This is the one hundred forty-ninth 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 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.

Our one hundred forty-ninth random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is definitely a normal human. Nothing suspicious about it. Wait, did that part of its coat just… wriggle? It’s Keep It Together, by Fenreliana, and its tagline in the bundle reads:

Don’t let them know you’re a coat of rats!

Everything depends on it!

Keep It Together is a short game about social anxiety. There’s a trigger warning for those who suffer from social anxiety, who might not wish to play. I found Keep It Together to be quite lighthearted despite the theme, but I’m hardly an expert on these things, so potential players will have to make their own judgments as to whether they’ll feel comfortable playing.

The game itself is presented as a series of conversations. You, a swarm of rats in a trenchcoat masquerading as a human, must navigate these conversations without revealing your true nature. A procedurally generated face with a strange name appears, making some comment or asking a question, and you must choose an appropriate response. But what does this person like!? Will they find a joke funny, or offensive? Do they want honesty or just a vague statement of support? It is a mystery, and initially my own choices were basically random guesses. More often than not, the other person managed to be upset by what I’d said, often in frankly unfair fashion. Someone tells me they’ve had a long day, and I respond by saying I’m exhausted too, and they fire back with “I don’t need your burdens too!” Whoa, back off there Ruggmokupu, I was trying to be sympathetic.

But my intentions do not matter in Keep It Together. I am at the whim of these capricious people. It’s not long before the same faces start to return, and this time they might have notes next to them based on my earlier responses, indicating that they “like terse” or “dislike flirty”. This can be used as a guide for future conversations, but even then it’s not always clear whether a comment will be met with approval. Each wrong choice adds to a little stress meter in the bottom corner of the screen, and when it fills up completely, a new prompt appears, asking players to hold down a letter key on the keyboard. Since conversation choices must be made with the number keys, having to hold down another key makes it awkward to continue. And a few more wrong choices will fill up that stress meter again, adding another key that must be pressed along with the first. Eventually, the tangle of fingers needed to keep all the keys pressed will fail, and then comes the inevitable unleashing of rat chaos.

All of this has lovely dynamic music, which becomes gradually more and more frantic as stress levels go up and more keys must be held down. And that’s just one part of a surprisingly effective presentation. At at first, I found the art in Keeping It Together to be merely simple and functional, but it grew on me. Many elements are blocks of flat color, but they have odd angles, defying symmetry. The stress meter and health bar aren’t quite centered on their backgrounds, feeling every so slightly askew. And of course the parade of faces are varied and (I believe) generated fresh for each play. There’s even an option from the main menu to generate a custom face based on an input name. Here I am:

It is inevitable that the coat full of rats will be discovered, but I enjoyed seeing just how long I could keep it together. Which isn’t long. It only takes a few minutes before one starts to see the same conversation prompts repeat, and Keep It Together is unlikely to engage players for much longer than that. Still, I found it to be quirky and fun (those who suffer from social anxiety might not have as much fun, of course), and it worked as a great metaphor for navigating social situations one doesn’t really understand. While I do not suffer from social anxiety, I do often find other people difficult to understand, so that at least was relatable. Hmm, maybe some of the people who confuse me are actually just a pack of rats in a coat? Something to think about.

If you want to try talking your way past a bunch of strange people, give Keep It Together a try. If you missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $5.

That’s 149 down, and only 1592 to go!