Content warnings for COVID-19, police brutality, racism, cults, the United States imperial machine, alcoholism, and some questionable ideas about “cancel culture”. These things are a part of the story being told, and while I’m not sure if I’m going to touch on every one of these things, these are all content warnings for the game as much as they are this series of articles.
They also write the words “simp” and “anti” so, so much, and I’m, unfortunately, probably going to repeat them.
>Understood, let me in.
– American musician, Post Malone
“Our theater never goes so far as to ask whether this social and moral system might not by chance be iniquitous. I believe, however, that our present social state is iniquitous, and should be destroyed. If this is a fact for the theater to be preoccupied with, it is even more a matter for machine guns. Our theater is not even capable of asking the question in the burning and effective way it must be asked, but even if it should ask this question it would still be far from its purpose, which is for me a higher and more secret one.”
You are 100% certain Post Malone said that.
When I finished it, I knew I was going to have a lot to say about Psycholonials. I couldn’t, though.
Not for any personal reasons, it’s just that the ending was compelling and cathartic enough that I felt it in bad taste. It’s clearly personal, and shockingly frank from a person known for being under a billion layers of protective irony. I compared it to correcting the anatomy on Saturn Devouring His Son, and then I recommended it on Steam, both because it’s good manners and because I think that if you liked Homestuck, you might get something out of it. It’s got a feeling of closure to it that Homestuck in general dreadfully needed.
I’m gonna stick by that recommendation, but as the weeks passed, I felt less and less satisfied by the ending, and well. Here we are. Where do you even start with Psycholonials? “Andrew Hussie’s first non-Homestuck thing since Homestuck ended” is a pretty big thing for a person who’s spent 12 years of their life on it, and it’s a strange thing for me, someone who will surely spend more than that, for better and worse. (There is no “or” here, anymore, it’s usually both at the same time.)
Before we jump in, I’d like to contextualize this in terms of Andrew Hussie’s career. In 2009, Andrew Hussie started Homestuck, a part of their MS Paint Adventures works that’d eclipse MSPA as a whole. This has been pretty widely regarded as a bad move. It ran for 9 years, ending in 2016 with 7 acts overall, around 8,200 comic pages and about 5 hours of flash animation, and a handful of playable Flash games. At its peak, Homestuck would average 11 pages a day of conversations, animation, gags, goofs and shenanigans. This format, its novelty, its compelling character writing, its jokes, and its many mysteries enraptured fandom basically everywhere. There really wasn’t any place that was safe from Homestuck online, but its ground zeroes were 4chan and Tumblr, taking off and overrunning fandom there to the point where Tumblr was the place to go for Homestuck.
There are a lot of cul-de-sacs in the story of Homestuck, both in terms of the text itself and in Homestuck’s creation, all of which are too mind-numbing or spicy to recount here, but understand that from 2012 to 2019, Hussie tried really, really hard to spin off Homestuck into something sustainable. In 2012, the Hiveswap kickstarter went up and successfully raised 2.7 million dollars for an adventure game that would release Act 1 in 2017. In 2014, Paradox Space went up, which was an anthology comic helmed by a bunch of writers and artists that resulted in some good comics, but just wasn’t meant to last. In 2016, Homestuck launched a Snapchat account, which had a few simple stories and events (a single Halloween event, as well as a lead into something that seemed to resemble The Homestuck Epilogues) before shuttering for good. In 2018, Hiveswap Friendsim released, which called on fan writers and friends of the show to write dating sim-style routes for side characters in Hiveswap that would eventually appear in Hiveswap Act 2. Hiveswap Friendsim was kind of anodyne, but still reasonably successful, in that it was a solid holding pattern for Homestuck that would be repeated in 2019’s Pesterquest, which followed the Homestuck Epilogues, a novella written in fanfiction format by Hussie, cephied_variable, and ctset.
