Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: A Game About Literally Doing Your Taxes Is Actually About Much More
A Game Literally About Doing Your Taxes, for which I will now refer to as AGALDYT, actually doesn’t really have you doing taxes. In reality you sort the mail into two piles, junk and bills, and the game calculates from there. Your accuracy doesn’t really matter, seeing as you get exceedingly high tax returns regardless (unless you are being paid in Turkish Lira or something). But then, maybe the taxes are not the real focus of AGALDYT?
There’s obviously a spooky twist. And not just because AGALDYT is on the “horror” page of itch.io. With a task so mundane, you presuppose that something is up. People went into Doki Doki Literature Club expecting a kawaii visual novel and got something scary. They were caught off guard. But AGALDYT doesn’t have that element of surprise. So how can the player be spooked if they know the spook is a-comin’?
In some ways, it’s like a jack-in-the-box. There’s a good chance you’ll find a severed finger in it. No I jest, AGALDYT is like the jack-in-the-box toy because you know somethings coming, and all you can do is crank that lever and grind your teeth together as you try and anticipate the “surprise.” Is it still a surprise if you know a scare is imminent? Indeed, in some ways, it’s all the more effective.
Games like Spooky’s House of Jump Scares work with this idea in mind. Looking at the name you are expecting a popup to get you, and yet you still don’t know when and where you will find it. Would you rather walk through a minefield knowing it’s a minefield, expecting each step to be your last? Or would you prefer to ignorantly stroll through the grass unaware of the danger? Me, I’d choose the latter. Why worry? AGALDYT chooses the former, even if not directly. Clearly these are not normal taxes.
Non-Wanky Game Recap:
AGALDYT is basically a two-button game. You press the left and right keys to sort the mail into different categories. Left for bills, right for junk. At the end of the day, once the score is tallied in the form of tax returns, you can sign the bottom (or draw something obscene) in order to continue to the next day.
I’m pretty sure there’s no fail state, so I ended up mashing each direction with pretty low accuracy. AGALDYT has you sort through a week’s worth of piles. Some of those mail piles are pretty big. By day four I wasn’t too concerned with whether or not I even was making the most tax return $$$ as possible and just wanted to see where the story took me.
What works about AGALDYT is that you know something’s coming. But all you can do is press on. As the week goes by, the settings for doing your taxes get ever darker. Pretty impressive for AGALDYT to create an atmosphere for a scene of a guy looking at his crotch. The table gets disheveled and he starts sorting taxes at night. You begin to wonder just why this guy is so unusually determined to get that 1095-A in so early this year.
AGALDYT also looks really charming too. Contrast in horror is extremely important, and AGALDYT gets the bright and colorful style that made me compare it to Doki Doki Literature Club in the first place. And yet even with the bright colors and fun music and silly junk mail, you know that things are not well here.
Many are not all too fond of jumpscares. I personally enjoyed it plenty, but I can kind of understand why, especially since in AGALDYT you are basically doing it to yourself. The jack-in-the-box is a pretty foolish way to jumpscare yourself. AGALDYT only had a handful. But truthfully, the atmosphere and visual storytelling were so compelling, the game didn’t even need them.
How To Fix It:
One of the strengths of AGALDYT is the visual storytelling. I think it should lean into it all the more. AGALDYT could have some extra junk mails that have spooky stuff on them or stuff on the table moving around weirdly. An even slower burn of increasingly weird stuff happening I think would be cool.
When a human sees something scary, like a lion or a crocodile or a machete hockey mask guy, the fear reaction makes a lot of sense. But when you know something is off about a situation, the gut feeling of fear is all the more confusing. AGALDYT works great because of that uncanny feeling. It looks and feels charming, and indeed it is. But you’re also intimately aware of something dark on the way.
You can play A Game About Literally Doing Your Taxes for free on itch.io by clicking here.