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We Happy Few dev addresses Australia ban, tackling drug glorification

‘The game is not very positive on the subject of drugs’

We Happy Few screenshots

We Happy Few partially is a game about drug addiction, and why people often choose to use drugs as a way to forget their past.

Characters in We Happy Few use a drug called “Joy” to forget the past, and the discussion around drug addiction is one of the most popular surrounding the game. It’s a loaded topic, especially in wake of a growing opioid addiction in the United States, and one that led Australia’s Classification Board to refuse to rate the game, effectively banning the game from being sold in the country. Alex Epstein, We Happy Few’s narrative designer, told Polygon that the team hopes to convince the ratings board their team isn’t trying to glorify drug use.

“I think we hope to convince them that the game is not very positive on the subject of drugs, or that you know, this is a fictional drug,” Epstein said. “This is a drug that is prescribed by very nice doctor with jaunty hats and everything, so the game is not in favor of illegal drugs. In fact, it’s illegal to not take the drugs, so hopefully [the Classification Board] will change their minds.”

It’s not a new subject that Epstein is forced to confront. He told Polygon they didn’t really think about the opioid epidemic or whether people would interpret the drug Joy as a positive, cool thing. Instead, Epstein points to We Happy Few’s obvious dystopian aesthetic as an interesting time, and hopes people will understand they’re not trying to sell kids on the concept of taking drugs.

“It’s counterculture at its height and it gets to the idea of that,” Epstein said. “It’s like a ticket. All drugs especially are kind of new and people are experiencing on a mass wave. I think it’s kind of a stretch because it’s clearly a dystopia, right? We’re not in the business of making propaganda. So you can interpret that however you like. If you start start up the game, you have a choice of remember or forget. And forgetting isn’t entirely legitimate.”

More to the point, Epstein and his team use quieter moments in the game, where there’s a lull in gameplay, to have one of its main characters, Arthur, explore his own addiction. It isn’t just people taking drugs for fun, Epstein said.

“Arthur just has these random thoughts,” Epstein said. “One of them is, he says, ‘Am I happy if I’m happy on drugs? Am I really happy? Is there such thing as a true self? These are questions we think about because we’re all biochemical creatures. If I don’t take my Zoloft, then I get really angry and grumpy for no reason. Is that the real me? Or is this the real me? There is no real me, and that’s what we try to get at.”

“I guarantee you people miss the point,” Epstein said. “Some people will always miss the point. If you can provide them with an experience so that they can talk about it, then we did our job. That’s our job: to get people talking about this stuff. Our job is not to sell an ideology.”

Epstein hopes that the Australian Classification Board realizes this, and allows people to purchase the game if they wish. When asked if he was worried people in Australia wouldn’t be able to play the game, Epstein smirked.

“Hopefully it will be available in Australia one day, but I’m sure it’ll be available in Australia one way or another,” Epstein said. “I’m sure they all have VPNs and download it from Steam — or maybe the censorship board will decide that it’s fine. Either way, people will find a way to play if they want.”

We Happy Few will be released on PlayStaton 4, Xbox One and Windows PC on Aug. 10.