How Seriously Do We Take Divekick?

Divekick, I’m told, is full to bursting with jokes I’m not equipped to get. I’m not exactly great at fighting games, nor am I particularly competitive by nature—and as a result, I’ve never been a member of the Fighting Game Community™ and I’ve only ever experienced eSports from a safe distance. Divekick clearly has a target audience, and just as clearly, I’m not part of it.

On the other hand, I’m fascinated by minimalism—How far can you strip something down without losing its essence?—and Divekick is an experiment in exactly that. It’s a fighting game centered around its one eponymous, physically improbable move. You jump, and then you divekick, and your opponent does likewise. First hit wins. There are special moves and charge bars yadda yadda, but even those (not to mention the game’s menus) are controlled using just two buttons, Dive and Kick.

And sure, Dive is really more of a jump, and Kick technically consists of both a dive and a kick. Also you can jump backwards using the Kick button, if you’re currently on the ground and if you’re a coward. But still. Two buttons.

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No one was sure whether it was a joke back when it first appeared on Kickstarter. No one was sure whether it was a joke when the Kickstarter was fully funded, then cancelled. Now the game’s been released, and there’s still some question as to whether it’s a joke. It is, and it isn’t. Like Little Inferno (which I discussed in my first post on minimalism), Divekick is completely fucking with you, and also, it’s dead serious.

But it works as a game—and it works as a joke, and for the very same reason: absurdly, there’s real depth to that one stupid move. As such, certain characters have strengths and weaknesses when facing certain other characters, despite them all being based around divekicks. How quickly and how far do they rise when they jump? And then, how quickly to they fall, and at what angle? It’s that rare Octodad sort of comedy game where it’s the gameplay itself that’s funny. I can vouch that it’s entirely possible for tense, emotionally fraught grudge matches to consist of nothing more than diving and kicking, and that a truly special kind of comedy results.

The rest of the comedy isn’t for me. As in, it is in fact meant for someone who is not me, a community of which I’m not a part. To an outsider such as myself, a lot of it comes off as bitchy and mean-spirited, but since the jokes are at the expense of people I’ve never heard of, and since they originate from a community that’s long on bluster and smack-talk, who knows. (I’m also assuming it’s intentional that all sorts of non-fraudulent behaviors, including some that are necessary for unlocking achievements, will trip the game’s “Fraud Detection.”)

But that other kind of comedy—the kind that results from systems and game machanics—is approachable and accessible in the same way that slapstick in silent movies is approachable and accessible. It’s just about universal. Unlike Achievement Unlocked or Evoland, it doesn’t even require you to be particularly literate in the audiovisual or interactive language of videogames. It’s pure play as emergent comedy. That’s worth celebrating, regardless of how seriously we do or don’t take the rest of the package.

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