We Are OFK is a Game About Itself

"Once more, with feeling."

We Are OFK is an episodic series rolling out weekly starting on August 18. We were able to play all five episodes early, and this article is based on my experience playing the full series, but contains no substantial spoilers from later episodes.

We Are OFK feels like a game primed to receive criticism for its lack of interactive qualities, but the indie pop band biopic is pretty candid about the fact that it’s not really aiming to be a video game in the most traditional sense.

When I booted it up on my Switch, it asked me “who’s watching,” referring to player profiles to mark your progress through its five episodes. Given that each episode has a persistent progress bar similar to those seen in streaming services, We Are OFK feels more like a lightly interactive young adult drama than it does a video game, in ways that go beyond the usual bad faith arguments against dialogue-driven adventure games.

It makes for a compelling but likely divisive experience more interested in what it can create than what the pressures of being a video game might require of it. Team OFK, the group of freelance writers, designers, and artists led by Teddy Dief (co-designer of Hyper Light Drifter and voice of Luca, the vocalist of the titular band), has framed We Are OFK as an experiment in creating a digital band à la The Gorillaz.

In a sense, it’s a video game meant to help build something that persists beyond it and into things like music on Spotify and a digital streamer. So, maybe it’s fine if it doesn’t fall into the norms of conventional game design. But even as it attempts to distance itself from the label, We Are OFK still expresses a frustration with what it means to be a traditional video game, and because of that, it feels like it’s about itself and not wanting to be beholden just to what pays your bills. Especially if it’s in game development, where you’re overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated.

We Are OFK is a Game About Itself

We Are OFK begins with friends and co-workers Luca and Itsumi working in game dev, but feeling disillusioned by the job. Luca works in narrative, Itsumi works in social media, but both have other passions in music: Luca as a songwriter and singer, and Itsumi as a pianist. Working in L.A., they meet producer Jey, who is looking for personal projects, and starts working with Luca on some tracks before he’s eventually laid off from his game dev position. Then the prospect of starting something sustainable with music becomes more than a pipe dream, but a possible necessity. He’s got a reasonable foothold into another game dev, but after you’ve been burned by something, why go back? There’s an entire scene in the first episode, where Luca texts with a game development hotline and talks through why he feels so unfulfilled in the job that would lay him off 20 minutes of game time later as he stood in a recording booth singing his heart out. To me, that was a tone setter for both these characters’ priorities, and We Are OFK as a work.

Each episode deals with the four group members’ interpersonal relationships, as well as giving them each an episode of spotlight. In the beginning, its writing leaned in too hard to memes and references, but my initial resistance to it gave way pretty quickly as it started to delve into real frustrations with being trapped within capitalism when your creativity yearns to be elsewhere. Those pressures linger through all five episodes as the group sorts through their feelings about being a band, how they view each other as friends and bandmates, and whether or not they’re just chasing a dream they can’t actually realize.

In the spaces of figuring out where the band fits into its characters’ lives, We Are OFK tackles different facets of young adult life with an authenticity I wouldn’t have expected from the meme-y texts I was sending between scenes. Luca’s episode spotlights his struggles with loneliness, self-worth, and commitment, all punctuated by one of the game’s standout songs “Fool’s Gold,” a contemplative meditation on aspiring to an imagined idea of your life. Jey, who quickly became my favorite member of OFK, spends her episode fighting with her inner demons about settling for a paycheck and her parents’ approval vs. continuing to work on her passion project. Then Carter, the VFX artist who had existed primarily in the background for earlier episodes of We Are OFK, ended up making a strong impression in their episode dealing with grief and not feeling like you belong with people you consider your friends.

We Are OFK is a Game About Itself

Each episode is capped off by one of the band’s songs in an interactive music video, which highlights the strength of the music at the heart of We Are OFK, while drawing direct attention to how disinterested it feels as a video game. These sequences have light interactive elements, but they’re better showcases for the indie pop songs sung by Dief, ranging from bops like “Follow/Unfollow” to the introspective “Fool’s Gold.” Each stands out as a distinct piece of the band’s EP (which is coming to streaming services and is getting an iam8bit vinyl release), and they’re accompanied by a visually distinct sequence. But that’s all they really are. Each has interactive elements, such as a skateboarding segment or pressing buttons to make a character dance, but the music video plays, and the song continues whether you’re holding a controller or not.

Those music videos are pretty much the only time you’re doing anything other than watching the drama play out. Occasional dialogue options show up, but they don’t shift the conversation in a meaningful way. As I switched between all four members of OFK to pick what they’d say or text to one another, it became clear my input didn’t really matter.

You may also like:

We Are OFK is a Game About Itself

We Are OFK feels like a means to an end, but not one that feels like it’s any less important to a grander picture. It’s the origin story for what Team OFK wants to make into a larger experience, but I can’t help but think of its stories of disillusionment from game development as I watched these four band members go through the motions and become a musical act.

As I write this, I have “Fool’s Gold” playing on a loop through my headphones. Whether or not We Are OFK is an enticing video game is hard to say, but the fact that I’m still listening to its digital band probably means something, right? It’s an enjoyable young adult drama with good music, but if you’re hoping for an engaging game experience, it feels entirely uninterested in being one. It exists on its own terms, and if you’re willing to meet it on those terms, there’s something worthwhile. And if you’re not, there’s gonna be some pretty good indie pop on your streaming service of choice.