In the world of Oob, mushrooms can dance and wear hats. Your neighbors greet you with a cheery “Dailyo!” Conflicts are solved through dance battles between Ooblets and people complain about socioeconomic disparity with dry one-liners that don’t really reflect a division of class in Badgetown. Nothing can kill the vibe of this cutesy, quirky world. So what’s the deal with the cop?
I first met Officer Zuffle on my way to deliver some “nurnies” to Arah, the town’s goth-adjacent potion brewer. I was immediately taken aback, wondering who in Ooblets needs to be policed and for what. Is there a jail in Badgetown? I thought everything was settled with dance battles. Does Gloffum challenge people with his own Ooblets if they’ve committed a crime? Are there even laws in this candy-colored town with a child mayor?
Officer Zuffle makes it clear in his introduction: he’s never arrested anyone, but he’s written citations for Ooblets who he feels have “mocked” him. There is a single jail cell in Zuffle’s office in town hall, but there’s no door and it’s been fashioned into his bedroom. So while there’s no judge or jury, Zuffle demands respect, though I haven’t heard anything about an Ooblet paying a fine for sticking its froggy tongue out at Zuffle or shaking its leafy behind in his general direction.
So I can’t help but wonder: why? In a game that insists on it’s cute aesthetic and jokey mood, how does an officer of the law fit into this mode? The only conclusion I can draw from Zuffle’s presence is that in modeling the romanticized aesthetic of a quaint little town in the style of Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing, the developers of Ooblets are placing an agent of law enforcement in that environment because that’s just what one does. To invoke a portrait of a town that’s rural enough to be quaint, but upper-middle class enough to not worry about actual issues in some rural towns like limited internet service or economic collapse when the coal mine closes, why not add Officer Zuffle’s patrols to make the neighborhood feel “safe”?
To be clear, I do not think Ooblets is copoganda. I don’t think they included the character of Zuffle in order to actively argue anything one way or the other about law enforcement and their place in society. However, I think developers and players alike need to be very critical about what fits into the mold of quaintness or cuteness for them. The fact of the matter is that for millions of people from a very young age, police officers are agents to be feared, not chuckled at for goofs.
This past May, Ooblets was included in the Wholesome Direct – Indie Game Showcase and the game goes to lengths to convey a very “wholesome” feel rife with good vibes and even better tunes. I’m not here to petition Glumberland to patch Officer Zuffle out of the game, but it’s past time for us to be critical of positioning even harmless police officers like Zuffle as “wholesome.” As much as Officer Zuffle wants to be the Norman Rockwell cop sitting next to you at the good, old fashioned American diner, we should all think about who is allowed to sit next to him and look him in the eye without breaking a sweat.
I do not sound this call for criticality only in light of the protests and demonstrations inspired by this year’s series of murders committed by police officers against Black people. This is an issue with roots which stem back past the murder of George Floyd and past the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013. For centuries, police officers have been weaponized against Black people and other people of color and keeping that history in mind makes it very hard for me to chuckle along with any sort of “goofy” cop in fiction, be it The Simpsons, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or Ooblets. To what degree do these silly presentations of police work operate to de-fang the institution of The Police in the minds of the viewer or player? These are the kinds of questions we should all be asking ourselves while we grow “zinookas” and pet our “Clickyclaws.”
Again, I am not calling for the team at Glumberland to issue a public statement, patch out the character, or otherwise face any sort of righteous punishment for grave injustices. This issue does not begin or end with Ooblets. What I am calling for is developers and players keeping a critical eye open with regards to what they consume, what aesthetics they find appealing, and what elements fit into or harshly clash with those aesthetics.
I’m enjoying my time with Ooblets a lot and wrote about it in my first impressions piece. So I definitely plan on spending a lot more time in Badgeland. I also plan on side-eyeing Officer Zuffle whenever me and my crew of dancing mushrooms and such mosey by.