Always Sometimes Monsters

always-sometimes-monsters

A mumblecore road movie told with the open-ended mechanics of early computer RPGs like Wasteland, and the aesthetics of a 16-bit Final Fantasy, Always Sometimes Monsters casts a wide net thematically. Its title, explained by developers Vagabond Dog in a Nietzschean monologue, posits every action the player takes as being amoral, even cruel depending on the perspective. Right and wrong do not exist, only costs, benefits, and consequences. Portraying a customizable Writer–race, gender, even sexual orientation are decided–players are tasked with reaching an ex’s wedding within a month. Starting practically broke and on a tight schedule, how to progress from city to city (five in total, though the last two are limited to single buildings) is left up to individuals through a series of mini-games: do you knuckle down in the hope sweat and toil gets you enough money for the trip; or do you lie, cheat, and steal to get ahead? The latter certainly becomes enticing when a lack of cash forces you to sleep in alleyways and forage in dumpsters–as can happen in the game’s early portions. Three primary municipalities along the way–ghetto Dubstown, blue-collar Beaton, and dusty pit stop Salt City–show stark class divisions: political and economic elites keep the working poor in a stranglehold, holding all the jobs, the buildings, and the healthcare decisions (a doctor refusing treatment for a friend who OD’ed). All sides resort to extreme measures (striking workers with a unique form of vandalism; a company exec attempting to bribe the Writer for good press) to attain their goals. The Writer, and the player by extension, is given little choice but to operate in a morally, ethically bankrupt status quo, or else go hungry on the streets. While often disingenuous–Vagabond Dog seem to think smug posturing is a better political alternative to empathy and collective action–this college freshman, both-sides-are-bad political philosophy takes a backseat to the game’s primary function: tossing players into financial ruin, then tasking them with survival.

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