Postal 2 still has more about it than most other games wherein you shoot things (not hard though, is it?)

The below is a mostly unedited account of what the fourteen-year-old me had to say about Postal 2 off of the GeoCities I created:

“What can I say, Postal 2 is a great game. You really can push the limits of the real world here. Chances are that if you're here you already play the game and know what it's all about, but if you don't click here

as im sure you can all see the whole idea of the site was to say somethin about Postal 2, but since i dont have any map or other game editing/making talent at all, and really cant be arsed to do anything anyway I'm gonna use my space to say something, havn't figured out what yet, but lookin at the poll, which really shows the site to be what it is: shit, i realy need to do something to turn it around.

and remember if you ever want to say anything at all just use the fuckin forum, its not a crime, use it cos it took me like 10 minutes to set it up lol”

From it we can gather a great number of things, most of which aren’t good. I mistakenly though incorrectly spelt words made me appear cool (it doesn’t and I, thankfully, now know this); I had little skill at wider video game-related activities (including writing, something I feel I’m a little better at now I’m fully grown); I, even then, favoured protracted, multi-clause sentences over simply more sentences (I clearly still do: please see above). We can also (kind of) see that I found wanton digital-murder to be a relaxing and often creative means of letting off a little adolescent steam. Thems was simpler times.

Postal 2 is a shooter, essentially. You play as a nihilistic youngish man named Postal Dude who lives in a backwater American town, ironically (har har) called Paradise. This mundane setting - I suppose refreshingly, at least for the time - is matched by the game’s laundry list of humdrum objectives, such as going to church and, well, picking up the laundry (har har part deux). The shooting itself often begins because your pursuit of these simple tasks is regularly - and rudely - interrupted by the citizens of Paradise firing the first shot, often, but not always, at you. Here, you are presented with two choices: one is REALLY SUPER OBVIOUS, while the other is less conspicuous. You can either: 

i - Use all of the numerous and plentiful weapons scattered around the town to fight right back, expedite situations and generally play the shooting game about shooting.
ii - You can run away from your troubles, wholly ignoring all but a handful of the mechanics the developers created for their game.

Both are valid options, certainly, and it could be argued that the latter course of action presents a much stiffer challenge to the player, whilst also scathingly indicting contemporary consumers for their complicity in sustaining the one-note brutality of ‘action’ games (shooting, like hugging, being one of a variety of actions an individual can perform about their surroundings). But - to borrow the game’s questionably blunt visual-parlance - let us be honest: you don’t build a basement dungeon and fill it with metallic, leather and
rubberised accoutrements without ever planning on getting your kink on. So while the game’s creator, Running With Scissors, is adamant that it is the player and not the game who determines how violent things become, little fourteen-year-old Leigh went all out and shot up the town to accomplish them thar errands, finding it very therapeutic, it would seem, along the way.     

While violent games have been shown to aid in unwinding by at least one group of science people, there still isn’t a good amount of actual, scientific data with which to present to fellows when trying to argue the validity of the position. Indeed, that study has several gouge-sized flaws, while much of the remaining violence-centric research and discussion tends to fall somewhere between “there’s still not enough data for us to be sure, but we reckon they’re actually okay”, and “there’s still not enough data for us to be sure, but we reckon they’re probably bad”. What we tend to find past this is lots of anecdotal evidence - usually from the game-playing end of the spectrum, naturally - which broadly agrees with my violence-as-relaxation mantra from all those years ago. Matt Leslie touches very briefly upon the subject in his lovely piece about interacting with online communities whilst not really wanting to interact with online communities. That stories like his are entirely personal doesn’t blunt their import for me, on the contrary; the context built into this type of open and honest writing elevates it from simple opinion to something more accountable and compelling: something much more useful.

With that in mind, just what was it that the adolescent me found so interesting about Postal 2, and - like the sillily long sentences - does any of that still reside within me today?!!!??!

Freedom, I’d say, to immediately answer the question. Though not the hollow “It’s only as violent as you are!” back-of-the-box-attempted-redemption kind of freedom; we’ve already discussed the fallacious nature of that. (PLUS, one look at the boobs/blood/ ‘n’/guns of the RWS website makes any assertion to the contrary almost impossible to follow through with, however freely the game itself offers up other readings.) No, I think the little me enjoyed the more general freedom of being able to choose when to turn on the violence, which is still not commonly a trait built into shooters today.

