The Average Gamer

Indie Rock: Canvasser

People are going to describe Canvasser as “Papers Please but Nice”. I’m here to politely ask you refuse to accept that appraisal. There’s a lot at stake here. We’ve called you to our briefing room to be part of this task force because you’re one of the best we’ve got.

I know it’s going to be difficult to resist. Even I was initially taken in by the near-vampiric level of glamouring that Canvasser offers, tricking you into thinking it’s your lover but actually all it wants is access your pristine neck-flesh. The metaphor falls apart there. The neck-flesh is… unquestioned approval?

Canvasser is about a nicer topic than Papers Please and everything you’re doing is in service of ensuring a Good Thing, but it’s secretly far more insidious. It’s like a enjoying a delicious sponge cake bought with profits from selling a newborn puppy to medical testing. The puppy’s a cute little beagle with huge floppy ears. They’re going to make it smoke like 200 cigars a day and it’s all your fault.

In both games the main focus is displaying a very specific and unique kind of social interaction. Where in Papers Please you act as a border guard preventing entry into a dystopian future society, Canvasser is about trying to solicit donations to save a forest from being cut down. Think they sound nothing alike?

A) You’re wrong.
B) Shut up, dick.

They’re more alike than that pitch suggests. Their approaches are different, but it’s still the exact same idea that governs gameplay and it’s built on an even more similar idea about how necessity to meet certain goals inside organisations leads to total depersonalising.

Canvasser ClearcuttingCanvasser is fully about treating humans as obstacles between you and money. It’s about pretending you’re making a connection with them in order to gouge their wallets.

You’re being driven to new areas of town each day to talk to new people. You click on them, you further click around in some dialogue options and you try to get the most money you can scrape before they get bored and don’t feel like offering you anything.

On a contextual level your character could be seen as taking time with each person and getting to know them, but that reading is undone by the mechanics. You eventually get into so many repetitions of the same conversations that you can basically predict where the conversation is going and act accordingly, selecting answers you think will benefit you quickest. You can’t talk to too many people in a single day so you’re incentivised to drain each person one after the other as quickly as possible. It paints someone who, instead of actually being a nice person doing a charitable thing, just innately knows how to say the right thing and is being kind of a prick about it.

Papers Please is similar, but part of the more involved process of checking everyone’s distinct forms and specifically tailored right to be in the country allows the player to make their own decision about denying entry or letting the subject through based on personal ethics.

Canvasser ConfidenceIf you’re treating everyone in that game as an obstacle rather than a person then you aren’t playing it in an interesting way, you’re sticking to the rules as they appear on paper rather than using what little ability you have to bend them. You’re allowed to make some mistakes every day without anything going bad for you, these could be actual mistakes or your own decision.

Canvasser doesn’t offer the same luxury. You need to raise a certain amount of money each day or you’re fired. Every interaction is in service of making sure you still have a job and there’s no letting someone off the hook if you think you can still tame them.

The repetition does eventually make Canvasser a little dull, but it’s absolutely worth checking out. Do! Go on already! Jeez!

Oh, Also

I can’t imagine that next week’s column will be about anything other than Gunpoint, so in preparation it’s probably worth you checking out the demo. Already it’s probably surpassing the best stealth game I’ve played in a decade. At the very least, it’s the most charming and interesting and not harmed by dubious moral issues.