We Are Chicago

Game review by
David Wolinsky, Common Sense Media
We Are Chicago Game Poster Image
South Side life sim meant to spark conversations.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Educational Value

Commendable conversation starter on taking a look at what parts of Chicago's South Side are like, providing opportunities for empathy, illumination, perhaps activism.

Positive Messages

Doesn't present cut-and-dried solutions to any problems that pop up here. Your ability to empathize, protect, relate to other people, understanding their motivations even when they lose their way a bit will be repeatedly tested.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters sincerely care for one another, let it be known they're personally invested in succeeding in life. Vulnerability is rewarded, tested.

Ease of Play

Simple controls; easy to learn.

Violence

A few intense confrontations; at least one shooting, depending on your choices. No blood, gore.

Sex
Language

Occasional profanity; "bitch" most prevalent.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that We Are Chicago may seem packaged like a regular video game, but it's perhaps best approached as an educational tool. It's not intended to be fun but instead to help humanize, explore, and explain what living on Chicago's South Side is like. Frequently using broad strokes, this game lets you get a sense of what that reality is like for a few hours. There are a few intense confrontations and possibly a shooting, depending on your choices. There's also some occasional profanity, with "bitch" being the most prevalent.

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What's it about?

In WE ARE CHICAGO, you're cast in the role of high school senior Aaron, having to make decisions on the fly about what will keep you and your sister safe. How does your situation -- your friends start avoiding you, and other kids keep harassing you at school -- change your mind about how you're trying to get by? Whom are you OK lying to, and why? With whom are you willing to share your outlook on life? Is it worth extending yourself that much to everyone around you when your only real goal is to get out of the neighborhood? These questions and many more are at the core of We Are Chicago, and you are given the license to answer them in a number of ways to see whether you'll get out and be OK.

Is it any good?

This game was a result of four years of work and research -- half the proceeds support two nonprofits in the Chicago area -- and was an attempt to "create a deeper understanding, motivate and inspire change, and cultivate a larger conversation surrounding the issues of violence and income disparity." That said, the game is not without its problems. It's fairly limited in what it can do to invite and incite empathy. Most of your interactions are either via dialogue trees, interactions with a cash register, or the activity of setting the dinner table. These actions all unfurl in similar fashion, which should sound weird as obviously you're deciding whether telling your mom about being jumped by kids at school has more emotional heft than where you put the fork and knife.

Countless serious issues are on full display: underage kids owning guns, families lying to each other daily about many things, and the ability and opportunity to give others a second chance. So at issue is less whether the game is good but whether it's interesting. We Are Chicago is interesting and at times effective -- for example, when you feel tension walking down the street about whether to cross to the other side to avoid another a confrontation with another neighborhood kid -- but ultimately is a somewhat flat experience. Perhaps We Are Chicago falls down most because it aspires to be like a Telltale adventure game -- with multiple fleshed-out environments, tons of voice work, and the like -- instead of feeling secure in going its own way. The team behind We Are Chicago did their homework, but the execution is somewhat stymied by the "video game" wrapper. But as it is, it's worth a look because this is a window onto something happening in our world. Hopefully it will get credit for cracking the door open and setting the precedent for other games like this to come out.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the conflicts and struggles they care about. Why do some issues appeal to some people and others don't? What does that say about us as individuals and as a culture?

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