An early encounter in a bank exemplifies this limited-yet-meaningful malleability afforded to the player. On the simplest level you’re tasked with cashing a paycheck. The pacifist route is to treat the game as you would the real world: wait in line for about five minutes and then claim your remuneration. Upon this occurring, a group of robbers appear yelling the immortal lines of thievery: “nobody moves, nobody gets hurt!” If you heed their warning you do, in fact, escape the bank completely unharmed, ready to skip away and stand in another queue waiting patiently for some milk. At any point during those events, however, you are given the freedom to shatter the normal and - as the game would like you to say - go postal. So, if you’re feeling exceedingly misanthropic you can whip out your gun before even entering the building, beginning a reckless personal-judgment there and then. OR you can wait in line for a bit, get sick of the queue and its impolite inhabitants and then begin shooting. OR you can cash your cheque then murder everyone ‘cos, like, you wanted to. OR you can cash your cheque, wait for the robbers and then open fire in a discriminate/indiscriminate (that’s two options to save time) way. OR (last one) you can bypass the queuing altogether and run upstairs into the vault, nick the money and then either a) fight your way back out or b) use a secret passage and escape like a Master Thief.


Okay, so they are all, mostly, temporal variations along a very strict trajectory, I’ll agree. Even the pacifist option is - and was back then - less interesting to me than the ability to choose when your personal violence will erupt. Because - and this is the last time I’ll state it, sorry - violence will erupt at some point; it is built into the game whether the player wishes it or not. But this is the case for all shooters, even the more option-driven stealthy affairs of the Cryses or FarCryses we come across in the wilderness. No, I think Postal 2’s approach to the genre is - dare I say it - a more balanced and honest one.

When running around Paradise, with the exception of a couple of situations where you’re confined to a, erm, confined space, it is kind of always up to the player when combat comes into any given encounter. This isn’t to say that you won’t end up shooting and chopping up many an adversary; simply that the moment you choose to do so is entirely at your behest. This - really, let’s be honest - is a revelation. However violent and gratuitous and tasteless this violence may become - hence the little Leigh getting all those cathartic (said it) kicks - you’re still fully in control of when you ‘start things off’. Compared to shooters past, then and now this is still unheard of. Yes, the game is always pushing you - with the queues, rude bystanders and the town’s profligacy for weaponry - to snap and become inconsolably biley; but it’s the simple ability to decide to do this that sets it apart from almost every other game which features violence perpetrated by the player.

I’m sorry to keep saying it in very slightly different ways.

Because it really is that simple:

In a world where one of the most popular genres of video games revolves almost entirely around interacting with things by killing them, Postal 2 was/is compelling because it allows you to, for a time, play it as though you exist in a world where you have least one other response available to you.

Which I suppose is as good as you can expect at this point in time, nevertheless a decade ago.

Needless to say: I’m proud that ten years ago I appreciated that fact, and that my enjoyment of the violence was tempered by the knowledge that I could, should I choose, cease it altogether. Although my stance on video game violence has become somewhat more fervent, I’m still willing to back up my old, younger self and reiterate: Postal 2 is great at what it does because - however superficially and amid reams and reams of tasteless fluff - it allows you to mediate and control its lust for violence. That you will likely end up partaking in this violence is largely irrelevant; you were presented with an albeit-loaded choice, and that, regardless of whether you succumb to the game or not, is more respect than almost any other shooter has ever been willing to show its audience.  

The above prose is proud to be associated with Critical Distance's Blogs of the Round Table, an initiative which seeks to bring the diverse voices of video game criticism together about the person of a bi-monthly topic. I think it's dead good, and so do these lovely individuals:

Believe it or not, but this could well constitute the beginning stages of a book all about the electronic game Postal 2 (!). To help things along I’ve set up one of them Patreon pages wot a lot of other writers have got themselves these days, so please consider donating to this peerlessly altruistic cause. It resides here: Chrz.