Death and Taxes | Seasons Don't Fear The Reaper
Have you ever wanted to have the power to determine who lives and who dies? When I think of this ability, I often think of the anime Death Note and the questions it raised. Is it ever right to sentence someone to death?
What if their character appears to absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, deserve it? Should a good person die if it saves the lives of a thousand others?
If I think on the subject for too long, I’m apt to get into an internal philosophical debate that spirals all the way down to the very meaning of life itself. It’s not a fun spiral, so let’s avoid it for now, shall we?
On the surface, Death and Taxes is a game with mechanics akin to Papers, Please. Instead of determining an individual’s right to enter a country, you get to decide whether they live or die. Pretty straightforward, right?
In the game, you serve as the Grim Reaper, a new employee of a mysterious man named Fate who oversees everything. Well, he tries to anyway. Sometimes he leaves your performance review in the hands of his feline companion Meow who’s far more interested in the decimation of a squeaky gerbil toy than who you condemned to die.
You can either choose to follow the instructions your boss leaves on your desk each day, ignore them completely, or do a little bit of both. To help you make these difficult decisions, there are items you can buy from the cheerful skeleton pirate Mortimer that add some additional insight.
For example, you can purchase a desk lamp that reveals the stats of each person and what will happen if you choose to let them live or sentence them to die. To monitor the current balance of the world, you can purchase a snow globe that shows you the outcome of your choices as you make them. You can also buy an eraser to fix the inevitable mistakes you’re bound to make.
Even with these tools on hand, determining who lives and who dies can be incredibly difficult, especially when it comes to profiles that are more ambiguous in nature. Should a man die simply because he likes pineapple on pizza? Does it matter one way or the other?
By default, it may seem as though it’s better to disobey Fate and let everyone live. However, if you let everyone live, the world will descend into chaos.
You’ll also get fired by Fate. Without your job you can no longer influence anything. In game terms, you're pretty much dead. As such, some people will have to die. It's a certainty, and there's no way to avoid it. The concept plays upon the saying the game gets its name from, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.”
Death is very much a part of life, and at some point, everyone dies. It could be at the ripe old age of 100, or at age 50 of a sudden illness or accident. You really never know. Death happens, and it’s interesting to think of a Grim Reaper as the responsible party for this event. As death personified.
Here, the Grim Reaper is nothing more than a dark figure hunched over a desk. They look at your profile, consider whether or not you should die, and occasionally play with random items like a fidget spinner as they stall and think things over. It adds a sort of lighthearted twist to something that’s pretty damn grim, pun intended.
At its core, Death and Taxes is a game that’s a hell of a lot of fun as you feel like your choices really do matter. You can even unlock multiple endings depending on what you do or don’t do. Unlock one and you’ll want to immediately jump back in and continue playing to unlock the others.
For a game that’s primarily about sorting through paperwork, Death and Taxes is wonderfully addicting. Stamp your decisions, submit them, then head up and speak to Fate in his office. Receive payment for your work or a bit of scolding when you fail to follow the rules, sleep, return to your post the following day, and do it all over again.
I like that Death and Taxes gives you multiple choices to every action, and trusts you to have a little bit of freedom without too much penalty. It acknowledges the broad moral spectrum we all have where things aren’t strictly black and white, yes or no, live or die.
The game throws in some nice comedic relief to the subject of death as you'll encounter profiles that are clearly spoofs of real people like Hideo Kojima. You also have the added authenticity that the voice actors for characters like Fate and Mortimer bring to the table of death.
As a whole, the game is one of the better examples of how you can approach a subject like death and make it lighthearted. It’s the opposite end of the spectrum to something like Pet Sematary where death is not only terrifying but also a catalyst for grief, supernatural chaos, and even more death.
I love Pet Sematery for its fearlessness, and I love Death and Taxes for its whimsy. I also promise that wasn’t an excuse to throw in a Stephen King reference.
Another comparison that could be made here is with depression memes. Through these memes, people joke about death and suicide as a way to cope. The added comedy provides a meaningful way to explore complex feelings.
Similarly, Death and Taxes pulls in the figure of the Grim Reaper and makes them a bumbling underling to Fate. It makes death less mysterious and sinister, especially given the whole "corporate office" setting.
Wrapping things up, I’m glad to have stumbled across Death and Taxes because it’d been a while since I’d contemplated the Grim Reaper, death, and yes, even taxes. Seriously, I still need to do my taxes, and part of me would really rather die. Given that would be bad and a woefully inappropriate response, I'll just play Death and Taxes instead.
If you’re in the same boat, I highly recommend picking up a copy of the game on Steam! It's one of the best indies you'll play in 2020. I'm more than willing to put my final stamp on that statement and submit it to Fate... or Meow.