Sovereign Citizens

by Laura Paul and Max Woodring profile

Surreal
2021

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Number of Reviews: 4
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A different kind of haunted house, April 17, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2021

Sovereign Citizens managed to defy my expectations at least two or three times Ė which is good, I think, since those expectations were mostly negative! When I read the title, I was worried it was going to center on the insane anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about Ė I mean, I canít really explain what itís about since itís insane, but I know they hate admiralty law? Then when I read the blurb and authorsí note, I was worried it was going to be a thuddingly didactic bit of political evangelism subordinating character and drama to an oversimplified message.

Fortunately this elusive game isnít that either Ė though Iím not sure itís great that Iím hard-pressed to say what it actually is. Summarizing the plot is simple enough, at least. You play one of a couple who seem to be homeless, camping out outside and carrying their few belongings with them in backpacks.

Thereís not much detail given to flesh out their circumstances, including where they are Ė itís a less-settled area, at least Ė and how they got there Ė thereís a short semi-flashback suggesting they once had a home and were evicted, but itís unclear. They donít appear to be especially deprived, and since there are no other people around, thereís almost a post-apocalyptic vibe. The nature of the coupleís relationship is also really unclear Ė they donít interact that much, and they could be siblings or friends instead of romantic partners for all I could tell.

Regardless, as one of these vague people in a vague world, you stumble upon an unoccupied mansion on the coast, and decide to break in. This isnít too challenging, and then most of the game is taken up by exploring the house, which is sprawling and often bizarre. Itís positioned as a rich personís playground, with a full movie theater, art displays, and incredibly fancy bathroom installations. It also has very strange features, like whatís described as a therapistís office decorated with degrees made out to obviously fake names. The fridge is locked, with an Alexa-type virtual assistant asking for a passcode before opening it (though this is presented as a frustrating but not necessarily weird security feature, as best I could determine). And though most of the house appears to be stocked and furnished, there arenít mattresses in the beds, meaning that itís an uncomfortable place to stay. After spending a cold night, the couple decide to leave, taking nothing that they found.

The writing I think fits the alienating, confusing vibe of the story, though itís occasionally fairly clumsy. Hereís an early description of the house:

"Noland had noticed the abandoned mansionís for sale sign knocked over on the now muddy lawn. For the summer we circulated on the beaches nearby there was never a car, homeowner, or even cleaner who we ever noticed go in or out."

Thereís nothing grammatically incorrect there, but the overuse of stacked clauses make these sentences rather ungainly. There are also a few typos.

Ultimately I found playing Sovereign Citizens to be a meditative experience, with a few nicely-observed details sticking in my mind, like the flurry of realtorsí cards crunching like leaves underfoot when the couple enter. Despite its flaws it worked for me as a vignette of alienation, presenting a house haunted and made inhospitable not by ghosts, but by idiosyncratic capitalist excess. If itís meant to be political, I think the context is too lightly-sketched to allow its message to really land, but in these matters better to have too light than too heavy a hand I suppose.