Video games have a chequered record when it comes to handling homelessness.
Juggernaut Grand Theft Auto V– a game packed with commentary on the fallout from the 2008 financial meltdown – does not shy away from depicting rough sleepers in the nooks and crannies of its massive open-world depiction of Los Angeles. But its homeless characters are little more than caricatures, existing to flesh out the world rather saying anything meaningful about themselves and the challenges they face.
There are a host of ‘simulation’ games on the other end of the spectrum on PC platform Steam that let players embody the role of someone living on the streets while you can also find some less sensitive approaches in mobile games.
But Ellen Page’s portrayal of a rough sleeper in 2013’s Beyond: Two Souls is worth checking out – especially as it available for free this month in re-released form on PlayStation 4. The psychological thriller starring Page and Willem Defoe is written and directed by auteur game maker David Cage and is one of a long line of narrative games made by his studio Quantic Dream.
The Frenchman has never shied away from difficult subjects but has certainly got a mixed track record with how he’s handled them – just look at how his latest game Detroit: Being Human was received when it showed off a scene featuring domestic violence last year.
And the thing about Beyond is that it is not short of subjects. Page’s protagonist Jodie is bound to supernatural entity called Aiden and, as a result, she has quite the life. Over the course of the game, Jodie uses her spectral skills – which make her the subject of experimentation as a child – to terrorise a kid’s birthday party, become a secret agent, then a military commando and even live briefly with a family on an old Indian burial ground. To call the experience uneven would be an understatement – it’s often an incoherent mess.