Archives in Video Games: Choo Choo Charles
How about we ring in the New Year with a good old fashioned monster train hunt? Sound like fun? And I want to be clear, we're both hunting a monster via train as our primary mode of transportation AND hunting a monster train. Just in case the wording might indicate only one scenario instead of the whole kit and caboodle.
"So, what's Choo Choo Charles about?" you ask as if you hadn't figured it out by looking at the incredibly monstrous looking train in the title card. Well, I'll tell you anyway. Created by Gavin Eisenbeisz and published by Two Star Games, Choo Choo Charles is a 2022 indie horror game in which the player character is brought to the island of Aranearum by an old friend to take care of the residents' "half train, half giga-spider" problem. There's also something involving a mine and alien eggs and blah, blah, blah, capitalism is evil meta-plot. You know the drill.
Outside of the mandatory fetch quests and tasks performed to earn upgrades and whatnot, the player is essentially riding the rails in a customizable locomotive while simultaneously avoiding Charles and building an arsenal of weapons and gadgets to take The Little Engine That Could and Did Do Murder down.
Oh, and did I mention that the player character is an archivist? Yup! You're playing a bona fide monster-hunting, train operating, museum archivist in this game! And how does being an archivist help you? Not at all! Your archivist background has no bearing on the plot nor does it aid you in any aspect of game mechanics or advancing the story. It's just part of your badass professional background that non-player characters mention on occasion. I'm genuinely curious as to what this archivist's CV looks like. How does one become a monster hunter/archivist who moonlights as a train conductor? Not gonna lie, that is a prequel game I would gladly pick up.
The archivist profession is so non-essential to the story it makes me wonder why it was even included except as some sort of justification for why you come to the island. The opening conversation with your old friend Eugene hints that the museum you're working for could use a boost in attendance, so of course Charles is worth the trip to smash engines like the Victorians on a Sunday afternoon, but that just raises more questions! Do you work for a train museum? A monster museum? Were you gonna kill Charles and then taxidermy his corpse in a morbid tableau as a new exhibit? Who are you, Protagonist Archivist and why can't I know more about you?!
Now, since this game is predominantly from the player's perspective, we never get a visual of what our monster hunter/archivist looks like, which is both good and not-so-good. The not-so-good part is that, once again, we lack a visible representation of an archivist. While the very presence of the player character promotes the existence of the archivist in the game's reality, there continues to be a dearth of physical depictions of archivists in popular culture, which perpetuates the invisibility of the profession. The good part, however, is that the dialogue and flavor text never anchors the player character with a gender, age, race, etc. that would prevent the player from imagining themself as the protagonist. So every one of you can be a badass, monster-hunting, train-driving archivist.
Happy New Year, indeed.