Kicker is a brief, parser-based game in which the player takes the role of kicker in American football. As usual, the jump will be followed by non-spoilery comments; then if I have anything spoilery to say, there will be spoiler space. As usual, the fact that I am reviewing this game means that it does list beta-testers.
Full confession: I am only dimly aware of the rules of American football, and I’m not a great fan of what I’ve seen. So I’m probably not the intended audience for this piece, and the review I’m about to offer may read a little bit like an anthropological report conducted by space aliens. Here goes!
Kicker puts the player in the role of a player who must periodically go on the field, make a signal, kick the ball, and run off the field. For all the rest of the game, he sits on the side-lines, where he can watch the game in a bored fashion, or try to make eye-contact with other players, all of whom appear to despise him.
Kicker helpfully lets you know when you’re going to need to do one of your football duties by telling you directly something in bold face, like “It is now time to run onto the field.” Thanks to this intervention, it’s possible (as I did) to “win” the game without having the least notion of what’s going on in the game more broadly, and also without taking any important actions on my own playing initiative. This was not really a terrific or compelling experience, and I was bored well before the game ended, even though it didn’t last terribly long.
Occasionally I tried to interact with other characters who were also seated, but they all seemed to hate me. I wasn’t sure whether to read some of the descriptive text to imply that I had a crush on the quarterback, but if so, it clearly wasn’t working out for me, as he didn’t seem to like me any more than anyone else.
I don’t really know enough about football to know whether there were times I could have done something besides just running out and kicking when I was told to do so. I dimly had the impression that the football events might be dynamically generated, which is kind of cool if so; but I know too little about football to appreciate said content.
In any case, playing this, I formed the (maybe totally wrong!) idea that Kicker is intended as a critique of the rules of American football, in particular of the way they create despised roles for certain participants of the game; and possibly also a critique of the hypermasculine culture and the discomfort that a gay player might feel as part of that culture. If so, then Kicker belongs to the genre of games that are about a lack of agency; also games that perspective-shift to a non-heroic side character; and games where being boring is the point.
All of those are strategies that can work in the right context, and maybe for football fans Kicker is funny, biting, or insightful. It didn’t really do a lot for me, but I’m willing to accept that might be more my problem than the author’s.