By Max-Vader and Andrew Erickson
I’ll be entirely honest: I had originally considered pulling a Spider Jerusalem, merely writing the word “FUCK” a few thousand times and handing it in as the review. Ultimately though, mere curse words can’t sufficiently describe how awful this game is and how much I hate it.
Let’s pretend, for a moment, you’re Andrew Hussie. In the early 2000s ideas came to you in rapid-fire bursts of inspiration and you jumped from one project to another with energy and an ease that astonished your readers. Even when you launched your biggest, most ambitious project yet, you made sure to let everyone know it was only a warm-up for something even bigger. But it didn’t work out that way. You spent four years working on a comic called Homestuck, another ten years pretending to work on Homestuck, and by the time the audience evaporated to the point of it no longer being worth the pretense you find everyone only knows you as “the Homestuck guy.” Now they keep expecting you to follow through on promises you made years ago, when inspiration was still so easy to summon and you weren’t owned by Viz. You’d probably feel some discontent about your situation and want to channel it into a new creative project, one that will show everyone you’ve still got it. But after more than a decade of Homestuck, it can’t simply be a fun little romp like Jailbreak or Problem Sleuth; this new story has to be important.
Hussie’s definition of important notwithstanding, I think the result is undeniably interesting. As for how good it is, well, Max and I will get into that. After all, Hiveswap Act 3 is likely at least five years away.
That will likely happen at the same date where Homestuck 3 comes out. Science fiction double feature, you know?
But all joking aside, I agree that Psycholonials is interesting – that is, interesting in the exact same way car crashes, Waco and the escapades of Chris-Chan are. No matter how much you want to avert your eyes, you have to keep looking. Something compels you, forces you to experience every minute fragment of mind-bending awfulness. It’s so terrible that even the vocabulary of the most seasoned internet troll is insufficient to come up with suitably insulting terms for Hussie inflicting this on us. It’s like you’d have to invent an entirely new racial slur just for him alone. What makes it so abominable is the deception. It lures you in by having the audacity to be genuinely good at the beginning, only to spit in your face immediately afterward.
It starts small, with failed social media influencer Zhen (who prefers to go by Z) waking up in her filthy apartment, getting drunk, and vomiting into a pan of macaroni and cheese. It’s April of 2020 and she has no job due to Covid lockdowns shutting down Nantucket. Knowing that Z doesn’t have anything going on aside from antagonizing her few social media followers, her best – and only – friend, Abby, invites her over for dinner. This brings into play Hussie’s greatest strength as a writer: seeing how two radically different oddballs bounce off each other. Z is a bitter, manifesto-writing socialist; Abby lives in a mansion paid for by her billionaire parents; Z is aggressive and histrionic; Abby is the kind of milquetoast person who just wants everyone to get along; Z can barely manage an Instagram account; Abby has a millions-strong online following. They’re both different and close enough for the sort of vicious jokes only good friends can get away with, and Hussie deftly writes their friendship as genuine but also tinted by both characters’ prejudices: Z’s envy of everyone better off than herself and Abby’s pretensions to not being like her out-of-touch investor parents. It’s a wonderful dynamic that gives the reader a lot of insight into Z’s character, most of which concerns exactly how horrible she is. To give an idea of the baseline, Z makes it maybe halfway to Abby’s mansion before drunkenly crashing into a tree and shooting the cop who shows up to investigate. The pattern with her, established early, is that everyone who’s against her is an evil bastard, and everyone who supports her is a pathetic simp. This worldview informs basically everything that follows.
Z is… interesting. The plot kicks off by her rediscovering her half-finished old manifesto, once written in a combination of drunken stupor and marxist outrage. She decides to finish it but, as already mentioned, is too drunk off her ass to drive properly. The first part of Psycholonials ends with her spontaneous cop-murder and is arguably the strongest cliffhanger the entire thing has to offer. You are presented with a person who is pathetic and contemptible, violently unstable and yet fascinating. This lasts until Hussie starts showing his hand.
