Are you a good person? I like to think I am, but I guess I don't really know. "Good" is a relative term, and the line can become muddled pretty quickly. Everything's circumstantial, and it doesn't take long for self-preservation to kick in when the going gets tough. Maybe I'm not as good of a person as I thought. Maybe sometimes I'm a monster.
Vagabond Dog's first title, Always Sometimes Monsters, aims to analyze this concept in great depth. The role-playing game eschews standard RPG tropes in favor of a position that anyone can sympathize with -- real life. It might not be a situation that everyone's personally experienced, but it's one that's within the realm of reason. As a downtrodden writer on the brink of eviction, you find out that the love of your life is ready to marry someone else, and you set out to do everything in your power to put a stop to it. Damn anyone that gets in your way. Sometimes, you're a monster.
It's obvious that relationships play a large part in Always Sometimes Monsters, and Vagabond Dog gives players the freedom to explore. More interesting than your love interest is the way in which others will react to you and your partner. Straight, white couples might have an easy time; interracial gay couples won't be treated with the same kindness by everyone. Sometimes, they're monsters.
It's not fair, but it's certainly realistic. Enough to make you numb. Enough to make you realize that maybe your well-being is all that really matters. During the demo, I could actually feel myself growing increasingly callous to the needs of other characters. I was only interested in looking out for myself. Before long, any semblance of hospitality came with an ulterior motive -- I thought I'd benefit from helping this person. Damnit, maybe I'm always a monster.
This wasn't a mistake. Vagabond Dog did its best to ensure that everyone will feel this odd confliction. Creative director Justin Amirkhani told me that "Talk of good versus evil is just marketing speak. Always Sometimes Monsters is really a tale of selfishness versus selflessness." It's an important distinction to make. Good and evil feels so unabashedly black and white; dealing with the consequences of selfishness is entirely more justifiable, even if you might just be lying to yourself. You'll have to eventually come to terms with it: maybe you're always a monster.
By the end of the demo, I was running away from a particularly volatile situation, leaving a young man to fend for himself against his shotgun-wielding junkie uncle. There's a chance I could've talked him down. I didn't want to stick around to find out. Self-preservation, and whatnot. As the gunshot rang out, the screen went black and thanked me for playing. It was almost mocking in a sense, like it didn't just heavy-handedly force the staunch realization upon me that I'm always a monster.
I got the feeling from my time spent with Always Sometimes Monsters that these moments would come along with fair frequency. It might not always be a life-and-death situation; it might be the opportunity to ruin someone's career, or to get a recovering addict re-hooked on drugs. In a vacuum, of course no one would ever do these things. When faced with the dilemmas within the context of the game, those decisions won't be as easy. It'll just be a lot easier to stomach if we accept ahead of time that we're all always sometimes monsters.
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