The Influence of Catch-22 on Video Games

Catch-22 in video games cover image

Joseph Heller’s seminal novel, ‘Catch-22,’ is celebrated for its biting satire and exploration of the absurdity of bureaucracy and war. While primarily a work of literature, its themes have permeated various art forms, including video games. Let’s delve into how ‘Catch-22’ has influenced video game narratives, mechanics, and the portrayal of absurdity in interactive storytelling.

Absurdity as a Narrative Element:

One of the key elements of ‘Catch-22’ is its portrayal of absurd situations and paradoxes. In the world of video games, this absurdity often manifests in narratives that challenge traditional storytelling conventions. Games like ‘The Stanley Parable’ and ‘Undertale’ play with player expectations, subverting tropes and presenting players with choices that lead to unexpected outcomes. Much like the characters in ‘Catch-22’ are trapped by the illogical rules of war, players in these games find themselves constrained by the rules of the game world, often leading to humourous or thought-provoking scenarios.

Catch-22 in ‘The Stanley Parable’ video game
Image Courtesy: NPR

Exploring The Futility of Systems:

‘Catch-22’ is known for its critique of bureaucratic systems and the inherent absurdity of their rules. Similarly, many video games explore themes of powerlessness in the face of oppressive systems. Games like ‘Papers, Please’ and ‘This War of Mine’ put players in the shoes of individuals struggling against oppressive regimes or societal norms. Through gameplay mechanics and narrative choices, these games highlight the futility of trying to navigate complex systems designed to dehumanize and control.

Catch-22 in ‘Papers, Please’ video game
Image Courtesy: TheGamer

Breaking The Fourth Wall:

Heller’s novel famously breaks the fourth wall, with characters addressing the reader directly and the narrative often commenting on its own absurdity. This self-awareness is also present in certain video games, where characters may acknowledge the player’s existence or question the nature of reality within the game world. Games like ‘Metal Gear Solid’ and ‘The Beginner’s Guide’ blur the lines between fiction and reality, inviting players to question their role in the narrative and the nature of their own agency within the game.

Also Read: A Collection of Bizarre And Unconventional Video Games

Catch-22 in ‘Metal Gear Solid’ video game
Image Courtesy: GQ

Embracing Nihilism and Absurdism:

‘Catch-22’ is often seen as a work of existentialist literature, grappling with the meaninglessness of existence and the absurdity of human endeavour. Similarly, some video games embrace themes of nihilism and absurdism, presenting worlds devoid of inherent meaning or purpose. Games like ‘Dark Souls’ and ‘NieR: Automata’ challenge players to confront the inevitability of failure and the ultimately futile struggle against overwhelming odds.

Catch-22 in ‘Dark Souls’ video game
Image Courtesy: WIRED

The influence of ‘Catch-22’ on video games can be seen in various aspects of interactive storytelling, from narrative structure to gameplay mechanics. By embracing absurdity, exploring the futility of systems, breaking the fourth wall, and embracing nihilism and absurdism, video games continue to push the boundaries of storytelling in ways that echo Heller’s classic novel. As the medium continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more games that challenge our perceptions of reality and invite us to question the absurdity of the worlds we inhabit, both real and virtual.