Over the past month, I’ve seen Hustle Cat gaining some traction among the Let’s Player circuit—well deserved traction. Even people who haven’t really played dating sims before, or ones for whom the genre isn’t their bread and butter, seem to enjoy the game, and when I reviewed it, I mentioned several of the potential reasons that this could be the case. However, one aspect of the game I didn’t really delve into was its interpretation of magic, and as far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most important, thematically-driven parts of the game.
Huge spoilers under the cut.
On even the most surface level, the player is able to see how each character’s use of magic reflects who they are as a person. Hayes has a love of poetry and becomes able to use his metaphors and rhymes to bend reality to his whims, although when he gets nervous his magic wavers and is undone. Finley, the social media expert, is able to similarly use words to manipulate people. When being harassed by an internet stalker, by forming her fingers in the shape of a hashtag and saying “#blocked”, the stalker becomes unable to move or speak, and is eventually arrested. Reese’s passion is sewing and designing clothes, and though he has a difficult time reaching his ability (he wants to hold on to the idea that his magic is the same as his father’s) he eventually is able to rip apart the seams of reality as a sort of travel method. Mason uses fire, giving a tangible representation of the powerful, burning protectiveness she feels towards her cafe family. Landry’s use of electricity reflects how his negative emotions have the potential to lash out and strike someone suddenly if he doesn’t take heed to them—doubly reinforced by how reluctant Landry is to use, learn, or get involved with any sort of magic, even his own. Even Avery’s scatterbrained nature and in-the-moment thought process is exemplified in the trash they use as their conduit for magic. And Graves? Graves likes cats.
More important to me, though is how magic in Hustle Cat is an ever-present thing: it’s there, but people may not notice it and may not know how to use it. “Regular” people in the game interact with witches and wizards on a daily basis, and witches and wizards don’t rely entirely on magic to do everyday activities. It’s modern, and it makes sense—how the hell is a modern day wizard/witch going to live in a city pulling a Harry Potter and not know how to use a cell phone? The employees at A Cat’s Paw reflect this in their own microcosm: some of them are already magic users, some of them don’t know anything about this culture, and some of them know what magic is and have experienced it.
The truth is, none of the main cast start out as witches, aside from Graves and Reese: all of them must learn to use it. And barely any of them have any idea what they’re doing. The only clue Avery is given is the strange book they found in the cafe’s basement, and most everyone else has to rely on Avery teaching them. To me, this is extremely comforting. Though we live in an era of endless information at our fingertips, sometimes it feels impossible to be able to find what we’re looking for. Especially with various magical practices, while there are hundreds upon hundreds of resources, it’s extremely overwhelming to take the plunge into who knows what. However, Hustle Cat gives us the message that it’s okay to not know everything; while your magic will grow alongside information and time, it doesn’t stop you from accessing your own innate powers—magical or not.
I, personally, believe that magic is everywhere in our world, and that we all have the ability to tap into some part of that magic if we wish to. In this way, not only is Hustle Cat an inclusive game with regards to race, gender, and romantic predilections, it also creates a world where magic itself is available to everyone who wishes to learn. No one is born a wizard in the sense that a certain subset of people just can’t ever use magic, and while Avery and crew are lucky enough to be employed by a super powerful magic user, the lore doesn’t give the sense that this is the only way to do things. I find that while much of the real-life magic community (especially those with Pagan/Wicca-ish beliefs) is kind, a lot of the time everyone gets hung up on the “right” way to do things, and if you’re not under a certain practice, do something some different way, or simply aren’t born into it, you’re not really what you say you are. I’m glad that Hustle Cat went with a narrative that chose not to judge people on how they got to where they are, but instead focused on how magic shaped them as a person, and how they choose to use—or not use—what they’ve learned.