Anyone who has ever created multiple characters for any piece of fiction tends to have some personal favorites. Andrew Hussie is no different. In the case of Homestuck, said favorite was Vriska Serket. For those who aren’t familiar, Vriska is kind of a cunt. She is emotionally manipulative, cheats at every opportunity during games, kills or cripples several people with no remorse and is petty to the point that when she had to help the wheelchair-bound guy she crippled move up a tower, she intentionally made the path a giant staircase just to antagonize him. Her unrepentant dickishness often crossed the line into pure comedy, or at the very least the sort of likability that characters like Skeletor evoke. Her role in the story was ultimately quite divisive, since Vriska’s goal was to be the big hero that defeats the villain, come hell or high water. You see, eventually she died and became a ghost, had to eat a ton of humble pie and entered into a lesbian relationship with teenage fish Hitler after aquiring a tattoo and the famous “strong woman” side-shave haircut that’s been memed to hell and back. However, at the eleventh hour, the main character literally rewrites reality so that Vriska lives instead, learns no lessons, does not change at all from her initial evil bitch personality, rips into her emo lesbian ghost self for being pathetic (justifiably) and then leads the main cast to their ultimate victory, even (technically) defeating the main villain.
To be perfectly frank, as time went on I began liking this twist a lot more than I initially did (which is to say not at all). Vriska is an arrogant, unapologetic asshole at the best of times, but considering the cavalcade of mentally and emotionally retarded teenagers engaging in shitty relationship drama and angsting about their gender and sexuality much of the main cast has degenerated into during the final acts, there was nobody more appropriate to whip this dickless slam-poetry circle into shape. As the late Trevor Moore once put it: “Shove ‘em into lockers, give ‘em wedgies, you do what you do – Haters gonna hate and for that we depend on you”.
The point of this
somewhat long digression is to give you the necessary frame of reference for
our complaints about Z. As I said, Andrew Hussie had a clear favorite when it
came to Homestuck, and it’s not like he was alone in that opinion. Vriska was a
very popular character, all in all. It was clear that he was onto something
there. When it came to writing Psycholonials, he thus reached for his old
favorite and attempted to create lightning in a bottle again. Z is in many ways
Vriska 2.0. Or, in our not so humble opinion, Vriska 0.1. Z’s failure as a
character stems from many reasons, chiefly among them being that unlike Vriska,
isn’t sexy doesn’t have a fat ass has the narrative openly
take her side.
Most importantly, while Vriska was Hussie’s favorite, Z is him. The subtext, especially in the epilogue, is that Z is a stand-in for Hussie. But there’s a little bit of sleight of hand going on here. It starts with the opening scene, in which the player can find a sly reference to Homestuck as “a long story you read when you were young. You almost never talk about it now.” Several other moments throughout the story make it perfectly clear that Z was a big Homestuck fan who now remembers the comic with a mix of melancholic fondness and deep embarrassment. There are a few hints that Hussie desperately wanted to move on after the humiliating failure Homestuck turned into, including the decision to open Psycholonials’ story just after the most important date in Homestuck, 4/13. Where Z swerves from being a representation of the current state of the comic and its fandom is when political commentary enters the picture. This could have been a fun story about a violent sociopath on the run from the law, weaving increasingly insane lies to keep her friend in the dark, knowing the hammer will inevitably come down. And that does comprise a large portion of Psycholonials. Unfortunately, Hussie is both gifted and cursed with a compulsion to constantly raise the stakes, often beyond the capacity of the narrative to support. Z, eager for something to do while she waits out the police manhunt, relaunches her social media presence by publishing excerpts from her manuscript detailing the nature of “clownsonas.”
Her brilliant plan is that by wearing Juggalo-style face paint she’ll be able to hide her identity, and her ramblings about gender and clown lore will serve as a compelling hook to attract followers. This leads to one of the story’s funniest segments, in which Z describes the clown gender pyramid, a construct that extends the “gender binary” upward toward her proposed “clowngender.” To me, this hits the sweet spot of being social commentary so absurd that the author’s actual beliefs are obscured. When he wants to be, Hussie is still every bit as good as he was in his prime. The biggest flaws are errors of judgment, not execution, and I think these start to compound when Z recruits a Juggalo army with which she intends to stage a world revolution.
