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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Cross

Archives in Video Games: Death and Taxes

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

It's time, once again, to venture into one of my favorite tropes: Divine Bureaucracy! There's something about an afterlife of paperwork and red tape that tickles my fancy at how ridiculous it is and yet somehow inevitably fitting for someone like myself who does a lot of data entry as part of her career. Even in death there is no escape!

It was in pursuing this trope that I came across Death and Taxes, a Death-Positive game developed by Placeholder Gameworks, where you play as a newly created Grim Reaper tasked by Fate to make decisions regarding life and death based on instructions from on high and profiles of the soon-to-be-deceased. Fate, however, seems to have ulterior motives and the choices you make throughout the game effect the outcome. You can also customize your appearance and buy stuff from a skeleton named Mortimer to personalize your desk in the office!

Between your struggles to retain some sense of morality, you have the option to visit the afterlife's local (only) bar where you can converse with other Reapers and a friendly bartender who provide context and exposition about Fate, Reapers, and their own personal philosophies about life and death. One of the people you happen to meet in the bar is the Prime Curator of the Abysmal Archives.

According to the Curator, the Archives is as old as time itself, if not older, growing and expanding as it sees fit. It's an interesting take on archives as a living entity, which somewhat falls into the concept of lifecycles regarding archival documentation and recordkeeping. The Curator and Fate are hinted to be two of the oldest beings in existence, but where Fate looks like your uptight high school vice principle the Curator gives off the absent-minded, but very chill, substitute teacher vibes.

Unfortunately, the Curator isn't the freethinker his appearance might imply. You meet him after you've received a distressingly red profile that instructs you to defy Fate's instructions and kill everyone and you have the option of bringing it up in conversation. Should you venture down that particular line of dialogue, the Curator responds thusly:

The Curator's main issue appears to be with someone going against the grain of not just Fate's design but the primary machinations of Existence itself. It's a philosophy that echoes that of "it's always been done this way, so why change?" that's embedded in most institutions, archives especially. The Curator goes on to rail against the idea of rebellion within the company as if even the thought of resistance is enough to topple everything and sow chaos amidst the pre-established order.

It's a little disheartening, but not at all surprising take on an archivist as someone who tows the institutional line because, again, "that's the way it's always been done." The Curator further lives up to other archival stereotypes by inhabiting the Archives located at the very bottom, the literal basement, of the afterlife.

I don't know if you can ever visit the Archives based on repeated interactions, but I'd be curious to see how the developers utilized the setting beyond the visualization. What's the purpose of an Archives of All Existence if Existence is under threat? How does the Archives factor into the everyday workings of Fate Inc.? How do you manage an organically expanding Archives when the collecting policy appears to be Everything? Who is your user base?

Beyond that, Death and Taxes is fun and lends itself well to repeated playthoughs. The writing is solid and sardonic and the voice acting is top notch as well. Highly recommended even if the Archives isn't the moment.

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