I first came across Monster Factory at the tail end of 2015 and it was love at first sight. It’s an ongoing Youtube series hosted by Polygon where two brothers – Griffin and Justin McElroy – mess about with the character creation systems of various games and create unique characters to take into them. Their goal is to come up with the strangest looking creations that the system will allow, often by pushing sliders to their extremities.
Though the concept sounds simple and probably pretty dull, the show is gutachingly funny. It’s absurd and ridiculous in all the right ways. Most of it is adlibbed, with very few scripted sequences at all, which lets the brothers just riff off of each other and makes the show something genuine and engaging.
Refreshingly, the humour always comes from a place of love: while the McElroy brothers do create horrifying misshapen abominations, they’re quick to come up with suitably ridiculous backstories and voices for them and establish them as characters in their own right and emphasise how much they adore them. They have an uncanny ability to make the viewer feel included in the conversation even though they’re just a passive listener, honed from years of podcasting, and their descending into hysterical, unstoppable laughter is hilarious rather than alienating. Their comedic timing is fantastic and the childlike wonder they approach the games with and their affection for each other really drives the series into something special.
Part of the cleverness of Monster Factory is its self-awareness: often the characters will be created to represent the opposite of what the game’s protagonist is meant to do. The Final Pam is a burly, sort-of-Russian-sounding powerhouse whose ultimate goal is to destroy the world of Fallout 4 entirely. My personal favourite, Trullbus the Crime Eater, vocally detests crime and vows to stop it entirely- except he is, unfortunately, the protagonist of Saints Row 3, a game that expects the player to commit lots of it. Seeing the brothers cackle over trying to come up with excuses for the countless crimes Trullbus is racking up (his gun shoots special bullets which teleport enemies to Dairy Queen, there are no laws in the sky, etc) is absolutely amazing.
The ad-lib nature of the show really shines when the monsters are in multiplayer experiences, as watching Griffin and Justin expose the unsuspecting public to their harmless but farcical creations is truly something special, particularly when those already playing the game are taking things extremely seriously. One of the best moments in the series stems from this experience: a particularly standoffish and pretentious leader of a “meeting of the minds” debate group in Second Life has to deal with two hilariously deformed new recruits who burst in declaring at the top of their lungs:
“I THINK DOGS SHOULD VOTE!”
The monsters vary from completely original creations to bizarre expies of famous characters and people, but all of them have their own unique charm and the humour never fails to keep things rolling. If you’re looking to jump in, the best starting points are Fallout 4 (with the astoundingly powerful, world-destroying Final Pam) and Second Life (where the Boy Mayor of Second Life campaigns to stay in office). You won’t regret it!