I’ve spent the last few days recharging my batteries by tossing old ladies into the sea, stealing from orphans, and enjoying my illicit affair with a hunky sea captain. I gotta admit, it’s an unorthodox schedule, but one that’s really working for me.
I’m playing Overboard!, a narrative title about murdering my husband and trying to get away with it. The game starts with me, a cutthroat 1930s socialite aboard a cruise ship, tossing my husband overboard during the night. When I wake up the next morning, I have to pick the right conversation options to avoid suspicion. Meanwhile, other people move about the ship and start drawing their own conclusions. I also move from place to place, intercepting my fellow passengers and influencing their point of view, or perhaps returning to the scene of the crime to clean up evidence or bribe a witness. It’s a stylish visual novel that focuses on timing, experimentation, and repeated, inevitable failures.
Each individual playthrough can be super quick, perhaps only lasting mere seconds if I make a really silly error, like choosing to take an early morning sleeping pill. But every time my dastardly plot ends, I get the chance to try again with a little more information and insight.
Overboard! lets you relish in playing as a protagonist who sucks. There are few ifs, ands, or buts about it; she’s just awful. She starts the game by murdering someone and only escalates from there. Drugging an old lady? Sure, if it gets the job done. If you want to hold onto those sweet, sweet sleeping pills, you can also just toss the old lady into the ocean where she’ll inevitably perish. Tomayto, tomahto.
There are two things that make playing this kind of character palatable. The first is that the protagonist is not the worst person on the ship. The story takes place in the 1930s, and her dead husband is a big fan of Hitler and fascism. He owes people money and clearly has no intention of paying it back. He’s even having an affair! It feels like delicious, schadenfreude-drenched justice to kill him again and again. It’s also thrilling just to see what I can get away with: can I cash in on my husband’s life insurance? Can I run away with a new love? Each run reveals new wrinkles as I try to do something absolutely awful, like bribe lawmen, or frame my husband’s lover for his murder.
It’s a unique kind of power fantasy for a single-player game. When I play other games with tough narrative choices, like the Mass Effect series, I try to be a hero. Most games try to make me feel noble, or at the very least, neutral. Overboard! goes with an entirely different formula. I’m a huge jerk, getting by through sheer moxie. Overboard! is also short and sweet enough that the role never really wears thin, and the more I discover about everyone else on the ship, the more justified I feel in my cartoonish villainy. Goodbye, old ladies. Sorry, orphans. I’m out for me and only me, and I’m feeling pretty good about it.