How far is too far?

As someone who has seen every episode of South Park, I’m not offended by much. I manage to see through some of the more overt jabs and find the social commentary that has come to underly almost everything that happens on that show. So, why is it that I can’t decide if DigitialHarmony’s new mobile game Chin Up is distasteful or funny?

The game riffs on the concepts introduced so many years ago in Doodle Jump. Your goal is to rise as high as you can, earning stars along the way. Instead of jumping from platform to platform, though, Mr. Chin is a construction worker riding a bamboo platform that you move from side to side, adjust the angle on the way up.

OK… not so bad yet, right? Well, along the way, you need to move the platform to avoid a variety of falling objects like tools, toolboxes, nails and more. It’s the “more” that gets dicey. Additional hazards include gongs, abaci, chinese finger traps and laundry. Each level you unlock (via in-app purchase or earning a minimum of three stars on the preceding stage) adds new twists like flocks of dive-bombing birds, a dragon, Medusa and more. Oh, and your health meter is a bottle of soy sauce for the first few levels until you move out of Asia.

The game mechanics are enjoyable. Dodging the falling objects, collecting health and protective power ups is tricky, fast-paced and reasonably challenging. The new wrinkles that each stage introduces ramp up the difficulty at a good pace. Put simply, the game part of Chin Up is well done.

It was when I ventured to the App Store to see what others were saying about the game that things started to get ugly. I expected to see a fair number of 1-star reviews decrying the game’s overt racism. What I didn’t expect was comments like,

“i lika this bery much!”

and

“Great game two chins up, im in chinny heaven.”

The fact that players think it’s ok to leave racist, insensitive remarks with their reviews is a red flag that something is wrong here. Worse, for someone to leave a note about being offended only to be rebutted by another person urging the insulted party to, “have a sense of humor,” is concerning to say the least. I’ll admit, this has left me with a sense of cognitive dissonance. How can I enjoy something as horribly brutal as South Park and not be sure what I think of Chin Up?

As I thought about it, I settled on two things that set them apart. First, South Park usually does a good job of embodying the bad behavior in one or more characters (usually Eric Cartman) while pointing out how wrong those views are. Second, South Park is an equal opportunity offender. Everyone is fair game, and I can’t think of many groups that haven’t been targeted by the show.

So, I decided to help DigitalHarmony out with the second point and spread the offensiveness out a bit. As a Jew, I thought I’d put together a design document for a possible sequel to Chin Up called upHEBal. Instead of Mr. Chin the construction worker on a bamboo platform, the game features Mr. Schpielburg, the Hollywood director on a camera lift. On his way up, he must avoid pork chops, Torquemada, milk (we’re a very lactose intolerant people), and bacon.  Power ups include money, latkes, yarmulkes and dreidels (that make you spin around and deflect falling objects).

Some potential one-liners include, “Oy! You want I should get a concussion?” and “Money! I love controlling all the banks!”

The best part? By having the game installed, your iDevice won’t work from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. You have to observe the Sabbath, after all.

I still don’t know how I feel about Chin Up. Strip away the paint and the sound effects, and you have a game that can hold its own against the likes of Jetpack Joyride. It’s just impossible to ignore the aesthetic choices, and if you’re easily offended, it’s best to stay away. Not sure if it’s too much? The game is available on the App Store for free for a limited time.