demo that only covers the first week of your job, and since this is a Kickstarter the game isn’t entirely finalized. In fact, you can go play the demo right now too, it’s on Steam.
So now that you are done reading my opinions go play this demo yourself. Come back and tell me what you think about this charmingly depressing game.