Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
It took about four hours with House Flipper before I started getting antsy and wanted to smash something. That’s not a critique of the game—in which you play a faceless, handless mobile force who fixes up crappy homes into gaudier but still crappy homes, then sells them to assholes for a profit. The pleasures of the game are blindingly simple: It presents a low-impact way to exert a little control over a chaotic situation, allowing you to kind of live through a series of before-and-after photos in real-time. Skipping past the tricky political subtext of working as the private clean-up crew for a whole host of morally ambiguous landlords, there’s something inherently soothing about the practical effects of improving an environment; I’m not too proud to admit that a few hours with the game made me feel a lot more motivated to fix up my real-life living space a bit.
At some point, though, the general tedium of “Chores: The Video Game” is going to start setting in, which is when most players are going to start trying to figure out how to fuck these ugly-ass houses up. Games are all about systems, after all, and when you put players inside a system, they tend to push at the edges to see what they’ll let you do. Bizarrely, House Flipper has no apparent interest in indulging its players’ ids; you can only pull out your sledgehammer in jobs where destruction is included in the brief, and the external parts of the structure are tragically sacrosanct. (The game also stops you from selling all of your employers’/victims’ gaudy stuff for cash, which feels like a gimme.) So if addition by subtraction is off the table, what are we left with when it comes to working out our more radical urges? That’s right: home decoration itself as an act of outright hostility.
House Flipper’s horde of digital would-be gentrifiers might get super-pissy about you robbing them blind, but they have no problem with “presents” being added to their homes. Which means that, so long as you dump the right tasteless desk in the corner of a requisite room, they won’t raise a peep about you adding anything else—like, say, 200 or so adorable Halloween spiders hanging from the ceiling of each room. And also a snowman, although the game wouldn’t let me actually install that one, presumably because of fears of it melting.
Suddenly presented with the power of constructive vandalism, my inner-that-one-guy-from-Dexter abruptly set in, and I felt moved to create not just chaos, but tableaux. (Or, at least, a single tableau.) After screwing around with foosball tables, heart-shaped “Italian love beds,” and a variety of free-standing commodes, I eventually settled on the following subject, one I initially titled “Dad’s Bad Day.”
(The gun is courtesy, I think, of the game’s bizarre Apocalypse Flipper DLC, which focuses on underground bunkers and also includes an assault rifle for some unknowable reason. You can own it and an officially licensed HGTV expansion pack; this game’s demographics must be lit.)
Not content with the incredible subtext already at play here—the interplay of sexy car wash poster, paternal duties, and violence—I then began adding more elements, mostly culled from holiday content releases, plus a big ol’ bucket of red paint to represent the artistic concept of red paint.
But while I was very happy with a skewed black mirror standing in for, like, society, man, it still felt like my Art was missing something. Something like, say, a facsimile of Negan’s murder bat from The Walking Dead, plus some intermediate shadow play.
Then I found the vampire hands and clown masks buried in the game’s Halloween content, and just kind of went wild.
The result satisfied not only my destructive but also my expressive urges. House Flipper had allowed me to pay tribute to my inner Jeffrey Dean Morgan Murder Dad, while also getting paid for it. It also gave me a potential entry for that Twitter account that catalogs toilets with threatening auras:
It’s difficult to parse whether House Flipper is a good game, but it’s inarguably a satisfying one—no matter which side of your personal Purge interior decorator curve you happen to be on. It let me feel in control of my environment for a minute—and then destroy it. What more could you want?