Work Is Hell and the Dark Comedy 'Yuppie Psycho' Revels in It
Come work at Sintracorp! The coffee is awful, the workplace is toxic, and you don't really have much choice.
Content warning for brief description of horror tropes including blood and gore, mention of a fat-shaming line.
The office as hellhole is not a radical new concept in the great annals of commentary on modern life, but when it’s done well (and it is here), it sure works. Yuppie Psycho puts you in the role of Brian Pasternack, a “class G” citizen offered a job at Sintracorp (a glossy megacorporation that makes/does god knows what) that’ll bring him right up to class A. If he sells his soul (or much, much worse), naturally.
Brian doesn’t know what he’s signing away in joining the company, until he super does, and a sprawling adventure filled with witches, mummies, mutants, toxic work environments (literal and figurative) and bananapants corporate bullshit awaits him. And it awaits you, the player, in a delightful pixel art adventure that loves to dunk on shitty workplace practices and tropes.
The workplace is a special kind of hell dimension, where your needs will always be subservient to the corporation’s needs, desires, and iron will, whether that means making computers, writing articles or... hunting witches that haunt the core of your corporation. It’s all kind of similar, isn’t it?
At least that’s the core argument of the game, and anyone who has worked for a comically evil company will immediately sympathize. The trappings are all there: horrible fluorescent lights. Terrible company slogans. Cubicles galore. The IT department. Company magazines. Awful coffee. Yuppie Psycho just goes one step further, with posters that spell out just how disposable you are, and, right, ok, mutants and mummies and occult symbols in blood.
As a game, it splits the difference between a traditional point and click adventure (with plenty of inventory wrangling) and a slightly more Zelda-style affair, with some elements that resemble boss fights and gnarly environmental puzzles that involve pushing, pulling, dodging, or interacting with the right elements. It’s a good blend throughout, and well-paced to keep things interesting, though one or two of those boss fights admittedly felt like minor choke points, and took a few more tries than I necessarily wanted to put in. There’s one goddamned monstrous copy machine that gave me almost as much grief as a real-life counterpart in my real-life office. Almost.
But that’s very much the point isn’t it? Especially with this sort of ultra-heightened horror-comedy. And frankly, it’s hard to overstate the existential horrors of runaway corporate greed and its effect on the mere mortals who toil under it. One poster sitting outside the HR department reads “Every day we receive 5,000 resumes from people willing to work here for free, so this company doesn’t actually need you.”
But, like so many of us, Brian doesn’t have much of a choice. He’s a class G citizen, and risking life and limb at a wildly off-kilter corporation is the only hope he has of a decent living. Many times throughout the adventure, he threatens to quit, claiming the tortures at Sintracorp are not normal or ok. He’s offered a bonus and he stays.
Of course he does. What do any of us do, no matter how unhappy we may be with management? With the terrifying coffee? With our caustic officemates? What does any self-respecting millennial privileged enough to land an office gig do? We stay in that office. There are student loans to pay, family members to feed, medical debt to pay off. Rent to deal with. The mutants and blood and poison are just fun metaphors for the self harm we do when we give ourselves to these places, to be chewed alive and spat out.
The tone is biting and knowing, but completely tongue in cheek. Yuppie Psycho feels like it came directly from people who are all too familiar with toxic workplaces, and it feels right. It shouldn't be subtle, with the points it’s making. And it finds ways to be very funny in its moment to moment, with interactions with, say, Sosa, the witch-obsessed, totally-not-Helena Bonham Carter horror movie enthusiast, or Doshi, the IT dude with his gray market side gig. There is an entire puzzle with the marketing department that deliberately inspires joy.
Not every story beat worked for me, though I found it mostly delightfully campy. There’s some weirdness towards the end that veered into uncomfortable territory with regard to women and family dynamics, and there is one extremely bizarre fat-shame-y line at the very end, which comes basically out of nowhere. This all comes, of course, in a game deliberately about witches and zombies and an essentially cursed office, so, we’re playing with tense elements no matter what. But the off-putting line (and an admittedly sort of funny sequence about unions being useless) comes completely out of left field, so, be warned.
Aside from the missteps, I was compelled to see Brian’s adventure to the end, and see what completely, wonderfully batshit places Yuppie Psycho goes (and oh, friends, it goes to so many). It’s a wildly fun, dark, campy examination of the modern workplace as a well of suffering and pain, and as such, it’s just what I need here in April of 2019. I’ll think about it each and every time I pray to the IT gods when I unsuccessfully attempt to use the third floor copier.