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Everyday Arcade, which is known for making left-leaning arcade-style games like Good Guy With A Gun and Thoughts & Prayers, really wants to take anyone familiar with New York City’s crumbling subway system for a ride. Its new mini-game, titled MTA Country, is a nod to Nintendo’s 1994 Super Nintendo Entertainment System hit, Donkey Kong Country. Alas, there are no bananas or cute monkeys amongst the grime and vermine in MTA Country.
The game starts out by introducing a pixelated version of “Gregg T.” (attorney and NYPD Legal Bureau member Gregg Turkin) standing on a subway platform along with sprites of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo. Poor Gregg T. has become an internet meme due to the ubiquity of his face in subway cars and has been labeled a snitch by the Twitterverse, though he has no political power to change this mess. The three jump into a dirty subway trash can that shoots them like a cannon into a train car-cum-minecart and the game’s title, MTA Country, flashes onto the screen. Click to start and you’re off.
Beginning down this pixelated tunnel of failure, I’m reminded of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Fall of the Damned Into Hell” (before 1490). You must navigate through the subway’s crumbling infrastructure by jumping over trash fires, gaps in the train tracks, stalled subway cars filled with angry commuters, and Pizza Rat (yes, how could we forget about that viral subway sensation). Graffiti on the subway walls reads “Giuliani Was Here” and name-drops actual taggers including Jim Joe, and in the background music you’ll hear all the familiar automated subway announcements slightly remixed and reverberated. If you bump into a trash fire or fall off the tracks, no worries: this game world, unlike real life, gives you infinite chances to restart your commute with no repercussions or backed-up train delays. What a joy!
MTA Country works well on your cell phone, provided you actually have service in the subway, which means real New Yorkers who have been waiting for ages for the next train might get a chuckle or boil over in rage depending on how packed the platform is and whether they had an appointment they’ll no longer make on time. Despite all the chuckles, though, I keep thinking about the riders packed into a stalled train car. It’s painfully real in this game that they have no agency, they are merely a bump in the road for politicians to get what they want; they must pray to the Transit Gods (Chaos and MTA Bureaucracy) in hopes they won’t interfere with their commute. In that sense, the game is less a fantasy and more of a depressing reflection of reality.
You may not want to play through all the way to the end — it is a bit of a one-note game — but (spoiler alert) once you collect all of the golden letter prizes on the track, they spell out “Privatize.” This unlocks the fabled hyperloop, a reference to the high-speed transit project being developed by Elon Musk and other tech giants, and a general obliviousness toward normal people’s transportation problems. So thank you, Everyday Arcade, for reminding us that billionaires won’t stop until their visions are realized — often at the expense of those who rely on public transit and other staples of a civil society.