Press X to Not Die

Press X to Not Die is first-person FMV in the key of stupid. That’s its basic draw: Laugh at how stupid it is, and, by extension, how stupid FMV games in general are. The FMV genre is a thing of the 1990s, after all, apart from a few modern revivals like Her Story (which, significantly, imitates the look and feel of a 90s operating system). And 20 years is about how long it takes for things that were originally regarded as merely bad to become appreciated as enjoyably bad.

It gets the low-budget schlock aesthetic pretty much right, with its bad acting and unconvincing violence. At one point it teases a possible shower scene (without following through), and all I could think of was a similar moment in the 1993 FMV game Critical Path. The interactivity seemed a bit off the mark, though. There are two forms of interaction in the game: choosing dialogue from a menu (which provides a certain amount of branching), and QTEs of various sorts, including randomized button presses and rapid button-mashing. I can’t think of any actual 90s FMV game that worked like this; rather, it’s a combination that I personally associate very strongly with certain more modern games that arguably might as well be FMV. So, I could believe there’s a sly wink there, if I thought the game had any interest in subtlety.

The premise is that nearly everyone just starts attacking each other in the streets for no apparent reason, with only a few people unaffected, such as the protagonist and his girlfriend. In other words, it’s basically a zombie apocalypse scenario, except that they didn’t even splurge on zombie makeup. Now, to spoil the plot — and here things get really stupid — it ultimately turns out that the common factor linking the survivors is that they’re all gamers. The QTEs you’ve been performing throughout the game are part of an experimental system that’s supposed to render people capable of performing complex tasks “with the ease of pressing a button”. But only people who play videogames are capable of thinking like that. Anyone else goes mad trying.

This leads to a cringeworthy but weirdly self-defeating moment. When this revelation comes along, the player character turns to his girlfriend and says, with surprise in his voice, “You’re a gamer?”, and in reply, she shrugs and says “Angry Birds”. Now, my first reaction to this was that the game was displaying the unfortunate sexist attitudes that infest geekdom: that it’s surprising when a woman likes games, and also that women only play casual games, which don’t really count. But when you think about it, the fact that she’s immune to the insanity shows that she really is a gamer, in an objectively confirmable sense. Casual games do count in this world. They may even count more. The girlfriend character uses her personal QTEs to do things like hack through electronic locks, while the player gets things like a button-mash to climb over a fence that has a perfectly serviceable gate in it.

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