I spend all day sitting at my computer desk, whether it’s to work or to socialize with friends in one of the very few ways we’re still able to during this pandemic. This lifestyle has worsened my chronic pain resulting from recently diagnosed scoliosis, which I am undergoing treatment for but doesn’t seem to get much better. On the Saturday night of the Fall Guys beta, I was in so much physical pain that I had been on the verge of tears until my friend got home. She asked if I wanted to play it together for the first time. Absolutely — but 30 minutes might be all I can endure because of my pain, I told her.
Three hours later, at one in the morning, I was whispering that the next match had to be our last. I said it before at least three matches. The next day, I’ve been left wishing I said it for even longer, that I played one more match. Throughout the night, I stopped noticing my pain because I was so busy laughing and having fun. Fall Guys has taken me entirely by surprise, already becoming one of the very few wholesome games that have captured and maintained my attention during quarantine and one of my most anticipated releases of the year.
It’s easy to form positive first impressions of this game because it’s so effortlessly charming. It’s also so simple, and thus accessible, in its concept: you and 59 other players engage in a party battle royale where you slowly get eliminated across several random mini-games. The last standing player is the winner.
But, in contrast to almost every other battle royale game, there’s little room for toxicity. There’s no chat where people can type anything from taunts to racist slurs; no violence; no voice chat where people could hop on to try to get you to lose a mini-game. There’s an option to pull back a person, but it’s hard to see it as toxic when it’s something you’ll likely do to sabotage a friend and have some laughs rather than random players. You may be competing against other players, but you’re also often working in teams and are more often than not working against a system of obstacles and trials. In many maps, you’re allowed to fail without being eliminated from the fun; you’re not always severely punished for your mistakes and are allowed to keep trying. The coat of Fall Guys may be an adorable aesthetic, filled with Fall Guys making cute noises as they waddle across the field, trip over each other, and fall into the abysses below, but the wholesomeness is imbued in the game’s systems and mechanics. As a result, the animosity found in other battle royale-style games just isn’t present here in both visuals and substance.
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There have been great recent releases in the wholesome genre, like Ooblets or Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Earlier this year, there was even an entire showcase dedicated to wholesome games. But wholesomeness is something I am struggling with right now, especially as the news inundates me with evidence of how much people don’t care about being kind to others.
I’m generally struggling with a lot of things I didn’t struggle with anywhere near as much before quarantine in general. I’m having difficulty with not isolating myself from friends, even slightly breaking up the monotonous or unhealthy routines I’ve developed while being stuck at home, and remembering the importance of positivity and laughter. Unfortunately, Ooblets is endearing and bright to degrees that I don’t feel comfortable looking at it right now, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons is unable to fully be wholesome and relaxing to an anxious person like me because of its stressful systems.
There have also been fantastic new multiplayer experiences, like Valorant and Call of Duty: Warzone, in addition to older releases that are constantly updated like Final Fantasy XIV, Apex Legends, Fortnite, and League of Legends. But these games — though Final Fantasy XIV to a lesser extent depending on your playstyle — are all rampant with toxicity. It’s a time of high-stress from dealing with going back to classes and being in strange educational environments, the constant paranoia that follows you from the first moments you go out the door, the rising death tolls in a country that does not care about the lives of the non-elite.
During this time, multiplayer games only show me the ways in which we fail to connect, communicate, and be good to others. People with long-established toxic gaming practices will mix with the people who pour out the negativity from their daily lives into their point of refuge. The reasons why toxicity appears in a game are various and nuanced, but the only thing that ultimately matters is the result and its effects. And it’s hard to walk away from an experience in which you were called names or thrown toxic words simply because of your presence in a team. It’s, in the time that we’re in, an unnecessary endeavor that I avoid at all costs.
Fall Guys feels the perfect combination of wholesomeness and fun multiplayer experiences while being the antithesis to the parts that drive away people like me. Turning a voice chat off for a pleasant multiplayer experience inherently means you have to be willing to more than likely lose since you aren’t fully cooperating with your toxic teammates; in Fall Guys, there is no voice chat. Valorant may give me the handy option to turn off both voice chat and text chat as soon as I’m in a match, but I know this decision will impact the rest of the team’s success, even if it spares me from its vitriol. With Fall Guys, I don’t have to worry about this at all, for even if I wasn’t playing with a group of friends, there is never a moment where I feel targetted or less than or not good enough for any of these challenging, but simple, mini-games. At least from the very first stage, we are all working to defy the odds presented in front of us, and it’s this successful collective action directed at greater, much more powerful systems that wins.
In Fall Guys, we’re not stuck at home with nowhere to safely go; not forced to interact with most of our loved ones through virtual means like social media or Zoom calls. We’re free to trip everywhere and wear rainbow tutus or bird hats; to collect Kudos and Crowns and run around in a colorful, bright space. I miss having the freedom and the joy Fall Guys instills within me. I only wish it would come out sooner than Aug. 4, for I’m having Fall Guys Withdrawals and am excited to have many long-needed laughs with my favorite people in my new favorite battle royale.