Friday, May 2, 2014

What I Did in Always Sometimes Monsters, a Preview

This is a game that has been on my radar for a while. You can imagine my absolute delight when I was asked by developer Vagabond Dog if I was interested in getting to preview it. It's been kind of stormy and slow around these parts so waking up to that was a fantastic way to start my day indeed.

So enough about me talking about how much I wanted to play it. I played it. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I've been wanting to play this game for a while now and I don't mean that I've been wanting to play Always Sometimes Monsters. I have been wanting to play a theoretical game like this one and the team at Vagabond Dog delivered it.

I love the Walking Dead games as much as the next person but Vagabond Dog touches on something that the Walking Dead only motions towards, that our actions can be consequential and limiting but also open up new avenues. I started out not knowing what I was doing and being careful about what I did, careful who I talked to. That kind of carefulness actually makes the game kind of hard to enjoy, Always Sometimes Monsters wants you to jump in, it wants you to get your hands dirty and do it fast.

What follows is an account of what happened when I did dive in. Spoilers ahead.

Listening to my elderly neighbor talk about her late husband after I arrived too late to help her clean her apartment meant I could not help run the coat check at my friend's concert. It did mean, however, that I got to have a shockingly human interaction with a woman I initially cared nothing about. She rewarded me by allowing me to take some her late husband's baseball cards. Specifically, one card. the game permitted me to take as many or as few as I wanted but I settled on a single card. But I also needed the money so I pawned it the next chance I got. I got $75 for it. I was able to eat. She also gave me some left over stew. I'm not sure if she knew she saved my life that night.

Later, I found a dog in an alley. The game advised me that I should find food for the dog. After I spent my hard earned money from the tofu factory on some dog food the dog adopted me as its human. After that, I started finding flyers asking for dogs, probably for fighting. They were going to give me $100 dollars for any dog I could provide. Instead, I gave the dog back to its owner. She gave me another $75. Better than nothing but I guess goodness doesn't pay. Maybe in some cosmic way but I needed to eat and I was sleeping on a mattress in an alley not far from where I had found the dog. Life was tough, I was constantly hungry.

People wanted things from me but I was poor and they couldn't give me much. It never felt like I was completing quests, the rewards never clear and the paths that these might take never certain. I did not know that when I broke into the doctor's house to blackmail him into helping a woman whom I personally hated that I would steal his golf clubs. I did not know that the car I chose not to destroy would later come back in the form of my ride out of the city.

When I took the job at the ad agency I had no idea what was good or what wasn't. I was not Don or Peggy. I was Tessa, failed novelist and failing human being. I put together an ad, got harassed by a few people, found the empty box of bullets left in my desk from the previous copy writer. I was worried. I told one person who dismissed it. I told the others we should move on from the previous owner of the desk. I wrote the ad, it was a good ad. I got some money, then I got fired. Life isn't fair but Tessa was on her way to putting together a few good days in it, trying to help her friends, sometimes helping strangers.

Tessa still had to get to her ex-boyfriend's wedding. I tried to get money working at the tofu factory to buy bus fare but the market crashed. Unlike the previous day, I only walked out with $25. I could barely afford food that day. I hated my job at the tofu factory. There was no leadership and I had to work for some strange hippy that I never fully trusted. On my first day, I half expected him to keep my paycheck in order to help mother earth or maybe it would come in the form of all natural beans. Eventually, a man gave me a lift to the next town, I was worried he might attack me. He didn't.

I'm not sure why I wanted to go to Drake's wedding other than that seemed to be the thread pulling me what I imaged was west. I hated Drake, or at least, I wanted to. What would happen if I actually made it there? Would I make a scene in my slept in too often clothes? Would I profess my buried love for him? I know what Tessa was feeling. Though I've never been invited to an ex's wedding I'm not sure what I'd feel if I got there or how I would react. Certainly it would be informed by my journey...right?

So here I am, having closed the game in order to sit down and write it. Why did I pick Tessa? It would be interesting to know what, if anything, it means that I picked her out of a literal party full of people. Does it even matter? A few hours ago I wondered what baggage I was bringing to her, what kinds of emotional coloring I was displacing through her. Probably all kinds. I'm naturally averse to people arguing, unless I start it, and I'm a writer. Of course Tessa is those things.

I'm even wondering about Drake, if we even need him in our lives. What would our existence be like if Tessa and I simply chose to try and find real work and pay our rent, finish our novel and hope that Larry would like it. Maybe we would be inexorably drawn back to Drake, or at least the need for that last bit of resolution. Maybe our anger at having been left to waste in that horrid apartment would well up and we would make a huge scene at the wedding. Maybe that would drive him and his betrothed closer together. Things don't always work out the way we intend, like when I tried to diffuse the situation at the hair salon. Or when I tried to help out the kid who just wanted to go to SwagFest.

One of the great triumphs of Always Sometimes Monsters is that there are, in fact, no monsters other than the ones we make. I was able to displace some irrational dislike onto necromancers in Skyrim but here I keep thinking that these sprites are people. They have motivations and needs. There's the sense that things are happening for a reason and that they are happening around us outside the four walls of my computer screen. The doctor is right, why take the time to save one junkie? The doctor is wrong, wealth does not define our personal value. But the doctor is both. In fact, if I believed that wealth did define personal value than maybe I would not have been so keen to blackmail him. But that's the trick, isn't it? That we, all of us. are always, sometimes, monsters.

1 comment:

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