For many people across the country, Roku City is a familiar sight. You finish watching the latest episode of whatever peak TV drama HBO is churning out on Sunday nights but forget to turn off your television. Eventually, your Roku device switches into screensaver mode, displaying the purple hues of a cinematic metropolis moving slowly across your screen. Billboards in the city display ads for whatever Quibi failure has made its way to the Roku Channel, the streets are empty save for a glowing pair of eyes emerging from a trash can, and in the background — across a river — absolute hell is breaking loose.
Meant to be an entertaining piece of content for your Roku device to default to after being left untouched for ten minutes, Roku City haunts me. What would it be like to live in such a place, where there is peace in one borough while just a river away there is mass hysteria and a giant robot is terrorizing the masses. I reached out to its creator, designer Kyle Jones, to ask what he thought it would be like to be a resident of Roku City, but he eventually stopped responding to my emails, probably because that is a dumb question to ask a talented artist.
But, as many English teachers have told me, there are no dumb questions. And since there are no known residents of Roku City available to interview, I will simply have to divine an answer for myself.
Roku City, while seemingly not populated by humans, contains over 30 references to movies and television shows. However, this is not Ocean's Twelve, and I believe that if someone were to end up in Roku City, they would not know that the enormous gorilla climbing the Empire State Building is King Kong. They would think, “Holy shit, how did that enormous gorilla get on the Empire State Building? Should I do something about this? Can I do something about this?”
If you were to live in one of the several apartment buildings in the foreground of Roku City, I think you would live a somewhat normal life. Roku City is a stratified society where the horrors of monsters, pirates, and an erupting volcano are relegated to the background. For those in the foreground, life is about walking around on the empty streets, maybe taking in a film at the multiplex or popping into a bistro for a candlelit dinner.
If you live in the background, you are probably dead. There is only so much that Spider-Man swinging from the Chrysler Building can do to stop a dinosaur, let alone a dragon. If you have managed to survive the ever-present apocalypse, there’s a lovely ferris wheel for you to ride where you’ll have a perfect vantage point to watch thousands die as the Titanic sinks.
Roku City, I have decided, is my Hell. In my own version of No Exit, I am forced to live out the rest of eternity in the looping screensaver, surrounded by homages to my favorite thing (movies) only to be confronted with sheer terror at every waking moment. This town consists of a nightmarish cityscape, one that could only come to life from the twisted minds that run Hollywood.