This is the fifty-fifth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
Two 80s VHS inspired mysteries for Monster of the Week
Monster of the Week, in case you were wondering, is a tabletop role-playing game by Evil Hat Productions. It’s not in the bundle, but it is available separately from itch.io. Usually, for tabletop entries, I am unable to actually play them due to a lack of other people to play with. This time, I’m unable to play it because I don’t even own the actual game, just these two scenarios for it. All I can do is read them and offer my impressions.
VIDEOSTORE is an interesting read, in that there’s nearly nothing in it that describes how it is played. Presumably all that is found in Monster of the Week itself. VIDEOSTORE is instead mostly narrative, offering two mystery stories for players to investigate that are heavily inspired by 1980s horror films, with some fantastic art from Kasha Mika. There are numerous content warnings for things like torture, sadism, misogyny, body horror and self-harm, so be aware that some parts (especially in the second mystery) get unpleasant. It seems this is something of a change in tone from the base Monster of the Week game, so keep that in mind if you are considering trying these mysteries.
The first story, “Like, Comment, Subscribe, Die”, is highly topical and clearly satirical, centered around an online game called BuildBattle that sounds nearly identical to Fortnite. The designer of this hugely successful game, one Norbert “Botch” Petersen (a clear reference to Markus “Notch” Persson, the creator of Minecraft) is the villain, with a nefarious plan to send satanic messages through the game’s much-hyped Halloween update that will kill anyone logged in at the time. Why? He’s a misogynist, more specifically an incel, taking out his misplaced rage on everyone because he doesn’t get the romantic attention to which he feels entitled. Also he’s been killing people and replacing them with robot replicas. Because why not?
There are other characters involved, including two Youtubers of varying integrity who have been hyping up the Halloween update for BuildBattle, and an online whistleblower who is trying to expose the danger only to find themselves hunted by robots. I presume that players are meant to investigate the mystery by talking to different people, both online and off, and eventually take on Botch himself. There’s a section labeled “Countdown” which seems to be a key feature of Monster of the Week, listing how events play out with increasing danger as the day fades into night, culminating in an ultimate fail state if players did not solve things in time. There’s also this intriguing note:
What does that mean? Do Monster of the Week players have access to “playbooks” that they use to help them solve things? Are they tools for a GM? I guess the only way to find out would be to get a copy of Monster of the Week itself.
The second story, “All Are Punished”, is much more grim. The villain this time is a serial killer who was executed 34 years ago. He’s been enduring torture in Hell ever since, but managed to find a way to escape and return to our world. His now immortal form can regenerate itself through murder, but he’s also being hunted by the Ultor Sacerdotes, angelic torturers responsible for his punishment in Hell. Players are caught between this malicious killer and his pursuers who are nearly as terrifying.
There’s a lot of unpleasantness in this one. The killer specifically targeted homeless women when he was alive, and still acts on misogynistic impulses, although his primarily motivation at the start is to regenerate himself through killing, no matter who the victim is. Then there are the Ultor Sacerdotes, who practice their torture methods on themselves and each other, giving them a truly hideous appearance to pair with their absolute ambivalence towards others. Players must figure out the history behind this killer and his weird research into how to escape Hell before they become victims themselves, or, worse, get sent to Hell in the killer’s place.
This story isn’t to my taste, but fans of gory horror films might enjoy it. The first story sounds like a sillier, less gruesome time, but players’ enjoyment may depend on their patience for dealing with extreme, hate-filled internet subcultures, even if in fictional form. Some may find it cathartic while others may prefer to spend their gaming time dealing with other subjects altogether. As for how well these stories work as scenarios in Monster of the Week, I really can’t tell you. I was left with almost no idea how the game actually plays, other than its narrative focus on mysteries involving monsters or other supernatural villains. Maybe they’re great! Those who own and enjoy Monster of the Week should at least take a look at these, and any fans of 1980s horror cinema might want to read them on their own anyway. Just remember that double feature is rated R.
If you missed it in the bundle, VIDEOSTORE is sold for a minimum price of $5, although at the time of writing it’s on sale for $3.50. It includes two PDF versions, one as a spread and one not, as well as an .epub file for e-book readers.
That’s 55 down, and only 1686 to go!