If you’ve ever had a table at a convention, or had your work in a gallery, you’ve experienced the sharp sting of a stranger’s silent judgement. “How are you enjoying the show?” you ask as they walk by. They look down at your work and scowl, moving on wordlessly to buy some crappy fan art from the next table over. Your soul wilts. Now you can experience that virtually to, with Passpartout, a simulation of the French art world.
You play as a painter, struggling to strike a balance between authenticity and paying your bills (rent, wine, baguettes). You start by painting a self-portrait and putting it up in your gallery. Guests come in, either to rudely comment, or make a purchase—in my case it was a rude comment 90 percent of the time.
“Too overworked,” says a guest. So you go abstract and simple, four squares in bright colors. “I want something calmer than this,” says another guest, so you paint a bunch of squiggly blue lines in different shades, which they walk by without a glance. “My three year old puts more effort in than this,” says yet another guest. Then the canvas that you literally just threw a single red line on catches his eye. “Perfect for my man cave!” he exclaims, handing you some euros and walking away with the painting you were certain was the worst.
Of course, if you work hard, make enough art, and are better at painting with a mouse than I am, you could make it as a proper artist in this game. With diligence, you can do more than just make rent and buy baguettes, you can get bigger, fancier galleries to work in and house your art. So more people can come by and tell you something you don’t know about art.
Passpartout has an emphasis on the performativity of the whole art scene, opening the game with red curtains, and having the scene set with a cut away building, and cardboard props out front. The characters are all made to look like puppets, and their lines repeat each other in a way that feels purposeful. You may want to yell, “None of you know what you’re talking about! That’s a piece of bacon with a baseball cap! It’s not ‘exquisite!’” But that’s the point. They’re just pretending to know. But to play this game, you’ll have to play theirs.