As it becomes quickly apparent, Z’s bullshit isn’t merely fodder for absurd jokes. They are of course present, but the subtext (often veering into outright Text with a capital T) Is entirely serious. She is a self-described socialist and the goals of her movement are nothing short of the complete abolishment of capitalism and the United States, by any means necessary. Her success as an instagram personality dressing up as a clown (something Andrew Hussie himself also did, adopting the persona of D Clussy which has a cameo in this story) quickly catapults her from shitty influencer to Osama Bin Laden with makeup.
Z’s rich friend is (at least initially) completely cool with her plans and even sanctions her admitted cop murder. Their first little project together involves scamming her wealthy parents out of millions of dollars by convincing them to invest in Bitcoin (hilariously fitting) which they then funnel into their own wallet. They justify this not only by the usual argument of all millionaires being the Devil but also by noting that the people funding their worthless ingrate of a daughter’s lavish lifestyle are (gasp, shock) right-wing. What follows is Andrew Hussie’s laughable depiction of what he thinks republicans are like. Naturally they are technologically inept boomers, the mother is a trophy wife who they catfish into having an affair with an imaginary man, the husband a bigoted money-grubber and both of them are extremely concerned with triggering the libs, Ben Shapiro-style. It’s like some sort of extremely strange fusion of Cleetus Wifepuncher, Flintheart Glomgold and any random anti-SJW statue avatar on Twitter.
The point here isn’t to defend wealthy republican Shapiro-fans, it simply is that Hussie has no idea what the fuck he is talking about. Every time he attempts to excoriate the USA, the government, republicans, rich people, corporations, imperialism, borders, racists, sexists, Horatio Alger or Gamergate, he looks like a moron because the perception and ideas he has of them are completely divorced from reality. You can justifiably criticize these things, but you obviously have to understand what they even are first. It’s the difference between hating the american government for Waco, MK Ultra, forever wars, bipartisan corruption etc. and hating the american government because you think it’s run by martian reptilians who put illuminati shadow ninjas into our flu shots on 9/11.
By the way, the parents are eventually murdered by Z’s clown terrorist cult.
Everything to this point is still entertaining. Following Z’s scheming is wonderful fun and her commitment to proving how vile she can be makes it feel like the story is building toward a catharsis in which she’ll either change or suffer a well-deserved comeuppance.
Unfortunately, in true Christian Weston Chandler-style, the comeuppance lands right in the reader’s face.
Finally, the police catch up to Z, who has her followers massacre them and seize Nantucket as the base of operations for a worldwide clown-themed communist revolution. How appropriate that everything kicks off in a vacation community for pampered rich people; even more fitting is the speed with which Z’s revolutionary council descends into mutual suspicion that escalates into a public execution. After crossing the halfway point the story finds new momentum and higher stakes in a way that builds incredible anticipation for the ending. Z is simultaneously the figurehead of revenge by the world’s disaffected and completely out of her depth, grasping desperately at things far beyond her control. She’s a perfect megalomaniac. In her dreams she’s told that her destiny is to rule the world and spread her manifesto throughout the galaxy.
As the story progresses, the paper-thin veneer of Z being a psychotic villain in a downward spiral towards her deserved downfall is gradually stripped away entirely until the reader is left staring at Psycholonials’ worst-kept, most blatantly obvious secret. As mentioned before, Z is a stand-in for Andrew Hussie, who has been very open about the story reflecting his own experiences with the cult-like devotion he received from Homestuck’s fanatical fandom. Both are disillusioned with the world and their own past, seeking to cut ties and start something new and meaningful via a complete rebrand that involves assuming a clown-themed persona and publishing an art-piece accompanied by a performance (the manifesto in the story, Psycholonials itself in the real world). Both are complete wrecks, motivated by barely-disguised spite and delusions of grandeur, feverishly burning it all down. While Hussie did express fervent approval of a certain three-letter urban redecoration gang torching cities, he didn’t quite have the guts to follow in his Mary Zue’s footsteps and try to destroy the US via terrorism. Instead, the target of his impotent rage was Homestuck, the work that defined him. After all, what else was Homestuck 2 except the final dagger aimed to kill what remained of the fanbase after the mangled conclusion of the original? If you aren’t familiar with Homestuck, I can tell you exactly how bad the sequel got without any knowledge of the series whatsoever. There is a major character called Yiffany Longstocking who was conceived through sex between a white girl and another girl with a dog dick. Note that Andrew Hussie not only named her, but instructed the Homestuck 2 writers that her name and inclusion in the story were “non-negotiable”.
