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In 2021, this silly game about shaking hands is weirdly comforting

Can I let you in on a little secret? I don’t much like shaking hands. Luckily, absurdist palm-sweat simulator A Firm Handshake is here to help.

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A Firm Handshake
Torfi

Can I let you in on a little secret? I don’t much like shaking hands.

It always felt like unsanitary, extraneous, sweaty contact, even before Covid-19. Then when you have to shake hundreds of hands at an unsanitary, extraneous, sweaty event like E3 or Gamescom? No thanks. Fistbumps are better but a little wave is best. Even a bow. What’s wrong with bowing?

But when you’re told you can’t do something, even if you normally wouldn’t want to do the thing, don’t you find it kind of makes you want to do it more? Like that crazed thought of “I could grab that officer’s gun!” or “I could drive into oncoming traffic!” that sometimes creeps into your head from nowhere, I find myself thinking, “I could grab that stranger’s hand and shake it!”

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But I shouldn’t – both because of Covid and consent – and that’s where A Firm Handshake comes in. It’s a way to scratch that sweaty-palmed itch without having to, you know, actually get sweaty palms, or worse, the ‘rona.

A Firm Handshake is a slightly absurdist game where the goal is, as the name suggests, to shake hands. It’s a bit Ronseal. It does exactly what it says on the tin.

You play as a white man in a brown suit in a beige world – this is a game about shaking hands; you couldn’t be anything else – and, well, you need to find people to shake hands with. You move around the world with clunky WASD controls and, as you approach another brown-suited white man, your hands begin to reach out, yearning for one another, like flowers tilting towards sunlight.

It’s worth pointing out at this juncture that A Firm Handshake feels a little janky, and deliberately so. It’s a game built on inverse kinematics and procedural animation. This means all of the stuff that’s happening – from Captain Beige’s wonky footsteps to the clammy, outstretched white tendrils to the solid “bounce” of the eventual shake – is based on the physical position of bodies in the world, not on pre-planned sequences.

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This tweet from the game’s developer, Torfi, probably explains it better than I can.

When you shake hands with a man, you collect him, Snake style, and then it’s off to find another beige-suited sleeve-ham to manhandle. Your chain of men doubles in length; the only clue to where you might find another outstretched hand in this sea of 1970s carpet is an occasional potted plant.

See a man, shake his hand, he joins the back of the train. Before long, several firm handshakes deep, you’ve got a JRPG party of Average Joes trailing behind you. Later, it becomes the world’s most boring conga line.

Then, abruptly, the game fades to black. Dreams of collecting a Snake-like, screen-filling chain of brownsuits are dashed.

A Firm Handshake snake

But we’re not done digit-squashing just yet. The curtain will lift again, revealing several other variations on this simple theme, each more existential than the last. From collecting as many handshakes as possible, you’ll find yourself trying to reach a handshake through some absurd obstacles. Later, you’ll try to get to a handshake as quickly as possible the moment you get out of bed. (Which is just depressing, when you really think about it.)

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The game’s final “level” sees the player trying to steal a handshake when nobody else wants to shake hands with you; all of a sudden, with a jolt of handshake avoidance, we’re back in 2021.

I still don’t want to fondle the hands of strangers in the name of professional courtesy or personal bonding, but when a global pandemic actively prevented it, A Firm Handshake allowed me to scratch that itch. Safely. And without looking (too) weird.

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A Firm Handshake is available on a “name your own price” basis from itch.io.


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Tom is an itinerant freelance technology writer who found a home as an Editor with Thumbsticks. Powered by coffee, RPGs, and local co-op.

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