South Park “Freemium Isn’t Free” Review
Season 18, Episode 6
Sometimes even “South Park” sinks to easy targets.
This was one of those weeks. Free-to-play games aren’t new. They are annoying, and yes, they trick players into starting with a free game, and then charge them for microtransactions. But are they worthy of a full “South Park?” As the Canadians say: “Eh.”
Despite the ease of the target, the show opened fairly strong. Terrance and Phillip got a humorous breakdown of the science behind freemium gaming, trying to draw a hard comparison to the people making these games and the alcohol industry, as well as making a comparison between the people who get addicted to the games and alcoholics.
The show even threw in a bit of live action with a mock alcohol advertisement, pushing the parallel even further. The ad was great – a strong and hilarious attack on the alcohol advertising machine – and with a fierceness the show hasn’t really shown this season.
The alcoholism comparison is a bit extreme though. Sure, people can be addicted to gaming and people can – and do- have problems with keeping track of their phone bills on free-to-play and mobile apps, but comparing it to people struggling with alcoholism is a stretch.
Comparing the industries and the tactics they use (curious if that consumption number for alcohol is correct or inflated) is totally fair, but the show had a much better case to be against the industry itself than the product consumers themselves, be they gamers or drinkers. I have no problem with gaming as a topic for the show (South Park tends to understand and lampoon gaming culture quite well), but it just wasn’t the best decision to pick a lesser target, and then focus on an even weaker audience within that target.
Throwing in Randy’s drinking problem (or cultural wine drinking) was worth a smirk, but there’s still a big difference between being addicted to buying things on an app and being an alcoholic.
Perhaps the show was going for bigger moral implications here, especially when it brought in Satan to try to explain to Stan that anything that is fun can become addicting, so the moral of the week seems to be to not have fun ever? It’s an odd week – even in South Park – when Satan is the voice of reason here, explaining to Stan how dopamine and addiction work. When he finally gets his hands on the game (decrying that temptation should be nuanced!), he possesses Stan and goes off to battle the Canadian Devil and things start to unravel and fall apart pretty quickly. The show just can’t stick endings this season.
At least there was a one-issue focus here, something the show has drastically lacked of late. Picking one topic to stick to – even if free-to-play games are tiny fish in the pop culture ocean – works when the show is struggling to find its voice, as it is this season. It’s tried several multitopic episodes, and, well they’ve suffered as a result.
It just seems weird to dedicate a whole episode to free-to-play games when so many other topics have been scrambled into one unfocused episode, like last week. The mock ad was a rare glimpse into the fiery, opinionated “South Park” that has been missing this season, and hopefully it continues with scorn and focus on the (now) back half of season 18.
Notes and quotes:
“They see through the charade.”
“The mium is Latin for not really.”
-“Soon Canada will be as advanced and developed as Michigan.”
-Worth repeating, that drink responsibly ad was amazing.
-“We’d say we lost an arm and a leg, but they aren’t worth much.”
“I tweeted it. It’s trending.”
-OK, I laughed at Beezleaboot.
-Why did Satan need Stan’s body?
-Some continuity with Randy making money as Lorde, I guess?