Of note is that each of these things has an increased presence of fans in creative positions. Homestuck was written solely by Andrew Hussie, but the Homestuck Epilogues and Pesterquest, and then Homestuck^2 following it all had fans and friends in writing positions. It’s a slow, but sure and steady process of detaching Homestuck from the name Andrew Hussie, and entrusting the franchise to fans. For a long time, people were unsure of how much Hussie was even involved in Homestuck anymore.
And with the end of Psycholonials coinciding with an announcement that What Pumpkin is moving on without Hussie, it seems like the answer for the foreseeable future is “not at all”.
The sun has been creeping its way over the horizon for ages now, but the dawn of the post-Homestuck world is here.
And nobody’s up to see the sunrise. That is to say, I don’t think a lot of people read Psycholonials. It peaked at 303 concurrent players on the day of the last chapter’s release, which compares to Hiveswap Act 1 peaking at 4,000 on release day, and Hiveswap Act 2 peaking at 1,800. (This is obscenely cruel, but Deltarune chapters 1 and 2 peaked at 100,000.)
It’s almost kind of funny. While I was doing research for this article, I found an old newspost on MSPA from 2014:
Maybe… maybe once I start updating again, nobody will notice?? Man, wouldn’t that be sweet. It will just be me and like a cozy little clique of 50 randos and 10 web bots, just like the old days. We’ll bring this sucker home together, then hit up the local bargain Italian restaurant to celebrate. (Then a horse nuzzles me out of my sleepy dream fantasy, and the hammock flips over and dumps my screaming body on to the lawn.)Andrew Hussie, 9/27/14
People who did read Psycholonials week by week would make one tweet or two about it, usually about how Hussie is a stupid racist and mishandling topics that require a deft hand. Par for the course with Andrew Hussie and their fandom. There’s surviving fan art, and I see people with Psycholonials-themed layouts on Twitter sometimes. But it’s really kind of irrelevant to everyone except for me, and my specific kind of interests. Homestuck was lightning in a bottle, Psycholonials is… not.
Psycholonials is about Zhen. Over the course of 2020, she develops an online following for her work on the Jubilite Manifesto, a document containing two things: leftist ideology and clown lore for a faraway planet called Whimsiphae that she supposedly made up. Supposedly. Another fact for her growth into an influencer is that she killed a cop at the end of Chapter 1. This objectively owns. It’s great to kill cops in Psycholonials. Over the course of the story she starts a new movement of antiauthoritarian clowns, calling themselves Jubilites. She also changes her name directly to Z, and then declares herself the Supreme Honkifex, Lord Queen of the Clowns. These Jubilites form a new state, New Whimsiphae, and they wage war against the United States. In the meantime, Zhen gets missives from Riotus, the space clown who has been sharing the space clown lore with Zhen.
Psycholonials takes on the label of visual novel, and while I’m not about to litigate whether visual novels are games, or a worthwhile medium (they are) I would like to draw a line here – the story is told almost identically to MSPA comics of olde. There are illustrated panels depicting scenes, with text blurbs featuring dialogue or narration. The classic pesterlog format also returns, but it’s actually just Discord rather than something made up like Pesterchum. Animated cutscenes also appear, set to music – one even uses a Flare remix directly.
It is, for almost all intents and purposes, an MSPA-style comic running in a game engine.
There’s a lot of ways you could be cruel to the art, but I think it’s alright. It’s mostly legible, and when they draw scenes with higher fidelity, it works! The important scenes look good, even if a lot of connecting panels are clearly scrambled together. It’s fine. It’s how it goes when you work at a million miles an hour like Hussie has been for the last 13 years. If you put up with Homestuck, you can put up with this, and the panels which flex the skill that Hussie has had since before Homestuck really show it.
This is going to be split up into parts, so I’m going to hesitantly recommend the game now – it’s $3 on Steam and free on mobile storefronts. There’s a lot of reasons to dislike Psycholonials, but there’s not nothing to like, and at $3, I’m certain there’s something to interest you, be it a search for closure after Homestuck, the extremely present and raw feelings of a lapsed author disillusioned with their work, or just plain bile fascination.
And then, over the coming parts, I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t read it, and then to cap it off, I’ll tell you why you should again. Sound good? I’ll see you there.