1 4 the $

by Charm Cochran profile


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Number of Reviews: 4
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Trenchant, March 17, 2024

This game is dark and heavy (mind the content warnings!)---it's not a feel-good game by any means, but it is very, very good. Charm has done an excellent job combining the three seeds the game takes inspiration from into a cohesive and meaningful story.

First, I'll quickly mention the UI, which is well done. Color-coding differentiates links that add more text to the current page from links that advance the story; website and chat-log text mimics those format; and the page backgrounds have different colors and occasional light animation that subtly punctuates the text.

Now, on to the content...

(Spoiler - click to show)The protagonist, who I'll mostly refer to as "you" because the game is in second person, feels like a recognizable character type---neurodivergent, unemployed, isolated, lonely, listless, and self-loathing. You subsist on energy drinks, barely bothering to eat, and constantly put yourself down in your thoughts. You're desperate for connection of any sort, needing someone to accept you, to love you. Which makes you the perfect target for this promise by the latest crypto fad:

> ***Community Awaits.*** Our user base is thousands strong. Once you buy in, you will have access to our private Discord...

There isn't a choice for the player here; the protagonist will always buy in. Having been cruelly bullied by an online community in the past, you now know to be careful---not to vet the community, but to shape yourself into whatever you need to be to fit in.

As you prepare to craft your intro message, you reach the end of your energy drink supply and are given the choice to ignore your thirst or settle for water, which you hate. If you choose the latter...

> the tap begins to belch out brackish water, with little solid pieces floating in it. ... The water itself is murky, somewhere between brown and black[.]

Despite how disgusting this sounds, this is another point at which the player has no choice---you must drink the mold-infested water.

> You're prepared for it to taste awful, but it's actually the sweetest, most decadent syrup you've ever had. ... You have been missing this all your life.

And there's the game's central metaphor. The protagonist is an isolated person clutching desperately at whatever community will have them, no matter how ugly, and in their desperation they're even willing to embrace the ugliness, to unite with it, in order to feel like they belong. Because belonging, feeling wanted and loved, is a need just as much as water is.

As your crypto journey continues, you also find no food in the house but a moldy apple, which you've given the choice to eat or not. The mold situation escalates; it begins whispering to you, telling you you're special and deserving of love. The crypto situation escalates too---you're suddenly rich! But when the currency's value drops dramatically overnight, causing a mass exodus from the community, Xisor, its inventor and the owner of the Discord server, instructs those who remain:

> Find a forum or a messageboard where GlisterCoin has not been mentioned recently. Make a post talking about [it]. ... Link back to the website, bring more people into the fold. Do not engage with replies. Then go look at the sky for a while, and wait for your new family to pour in.

The mold and the community both make promises, but neither actually values you; they just want to use you for their own benefit.

There are three possible endings. You reach one by continually embracing the mold, and in this ending the protagonist heeds Xisor's instructions, posting the message and then going up to the roof. At this point the mold fully takes you over, having used you as an incubator and now bursting out of you so that it can spread---and this makes you happy:

>You feel the beginning of something grand, something larger than you.
>You open your arms to welcome it.

As you cease to be, the voice of the mold assures you that you’re loved. Becoming its vessel is how you've found a sense of purpose and belonging for your life.

In contrast, the two other endings both have the protagonist despairing. If you haven't fully embraced the mold, it doesn't have the same effect on you:

>Something in you squirms, trying to convince you that *you are not alone*, but you know that it's a lie.

In this ending, when Xisor's mandate to spread the crypto word comes, you can't bring yourself to fulfill it, and you hate yourself for that, because "you are failing your community". The mold slowly kills you at your desk while it bemoans what you could have been.

In the third ending, the protagonist directly confronts and rejects the mold's whispers, and we see a version of them that experiences a burst of hope:

>You decide here and now to get things under control. Tomorrow, you will hire a cleaning service. Tomorrow, you will go grocery shopping and eat a *real* meal. Tomorrow, you *will* make friends in the community. You will do better. You will *be* better.

The next day, though, the cryptocurrency's crash arrives and sends you plummeting, feeling worse about yourself and your life than before. You commit suicide by jumping off your building's roof, the mold mocking you as you fall.

From an outsider's view, all three endings are bad for the protagonist; either the mold ends them, or their suicidal ideation does. While in the first one they at least go out happy, we're left to wonder how many other people will end up mold-infected as a result of their actions, and how many will be lured into the crypto scheme. The only actual benefit has been to Xisor and the mold.

I don't know what to say to end this except... oof. That's what I call a trenchant commentary.

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