A long time ago I bought Postal 2 from the Steam Store, and it is only recently – in the wake of my Playstation 3 breaking – that I got an opportunity to sit down and play it. For the scarce few out there who don’t know what Postal is, it’s hands down one of the most awful games ever created – which is the point. You play as the Postal Dude. He’s an everyday sunglasses-indoors-wearing, douche-bag-beard-growing sociopath. He’s the stereotypical Call of Duty player, and his actions in the Postal series aren’t dissimilar to those undertaken by Grand Theft Auto protagonists.
So why is Postal so widely panned, while Grand Theft Auto’s shallow characterisation is hailed? The first reason might be because of the graphic quality. Compare the most recent instalment of Postal to the most recent iteration of Grand Theft Auto. GTA V is a gorgeous game, with a lot of thought put into its satire, its world and its mechanics.
Postal 3 has zombies, cats with AIDs and hockey moms. The shooting is clunky, the controls are awkward, and the voice acting isn’t even close to GTA’s quality, but for what it tries to do – South Park-esque satire – Postal is crude, rude and disgusting enough to make us really cringe at what it’s saying. Sure, GTA blows up a Mark Zuckerberg parody, but Postal 2 has you gun down a squeaky, mewling Gary Coleman. Not a parody either – this is the real Gary Coleman you’re blowing away – and then you can undo your fly and pee all over him! It’s disgusting, it’s wretched, it’s awful.
But dear god is it hilarious.
In my first twenty minutes in Postal 2, I trespassed on somebody’s property, peed in the owner’s face, got attacked by a dog, peed on that, shot it in the face, got attacked by another owner, peed on him, shot him in the face, peed a cock and balls into the wall, and then set the house on fire. Running With Scissors – the creator of the game – made it so horrifically crude that you couldn’t help but love it, because it doesn’t quite cross lines otherwise untouched by games. GTA’s had me kill more celebrities than I can count on both my hands, but it does so tactfully and tastefully, and sometimes that’s not enough for satire.
South Park learned that much, which is why it’s become more bloody and violent over the years.
But what is Postal a satire of? Socio-political issues? Protestors? Celebrity Culture?
No – it’s a satire of bad video games like Duke Nukem or Grand Theft Auto (before it evolved.) Postal knows it’s bad. Possibly the most important mission in the game is the first one, where you turn up to the game studio the Postal Dude works at. Here, Running With Scissors creates a parody of itself. Not only does the Postal Dude get sacked for his awful voice acting, he has to push through a group of video game protestors just to get to work, chanting slogans like ‘GAMES ARE BAD, THEY MAKE YOU BAD.’ Seconds later, not only does he get sacked, but the video game company gets violently ransacked by those very same protestors, wielding AK47s. Even on the Lucky Ganesh mission, where you visit a Hindu convenience store just to be attacked by Islamic terrorists, makes a clear comment about the ridiculousness of first person shooters and their obsession with terrorism. It’s all very offensive, but that’s the point.
And by causing so much controversy, Postal achieves what GTA set out to do before it. Grand Theft Auto is confused about whether or not it wants to be controversial, with its stripper mini games and unlikable characters who you empathize with, while Postal, in stark contrast, knows exactly what it wants to be – a pile of steaming shit.
In some circles that’s classed as art.