In Stray you play as a cat. For many, this is a mic worth an immediate purchase, and Blue Twelve Studio, the former Ubisoft employees responsible for the game, clearly know this: From the very beginning, Stray shamelessly taps into Felis catus’ memeable antics.
Where do I begin? You press O to meow. You hammer L and R to scratch trees (and furniture). You spin out of corners and sit in holes. Interludes see you waltzing on a keyboard, prancing on pianos and terrorizing board games. And while Stray’s cat is just a red tabby, not quite as tall or genetically mutated or having trouble breathing as more famous Internet cats, like the Untitled Goose Game goose before it, he’ll still provide rich fodder for memes. In fact, thanks to a partnership with Travel Cat, there’s a collection of Stray-themed harnesses and backpacks that can carry “25 lbs of cat in its sturdy, well-ventilated chassis.”
There’s been a lot of talk about the cat, and frankly, it’s the star of the show here. But I’m going to focus on something else: namely, the seemingly limitless influence of the now-lost walled city of Kowloon.
Stray is set after the apocalypse. Humans have disappeared, but cats are proving to be hardy as cockroaches. (Jonathan Franzen cried.) The game begins with four fur balls dodging the rain in a vine-shrouded concrete building. On your daily journey through the ruins of industrial civilization, you will slip through a crevice into the darkness and land hard in a rotten sewer. After poking around a lab, you discover a flying drone called B12. This drone will act as the Navi for your mute Link, who lives in a backpack much like the one I just mentioned that lets you – er, the cat – perform tasks that require opposable thumbs – like using flashlights and keys – and a concept of language such as translating Robot into American English.
The scene is eerily familiar. In 1993 William Gibson visited Singapore and recoiled from the spick and span dystopia he found there. When he decompressed on his flight back home, he revealed a vain hope: catching a second glimpse of an ongoing obsession “before the future comes to tear it down.” This obsession was the walled city of Kowloon. He wrote: “Hive of dreams. Those mismatched, uncalculated windows. How they seemed to absorb all the frenetic activity of Kai Tak’s airport, soaking up energy like a black hole. I was ready for something like that.”
The walled city, when still standing, loomed on the outskirts of Kowloon City, then part of British Hong Kong. Controlled by China as a de jure enclave, it became a political pinball machine: the British governors of Hong Kong hated it; China wouldn’t demolish it. It was run by five triad gangs, explains James Crawford in an article for Atlas Obscura. There was “no taxation, no regulation of companies, no health or planning systems, no police presence. People could come to Kowloon and, in official terms, disappear.” Remarkable productivity – the residents produced enough fish balls to supply Hong Kong’s wealthy upper classes – mixed with gambling, prostitution and drugs. Even the rats, Crawford writes, were writhing with heroin addiction.
This post ‘Stray”s post-apocalyptic world evokes the walled city of Kowloon
was original published at “https://www.wired.com/story/stray-design-walled-city-kowloon/”