GAMETECH: Embrace the love of Dropsy

SOMEBODY finally made a game about love. Not the stereotypical, boy-meets-girl kind of love that we’ve become so accustomed to digesting. This is not a game about devotion, or loyalty, or dutiful partnership.

No, Dropsy is a game about kindness to others, even in the face of revilement. It’s about knowing we’re all in this strange, difficult world together, and how sometimes a hug can make all the difference.

Dropsy is a clown who lives on the outskirts of town with his father. His mother has died in a circus fire and poor old Dropsy still has nightmares about it. The townspeople people don’t like him — in fact, they wrongly suspect he had something to do with the fire.

It doesn’t help that Dropsy looks monstrous. (At one point, when you instruct him to look in the mirror, Dropsy comically recoils from his own face, timidly refusing to look again.) Despite all that, Dropsy only wants one thing: to make people happy, and to give them a hug.

In the real world, a clown determined to hug people might raise an eyebrow or two, but Dropsy’s world is a different place altogether. This is a game built on the legacy of classic Lucasarts adventure games, a sketchbook world stitched together with cartoon colours and amazing, upbeat jazz music.

For anyone who grew up with games like Monkey Island (and even those who didn’t), this is a world that will charm you from the outset.

Playing as Dropsy, you can explore the town at will, watching townspeople come and go as the game cycles through day and night. Above their heads, simple pictures appear showing why they are unhappy. One little girl is upset because her flower has died, so the image is simply of a dying flower.

A homeless man wants some change, so the picture is of a coin. A preacher wishes someone would attend her empty sermons. A lonely old man misses his dead wife, and so on. Nearly all the townspeople are preoccupied, to different degrees, and none of them will engage with Dropsy. They certainly won’t accept any of his hugs. At least not yet. (Can you blame them?).

So Dropsy makes it his mission to bring a little happiness to the people around him, despite their ostracising him, despite the fact that Dropsy himself still has nightmares about his own past, fire-laden dreams that the player will experience when the clown goes to sleep.

The Wonderful Dropsy will make you empathis with complete strangers
The Wonderful Dropsy will make you empathis with complete strangers

There’s no grand cutscene explaining this motivation, no laboured decision (in fact, the game has no dialogue at all). The monstrous-looking clown just gets to work at being nice for the sake of it, like some gentle giant.

Of course, no one said being nice was easy. In the vein of those classic Lucasarts adventures, this game will often leave you stumped. There are times when figuring out which item to use, or which command to pick, or where to go next, will leave you scratching your head, especially at the start.

To mix things up even further, Dropsy befriends animals that you can control too, like a dog and mouse that follow him around. If you want to bring happiness to all the townspeople and further the game, you might need to consult a guide.

On the other hand, this difficulty means that when you do help Dropsy bring some comfort to the townspeople, earning that hug, the satisfaction is even greater still.

It might seem strange to say that Dropsy is a game about ‘real’ love, when so many others have tugged at our heartstrings. ICO showed us love in innocence. The Last of Us showed us love in sacrifice.

Gone Home showed us love in understanding. But none of those games are designed to make you empathise with strangers, normal people living their lives day to day, especially not when you already have reasons to feel sorry for yourself, which most of us do. Dropsy, somehow, nails this feeling perfectly.

Jay Tholen has made that rare thing — a challenging, hilarious, kind-hearted game that isn’t for children.

Sure, it will make you want to hug strangers on the bus (NOTE: maybe don’t do this), but when most games are about escaping the real world, it’s refreshing to find one that puts an arm on your shoulder, and kindly ushers you back out again.


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