Mayor London Breed looks jubilant as she hops along the streets of San Francisco in Ben Nash’s new online video game.
But take a closer look at the first installment of “Giant Mess: A Game of Survival on San Francisco Sidewalks” and it’s clear that this simple side-scroller isn’t so enthusiastic about the mayor or the city she governs.
Swaying to the minimalist beat of the game’s backing track, the mayor jumps over syringes, hooded figures and tents as she passes boarded-up windows and graffitied walls. Each time she leaps over an object in her path, Breed sprouts angel wings and a halo; whenever she fails to avoid a roadblock, she temporarily glows red and negative “disease” points accumulate.
The farcical browser-based game is only meant to be played for 30 seconds or so. Nash isn’t trying to win any accolades from the video game industry with “Giant Mess.” Rather, he is attempting to “embarrass everybody” into action.
That sounds on-brand for Nash, a local web developer and designer who describes himself as a “conservative Liberatarian”-slash-“liberal Republican.” Judging by his Twitter feed, Nash isn’t afraid of expressing or publicly endorsing views that run contrary to San Francisco’s prevailing progressive currents.
Nash has retweeted and liked tweets that appear dismissive of the trans experience and said he thinks the city has gone overboard with many of its Covid mandates. He seemed genuinely proud to have upset Heather Knight: “I won!!!” he tweeted along with a screenshot showing that the Chronicle columnist had blocked him.
Nash says the inspiration to create “Giant Mess” came suddenly—after a shopping trip in downtown San Francisco over the holidays. Though he’s been troubled by the state of San Francisco’s drug and homelessness epidemic for years, “this winter was just strange,” he says.
“It's not the San Francisco I first came to in the early 2000s,” he says, with an air of wistful disillusionment.
Breed isn’t the only local politico skewered in “Giant Mess.” Hidden “Easter eggs” nod to Chesa Boudin (who, for the record, Nash supports recalling) and disgraced ex-Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru, who formally pleaded guilty to fraud last week. (For fun, Nash has also tucked original NFT artworks, or non-fungible tokens, into the game for players to uncover).
To those who would say that the game is little more than a glib pot shot from the peanut gallery, Nash says they’re missing the point.
“People can say my video game is over the top, but it's not,” says Nash. “I think the portrayal of walking down the street fearful of stepping on syringes, stepping around dangerous people, having tents on the sidewalk, I think that is the issue I'm trying to bring awareness to.”
Christina Campodonico can be reached at [email protected]