Aside from that, in what I am sure is a hilarious joke if you are retarded, he hid Toblerones around the country so people could find them in scavenger hunts, making whatever requests people had canon in Homestuck as a reward. This is what gave us Trans Vriska, apparently immortalized in one of the Pesterquests or some other garbage not even the most dedicated of Homestuck marks would bother reading.
What I am getting at with all of this is that there never was a chance of a real downfall for Z, only the pretense of one. After all, Z effectively is Hussie, so any repudiation of the character or her actions would mean reprimanding himself. Because guess what? Z gets away with everything. In the end, after declaring war on the United States, becoming Bin Laden on HRT and having her fanatical followers initiate Stalinist purges of anyone she doesn’t like including people she had beef with on Twitter, she just goes “fuck this”, walks away from it all and lives in peace with her lesbian lover. Then, just in case you didn’t get it, the ending has her smugly pontificating that everything she thought and did wasn’t wrong, it’s just that large political revolutions inevitably collapse into in-fighting. In the words of the great sage DarkSydePhil, “I did nothing wrong, I did everything correct.”
The same ending also contains the lamest part of Psycholonials, which is the illusion of choice. At the end of each chapter, the game keeps hyping up this incredibly important choice which you aren’t “ready for” yet. Finally, when Z is considering whether to continue being a terrorist cult leader or leaving everything behind, you get to choose for her – only for Andrew Hussie to take a page from Bioshock: Infinite of all fucking things and reveal your choice was meaningless all along because Z just tells you to go fuck yourself for telling her what to do anyway.
This is further hammered home in the post-credits scene you can access by loading your previous save, which is automatically overwritten with it once you complete the game. In it, Z addresses you, the reader, directly. It’s effectively Andrew Hussie beating off in your face for several paragraphs denying the existence of borders while unironically bitching about Gamergate in the year of our Lord 2021. If nothing else, it is incredibly fitting that a man so obsessed with burning down the past remains eternally trapped in it.
There’s a lot to say about the ending, which is where I broke with the narrative. Z abandons her revolution so quickly and so easily that it only makes sense as a fakeout. Everything falls apart in the confrontation between Z and… well, Z, who appears as a manifestation of herself after fulfilling her destiny and conquering the world. Physically traveling between stars is impossible, and so the only way to conquer another world is through communication, finding receptive locals and using socialist propaganda to twist their culture into a perverted, self-destructive form of iself. The aliens are, in essence, parasites who hijack other civilizations to spread their own dominion. I feel like I’ve heard that sort of message before. Oh well, Hussie probably meant nothing by it.
What Z takes from this conversation is that nobody can force her to do anything, after which she lives in Fiji and never suffers any consequences for her actions. This makes no sense for her as a character but is perfectly fitting with Z-as-self-insert. After creating something popular and influential, she abdicates any possibility of greatness in favor of a lifetime of unearned leisure, adopting the attitude that inattentiveness is the same as absolution. As enamored as Hussie is with the comparison of fandoms to cults, he never considers whether someone might be responsible for creating a cult – it’s just something that happens, so who cares what role any given individual may have had?
Hussie’s two greatest strengths as a writer are character dynamics and building a sense of anticipation. His weakest is realizing a satisfying payoff to that anticipation. Turning Psycholonials into a vehicle for vindicating his own mismanagement of Homestuck only intensified the severity of that flaw. And his self-aggrandizing need to justify his life choices belies the smug tone he adopts in the game’s epilogue. He doesn’t really believe what he’s saying.
It’s a shame he could muster neither the sincerity to use this story as an opportunity for self-reflection, nor the sense of distance that would have allowed Z’s character arc to reach a more natural conclusion. For most of its length Psycholonials is great, but it’s deeply unsatisfying ending casts a pall over the rest of the experience. Can you imagine someone totally undermining their own tone and message at the last second for seemingly no other reason than stubborn refusal to admit they did something wrong? That’s why Psycholonials was not only a good purchase, but my GOTY 2021.
FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK
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