Everybody Dies or Everybody Lives?

The interactive work of fiction Everybody Dies reminds me of a dark The Drew Carey Show set in a suburban area in and around a run-down store. Presumably Everybody Dies, written by Jim Munroe and illustrated by Michael Cho, focuses more on death than the character’s not-so-glamorous lives.

Or does it? After dabbling with the prompts for the first character, I realized what I could do with the story. By typing in HELP, I found that “You can SAVE and RESTORE the game, but dying is a part of life, and for most of the game unavoidable,” among other things such as checking your inventory and giving directions as where to go. I found this intriguing and started typing in commands to see the possibilities of what I could do. I knew though that based on the HELP information, I was destined to die. And sure enough, I did.

But that was after I had gotten to know my Graham the-pot-head character. I/Graham had to retrieve a shopping cart from a river near the store. When giving specific commands to accomplish this task, he answered back like a traditional subconscious. Instead of just doing what I commanded, he would ask, “Really?” (with some sassy remark). By creating this playable dialogue, Munroe makes the player question themselves. This in turn gives the characters (eventually three separate identities) a personality, a more interactive element than the traditional interactive fiction writing (such as the preceding and very similar game Violet), and depth to the story.

How does the game have depth when its outcome only ends in death? I believe the answer lies in the death illustrations in the game. It’s only when you “die” in the game that you move on to the next character. For example, I/Graham fall into the river while retrieving the shopping cart and hit my head against a rock and die. But as I press enter, an image of a fish pops up that is presumably the fish that scared me/Graham into falling and dying. Through a rather strange transition, I become the next character that finds the fish in a toilet bowl inside the store that Graham works at.

After a few minutes of playing around as this new character, I give up. However if I had kept playing, I’m pretty sure I would’ve died and moved on to the next character. Or would I have lived?