Always Sometimes Monsters

Always-sometomes-monsters-homeless

I am shit at roleplaying bad people in games but halfway through Always Sometimes Monsters I stopped caring and orphaned four children to win a bet. In this RPG Maker game, you play a down and out author making his way across the country to get to their ex’s wedding. On the way, you have to do a lot of questionable and sometimes straight up evil things. Some RPGs usually give you a clear choice between the good and the bad. Always Sometimes Monsters is about choosing the bad things despite being a game about choice and morality.

Or you know, whatever. I try to play the “good” guy in games – otherwise I feel guilty and unrewarded. In  Always Sometimes Monsters it was difficult. If you chose to be moral, the game put you through a mini game grind that was as tedious and boring as the jobs the game was trying to depict. Of course, this was on purpose. After planting seeds and collecting marijuana buds for thirty minutes I had had enough. And so, in the next city, I took the way that would save me the most time and killed a father of four.

Being evil to save time, oh yea.

The game works very hard to drive home its point that humans sometimes do shitty things. It pushes you into a corner by making you homeless and completely broke. On top of that, most people treat you like garbage. It tries to simulate homelessness by a stamina mechanic, where you can’t safely go to sleep on the street unless you have eaten. Sometimes this means diving into dumpsters for food. The game tells you to do these bad things or do these other, boring things instead. The game is designed to be faster if you are ruthless, and take longer if you are self-less. And this works because it’s what the character would do.

As in many RPGs,  Always Sometimes Monsters lets you customize your character but the way they do it is quite refreshing. Instead of rolling stats and micro-changing the levels on your nose bridge, you choose from a group of people at a party by having a drink with them. Then, your partner is chosen by the next person you talk to. This means the characters can be all kinds of things – which is awesome. I played a gay man in a multi-racial relationship and this was reflected through the game. However, you are still playing a character and not yourself.

Your character signed an amazing book deal, screwed their writing partner and best friend, and then was too lazy and lacked the self-confidence to finish the assignment. This lead to being kicked out of their flat by the landlord, ending up homeless, and chasing the love of your life away because of their insecurity. So it makes sense that, when presented with an immoral but quick fix and a moral but laborious work proposal, they would go for the quick fix. It is already in their character’s backstory that they are lazy and don’t do hard work.

While the moral stuff was fine but not gripping, it did have some emotional moments. The part of the game that hit home harder though, was the view on intimate relationships. Throughout your journey to your ex’s wedding, you stumble onto many stories of couples. These moments should be moments of reflection for the character. There is no reason you are going across the country to this wedding. Is it to win your ex back? Is it to spite them once and for all? Is it to face them to get over them and move on? Is it to accept that they are gone and you two have different lives now? All of these are valid to a degree depending on your choices and how the end game plays out.

And that is where I found Always Sometimes Monsters to be the most relatable.

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Because really, who hasn’t been shitty to a partner in the past? As I was playing and trying to not do shitty things (and failing), I thought about what I would do at this wedding. Why would I go to something like this? There’s been no contact for months. It is later revealed that I, my character, had chased them off by being a little shit. Now it would just be embarrassing to show up!

In my head, I went because I wanted to show myself that I was ok. That I was fine.

One thing that Always Sometimes Monsters kind of succeeds in is the “why”. When normal people behave like monsters, it is because they have been shitty to themselves. I drove off my best friend by going behind their back and being selfish. When I realized that I couldn’t produce the writing on my own, I grew to hate myself and drove off my love. This pissed off my publisher and made me homeless. My best friend spent more time dwelling on the pain I had caused than realizing their own worth and potential. After all, I couldn’t write anything without them. They spent a year trying to get back at me by taking the life I had wanted instead of building a life of their own.

Perhaps that is why it is so much easier to be immoral in this game, because that’s how we hate ourselves in real life. We take on debt we know we can’t repay for things we don’t need and put a burden on ourselves and others. We lash out at those we love when we are hurt because we take them for granted and then are lost when they finally get fed up. We enjoy wallowing in misery because it is easier than facing the reality and taking actual steps to change the person you want to be.

But a lot of this is lost in a forced moral choice game that pushes towards one clear message. It doesn’t try to show that the world is a mess, that people are a mess. The game developers even include themselves in the game, which is off putting. There is no reason to be “meta” in a game that, at the very least, attempts to deal with serious issues. They even include caricatures of video game journalists in one scene. Is it a way to deferring seriousness incase people don’t like the tone of the game? (which some don’t) Or is it a marketing ploy since they are a small indie team? Whatever the reason, it takes away from the experience. The game tells stories of people who treat themselves unfairly at the same time it treats itself unfairly.

I’d like to think that my character changed through the game but I am not sure there was enough room for it. The game ends with a character reveal. This person destitute but has come to terms that “we are always sometimes monsters.” Depending on the ending, who this character changes. In my playthrough, it was me – nihilistic, hopeless, and wanting to die. While my character might not have learned much, I appreciated some of the things the game was trying to say.

I just wish Always Sometimes Monsters had the confidence to say it.

 

 

 

 

 

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