Social anxiety is one of my better and constant companions these days, but something I only really noticed hanging around my unshapely body in college, when I struggled with simply walking across a crowded campus or through the halls of the art building, especially after I decided that art, at least in terms of study, wasn’t the path for me. Still, I continued to work a few hours a week in the art gallery, which is naturally located in the college’s one and only art building, forcing me to interact frequently with former students and professors that, in my mind, viewed me as a failure. Every now and then, I’d be tasked with having to deliver something to a professor’s office, and the getting up and going was actually the hardest part, hindered by panic and uncertainty and an increased heart rate and a feeling that everything is madly spinning away from me. So, I completely understand Samantha Browne’s struggle to go make oatmeal.
I’ve had my eye on The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne for a few days now. I don’t recall exactly what brought Lemonsucker Games’ choice-driven adventure game to my attention, but I immediately added it to my wishlist on Steam. The game released just the other day and for free. It won’t take you long to get through it, and there are multiple ways it can all unfold, but I’m content with just having played it once and living with the choices that forced the game’s main protagonist, one highly introverted and nervous Samantha Browne, out of her comfort zone and into the unknown.
This is basically a lightly interactive story about a college student and the overwhelmingly large dilemma she deals with in her quest to make some oatmeal in her dorm’s communal kitchen. You never see Samantha’s face, which makes her an easy host to embody, and some of your choices are seemingly inconsequential, like what type to make (I picked apples and cinnamon, obviously) and how much to stir the oatmeal after adding hot water, and others are large enough to give you pause. Like in a Telltale Games story, when the moment hits where you have to decide to betray a close friend for everyone’s safety or side with the villain in hopes that nothing further goes wrong. Except these moments for Samantha are whether she should greet the other girls in the communal kitchen or not. Whether she should ask on how to properly use the kettle. For an introvert, while there are often choices, they always all feel wrong. The phrase “between a rock and a hard place” kept coming to mind as I clicked, as it constantly felt like deciding between two terrible scenarios, none better than the other.
So, The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne is a game of unfair decisions. All of these affect Samantha’s hunger/stress meter. I assume there is a “game over” state if it fills up, but I never got to that point. Every decision you make affects the meter in different amounts, meaning there is no ultimately safe path, and I completed the game with Samantha feeling somewhere around 75% mentally overwhelmed, but at least she had a mug of decently cooked oatmeal (two packs!) to eat back in the safety of her room. We’ll count that as a small victory.
The game is clearly quite personal, written and produced by Andrea Ayres Deets, and features original artwork and animations by comic book artist Reimena Yee, along with a soundtrack by Adrianna Krikl. Some scenes are highly detailed and others minimalist, reminding me of the early seasons of Home Movies, minus the squiggly lines, but the art style is both colorful and interesting without being wholly distracting.
Something I’m not sure of, but the game opens with Samantha instant messaging a friend online while a TV show plays in the background. You get slices and pieces of the dialogue as you read their chat log, but it was hard to truly make out what the show was about. I do recall it being somewhat vulgar, with a line related to ripping someone’s nuts off. Hmm. I don’t know if that’s an inside joke or something, but, after seeing everything else in The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne, it feels a bit out of place tone-wise. Granted, there’s some super silly stuff here too, like picking the right spoon, so maybe it all balances out. Also, there were a few sentences that read awkwardly, which could be cleaned up with a quick editing pass.
Look, The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne is important. Many might not see what the big deal is with going down the hall and making some food, but that scenario can be and is just as daunting as performing live on stage for a large audience or asking a stranger for directions or so on. Sure, you expect those situations to bring about a lot of anxiety, even in people not suffering it daily. It is meaningful to understand that not everyone experiences everything in the same way. This is about anxiety, and if you don’t know what that personally feels like, then this is about empathy. Please take the time to see which you relate to more.