There’s a moment I love in the 31st episode of Monster Factory. Well, there’s moments I love in every episode of Monster Factory but this one is illustrative. Griffin and Justin McElroy are playing 2009 MMO Champions Online, staring at the create a character screen, they have to choose a superpower, each represented by a figure with their own aesthetic. These aesthetics range from Shitty Wolverine to Shitty Magneto to Shitty Iron Man, they joke about how someone’s definitely going to get sued.
While The Mountain (literally The Thing but wearing sunglasses) is on screen they tap at a button at the bottom of the screen to change the model from a male presentation to a female presentation. The The Thing ripoff vanishes, replaced by a buxom figure wearing some revealing spandex. While they keep talking the mouse skitters over to the male presentation option, hits it and skitters away never to return. It’s immediately obvious there’d be less material to play with there, and while there’s comedy to be found in heaving bosoms it’s harder to pull off without it feeling just a little bit weird.
Image courtesy of Kevin Budnick
Besides, they end up creating Knife Dad; who could possibly object to such a wholesome boy. I guess what I’m trying to grasp at here is the series inclusiveness and positivity. The series exists by exploring the space where games just start to fall apart, the precious children they create generally don’t look like what a designer intends. They just screw with what they’re given until it collapses outside any optimal outcome. Like when they attempted to create a digital Dennis Farina using the Photo Game Face feature in PGA Tour 08.
But that these things happen is never a travesty. The joke is never, ‘Look at how bad and shitty the game is that we can screw it up so bad.’ It’s always grounded in this root of, ‘Isn’t it amazing that they created a system so fully featured that we can do this?’ It is not a fault of any game that these monstrosities exist within their system, in fact it is to their merit. In fact, looking through the episodes here now, I can’t find an example in which the jokes comes at the games expense.
By creating a physical embodiment of the bizarre the games systems then become complicit in the joke telling structure. The outlandish characters of the Monster Factory are pitted against a world that wants to be taken seriously, essentially playing the straight man to the boy’s raging clowns. In online games they often rope unsuspecting players into their madcap world, harnessing their unquestioning demeanour to play off against. Sometimes they mod or alter the game, however this is almost expressed as an enactment of the will of the character to further juxtapose against the game.
It feels like an audacious move at times, but these character, as much as they are characters, are, after creation, allowed full ownership of their appearance and identity. It feels trite to say, but at the end of each of the ‘creation’ portion of each episode the character is given a name. Now, these ain’t always normal names, they can range from ‘Daz’ to ‘The Boy Mayor of Second Life’.
It’s hard to express the importance of names to personal identity because we all take it for granted, but it really means a lot to many people. Once these characters are given names they stop being merely an expression of the functions of a machine (both the game’s engine and the eponymous Factory) and are gifted with actualisation. When this happens, the jokes about them, about how weird and silly they are stop. It feels so sweet because after that point they are treated with the respect that people deserve.
When I first played Mass Effect 2 I made a fairly normal looking dude, then when I found out you could make his armour pink, I did, straight away, and played all that game and its sequel in fluorescent, Hello Kitty, pink armour. We all go into games looking for sense but sometimes, when confronted we choose the nonsensical, because we want to impress ourselves upon the experience in a way that will most likely contradict it. I have so much more love for the Shepard who bounces around in neon pink then I do for any other.
Monster Factory really comes down to that at its heart, it is about finding a world of creative expression in collaboration with an unspeaking, unyielding, monolithic partner; and the way they choose to operate within these bounds is with acceptance and love of the things they create and also the boundaries put upon them. I wish we could all have such good relationships with the media we consume.
Now, I didn’t talk about my favourite episode of Monster Factory here quite on purpose. Watch it here now. Then go to youtube and watch all the rest .