The year is 1997, you think the local air force base has released a chemical on the population of the city you live, driving them mad with bloodlust. Farfetched? Maybe, but just a few months ago the President (Bill Clinton) apologized on national television for the Tuskegee experiment.
Just a few years before that the U.S General Accounting Office Report on Project MK Ultra was released. Moreover, Waco was less than five years ago, so it’s like the State isn’t afraid to come down hard on anyone they deem unworthy. Was this idea even from your own mind, or was it something mentioned in Bill Cooper’s “Hour of Time”? At this point does it even matter? You are being evicted from your home.
You see the Hordes of Police and their vigilante sidekicks everyday as you travel past the neglected, dilapidated houses, the shanty-town slums and run town trailer parks. You feel like the only sane person here, the only one unaffected and soon you are going to be left alone out there amongst them with nothing left to lose.
This city calls itself Paradise, but the reality could not be farther from it.
This is the world of Running with Scissors debut game ‘Postal’ released in 1997. It is a twin stick isometric shooter about a man simply called ‘The Postal Dude’ who goes on a killing spree against the State in order to stop what he believes to be the Air Force destroying the city of Paradise with mind altering chemicals.
Your goal on each level is to kill a certain percentage of hostiles (the Police, vigilantes and the later the military). Also on each level are non-hostile bystanders whom you can also kill and even execute with no reward or punishment for doing so (beyond a few Steam achievements)
This was four years before Grand Theft Auto so wanton murder of police and civilians was still a rather unknown concept in video games and in turn caused a lot of controversy. While later entries in the Postal franchise moved towards a violent, slapstick open world FPS where the dark aspects are absurd and played for laughs, Postal is a stark deep-dive into the tortured psyche of man broken and driven over the edge by a brutal uncaring world. Postal is a reverse horror game where instead of playing a character (or characters) fleeing and or fighting the eponymous horror, you are it; you are the monster. The isometric view gives a floaty dream-like feel to the carnage being waged in game like the usage of camera angles did in Silent Hill.
The levels themselves are hand-painted cuts of various urban areas. A suburb, shantytown, junk yard, a city park, train station and the previously mentioned Air Force Base. This detailed yet stylized aesthetic creates a level of abstraction between the cathartic combat loop, and the actual heinous nature of what the play character is doing. All of this is lovingly wrapped in a downright disturbingly harsh industrial ambient soundtrack. Think instrumental music that exists somewhere between Ministry, NIN, and Streetcleaner-era Godflesh. All of this culminates in a dissonant experience where despite the action-oriented gameplay, you never truly feel comfortable engaging with it.
This is not a protagonist you are supposed to relate to or even sympathize with yet, the game itself implies he is a product of the crumbling dystopic police state he inhabits. If you play on Hard or Nightmare difficulty, this is made even clearer. The normal level screen diaries are replaced with “War Journals” that the Paint the Postal Dude as not enjoying the violence he commits, and being sickened by the corrupt city of Paradise and declaring he is on a one-man quest of necessary evil to end ‘the madness’ The first level opens with The Postal Dude standing in his yard, moving truck nearby and police cars surrounding your front yard.
At this point The Postal Dude has killed nobody, has not fired a single bullet, or committed a single crime yet the police are already hell bent on ending your life. While Postal has a reputation as a mindless murder simulator, truth is you don’t have to kill any non-hostile NPCs and you don’t even need to kill all the hostile NPCs.
The enemies in Postal are (technically speaking) the police, and in a more general sense, the State.
The gunshots you hear every day, the screams after dark, its their fault you always wear a Kevlar vest and keep a sidearm on you. They are the ones who ripped you from your home only for you to end up directly in their line of fire. You have nowhere to go but through them and nothing left that understands you but your weapon.
All the fighting and bloodshed through Postal’s 17 or so levels culminates in a massive shoot out at the Air Force Base. The base started as a possible savior to Paradise, but the Postal Dude progressed, so did his views on the base. It became a place necessary to napalm the city and keep the infection from spreading before finally being the source of all the evil.
After the Air Force Base is where things begin to get a little bit speculative (even more than normal for a game with an intentionally vague story). The original Postal ends with a scripted event of you shooting up a school full of Village of the Damned looking children who are not only Immune to your weaponry, they don’t even acknowledge your existence at all.
Eventually the Postal Dude collapses and the game ends. This is heavily implied to be a hallucination. The Redux version of Postal has a completely different ending with you showing up at a church, unable to get inside and finding nobody around.
You go on past the church and slowly the world becomes more hellish and distorted until you find a funeral that is implied to be your own. The Postal Dude collapses and the game ends. After this you’re a treating to a cinematic explaining that the Postal Dude ended up in a hellish insane asylum and that he see himself as a hero despite the “atrocities” he committed.
There is talk of ‘The stress and pressures of modern’ life becoming too much to bear causing you to “go Postal”. It ends saying “we may never know what set him off, but will have plenty of time to study him”
The ‘stress and pressure of modern life’ here are easy to identify. The thing that set The Postal Dude off is obvious. He lived in a world where the President flippantly apologizes for the government infecting huge swathes of the African American population with Syphilis. It is common knowledge the government also had no problem with dosing unsuspecting members of the population with psychedelic drugs hoping to achieve mind control effects and that plans were on the table to be able to infect entire population centers at once. You are evicted from your home and before you can even finish packing, police surround your house and open fire. Believing the city is going mad from a corrupt and violent state infecting the populous is completely within the realm of possibility!
While it is true that yes Postal can just be a highly stylized murder fest where you execute civilians in cold blood and cackle as you fire napalm onto a train car full of ostriches and the streets become choked with the dead and dying. Just like the movie Joker can simply be a villain origin. Joker can also be read as a story about a man brutalized by capitalist austerity and failing to gain class consciousness in favor of a violent expression of competition to survive in an exploitative and uncaring world.
In that same fashion, the story of Postal is a much more satisfying experience when you play the game in line with the implied themes of conspiracy theories and a dystopian police state. Because, whether all of this was intentional or not Postal does end up having a lot of interesting things to say about a world not to far removed from our own. A world where Police are becoming an ever-present and intimidating fact. Police brutality is commonplace and offending officers rarely get their comeuppance because of corruption throughout. At times even the wildest conspiracy theories can seem hard to dis-believe in the face of a growing list of genuine government treachery against its own people the world at large.
Here in the real world we tragically even have our own (growing list) of alienated white guys committing atrocities. The catalyst in Postal is that at least he is not motivated (thank fucking Christ) by white supremacy and egged on by right-wing propagandists. Postal (among other among other video games, music, movies, etc.) was blamed for society’s ills. Right-wing politicians looking for excuses to push their fundamentalist ideology further into the mainstream condemned it.
Democrats (like Joe Leiberman ) unable to grasp the systemic problems facing the nation advocate for restricting or even prohibiting the bad toys with somehow put an end to real-world extremist violence. The reality is, Postal is only guilty of is taking a stylized and haunting version of the most savage and callous aspects of our modern capitalist world and putting you the player, in the shoes of a broken failure at the center of it all with his back (literally) against the wall.
-Police will kill civilians without hesitation