the artistry and psychology of gaming


Shove It: A Psychological Analysis

Shove It: A Psychological Analysis

During my journey through the Sega Genesis/Megadrive’s library, I discovered one of the deepest games I’d ever played.  This is a game unlike any other; far removed from the shallow moral choice systems from today’s games, and with a realism far grittier than any generic brown First-Person Shooter or WRPG.  In fact, this realism is so great that one could even call it mundane; it mimics real life so closely that you sometimes forget that it is, in fact, a game.  The most special aspect of all, though, is how it delves deeply into the psyche of the typical working class average Joe, exploring the deep emotional driving forces behind his motivations and what makes him tick.  The game to which I am referring, of course, is none other than the psychological roller coaster that is Shove It: The Warehouse Game.

Just look at that title; the double entendre has its own double entendre.  The obvious interpretation is that the two sides are that of shoving boxes, the game’s main goal to the casual observer, and what our hero, Stevedore (more on that later), would like to tell his boss.  The other, deeper interpretation is this double entendre is one of the more clever jokes a working stiff like him would likely understand.  Like the works of Shakespeare himself, this game is poking fun at its target audience.  Sheer brilliance.

Now, let us take a look at the character’s motivations.  There are no princesses to save, no sidequests to undertake, and no crime family to construct.  No, our protagonist’s motivations are strictly material.  The title screen shows him leaning on a crate, taking a break from his menial tasks, and daydreaming of a woman and a red convertible.  This draws a parallel to the working class’s strong desire for material things, typical of male conquest.  Money, sex, and status symbols in the form of expensive toys are, of course, a crude abridgment of what life should mean to someone, but the struggle of a blue-collar job’s monetary shortcomings can blind one very easily.  I should know; I’ve been there.

The motivations of our protagonist.

That’s right, I wasn’t always just “that eccentric woman who writes a strange art column for that budding new gaming website”; I worked a blue-collar job for 11 years.  I absolutely loved my time as a stock boy (the term stock boy at my place of employment can refer to any gender), coming to know my boss as “Ma.”  The only problem was that the pay was less than enough to support a family (even if your kids are small and furry).  Funds are always short when you make very little money.  When you’re in that situation for so long, you come to a sort of tunnel vision, thinking only, “Money is the problem.  If I had money, I could be pay the bills, maybe purchase a few nice things, and be happy.”  The goal then becomes to accrue more money to achieve this goal, but the despair and frustration constantly weigh upon you, making your desire for wealth even greater.  This tunnel vision leads to thoughts of a larger nest egg and the like, which quickly turns to a strong desire for vast wealth, and sometimes even greed.  Fortunately, I spent much of my life as a Buddhist, so I was able to keep these desires from getting out of hand, but the fact is that these perceived vices have a legitimate origin.

Back to Stevedore, though: it is clear from his name that he comes from a working class family, and is thus stuck in the same rut he has always known.  Rather than name their child something like Steven, his parents followed their delusions of grandeur, passing them on to their son through his name.  One has to wonder for how many generations have these crass interpretations of high society have compiled, perhaps culminating in these strange linguistic manifestations.  Truly, Stevedore is the victim, likely having grown up in a developmentally opressive environment, taught always to reach for that big payday.  Multiply that by how large the working class is, and you have the American Dream looking more like an American Nightmare.

Stevedore is a simple man with simple motivations.  As we’ve already established, his motivations go no further than base material desires.  The passwords used to remember his progress are places in sunny California, like Malibu, Orange, and Sunset (Strip).  Some of the areas in which he works even have simple shapes, causing one of his level to say to oneself, “Hey, it looks like a snail.”  Truly, a very simple level of amusement.  His only thoughts are of his work and its rewards; there is no room for deep philosophy or anything of the like; he is trapped in a bourgeois nightmare, to which there is no end without the enlightenment of an education he will never know or a philosophy he is too set in his ways to accept.

Simple dreams for a simple life.

However, that does not mean that our Stevedore is unintelligent; that couldn’t be further from the truth.  As Piaget would tell you, intelligence exists in multiple strains; some people are brilliant mathematicians, some are genius wordsmiths, but less appreciated manifestations of intelligence are those of spatial reasoning and kinesthetics.  I, personally, have very little spatial intelligence, likely due to my ability to see in only two dimensions, but I have a great deal of kinesthetic intelligence, which is the ability to use one’s body well.  When given a task, I was not relegated to using my arms and hands, but could and often would use every part of my body, leaping from shelf to shelf with all the grace of a flying squirrel in our stockroom.  This and being able to visualize a solution to a problem such as moving boxes into designated areas are things that do require a great deal of intelligence to perform efficiently.  Stevedore greatly excels in these areas, which is clearly evident in his ability to solve very complex box-pushing puzzles, even if it is technically through the player.  However, involving the player in this equation breaks the fourth wall, destroying with it this rich allegory to a middle class life.

Spatial intelligence makes this a simple task.

What I found most gripping and true to life was the ending, which provided a powerful life lesson, perhaps trying to reach its target audience, albeit subtly.  Our protagonist manages to gather enough money through his hard work to buy his convertible and get the girl, impressing her shallow desires with his new toy.  Where does it get him?  Deeper into the oppressive struggle of material desire.  His girl, no longer satisfied with a red sports car, now wants to drive to Florida.  Judging by the background, they appear to be in the deserts of the western United States.  His response?  “Sure… Why not?”  The ellipsis shows his hesitation; he knows what he’s gotten himself into, but has worked too hard to achieve it to back out.  His sighs are almost palpable in his knowing that he has begun down a road more difficult than before, now needing to support the material desires of two individuals, and even more should these two follow the expected path of marriage, followed by bearing children.  The banner, declaring “At last, true love!” describes what these people likely think true love really is: status symbols for the woman, and the sex pursued to drown his sorrows and reclaim his conquest due to the perceived failure from the other routes for the man.

The end of this tragic tale is only the beginning of misery and woe.


As one can clearly see, Shove It: The Warehouse Game has a far deeper interpretation than one might think.  On the surface, it is merely a Puzzler about pushing boxes, but its rich story is deeply allegorical to the trials and tribulations of every day life to the middle to lower social classes in a free market economy.  It really makes you feel for the protagonist, achieving his desires, only to have them replaced by disappointment, a lack of satisfaction, and an even greater commitment to satisfying greater desires.  A tragic tale of endless misery and comforting lies to oneself springs forth from what is seemingly the most innocuous of games.  Roger Ebert, if you’re reading this, I suggest you reevaluate your standpoint on video games as art, for clearly, even those that seem shallow have the greatest of depth.


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