The moment you search “Undertale” on YouTube is the moment your whole algo goes Sans.
Blessedly, I did not cross this threshold into fan video after fan video and discussions of the game’s many possible dialogue trees before I finally got around to playing the obscure little indie game, Undertale.
I know, I know. I recommend really niche titles. What can I say? I’m a tastemaker.
I’ll be upfront with you: I don’t know why I hadn’t played Undertale until 2023. It’s obviously not a game that lacks for positive buzz, and, as I have since learned, an alarmingly prolific fan community. There are skins for its characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, for God’s sake. Alongside The Binding of Isaac, it’s the indie game that comes up when people mention successful indie games. And yet here I was, Grayson “Indie Games Are the Best” Morley, having never played the game, despite buying it three times over the years on PlayStation, Switch, and Steam.
Now that I’ve played it, I genuinely don’t think there’s anything I can say that hasn’t already been said about Undertale. It’s great, of course. Because I’m not a monster, I did the True Pacifist Route and saw that ending. While I have not replayed the game, I find it wonderfully odd that it breaks the fourth wall in order to recognize that you can replay the game, accounting for that possibility with a story about choosing to stop, about letting its characters rest. Its music is deserving of the many remixes, piano renditions, and jazz bops it has inspired. It’s a terrific game made by a small team, proving that crunch, layoffs, and impossibly large budgets aren’t the only way to make a hit.
But holy shit, y’all, are there ever fan animations for this game.
I can only describe what has happened to my YouTube as a firehose of content. Fan theories that begat fan theories. Clips of what specific characters will say if you kill X character but not Y. Dissections of the fandom that are themselves a contribution to said fandom. All because I searched “Undertale endings.” Now, a vast ocean of videos laps at the shore every time I load the site. Even consciously choosing not to watch any more of them, now and again it will still try to pull me in.
The internet wants to keep our attention. It wants to show us things that will keep us where we are. It knows that tabs are just as easily closed as they are opened. It acknowledges that we exist outside of it, that our curiosity is a hungry thing.
So, too, does Undertale. The True Pacifist Route is thematically satisfying in its own right, but when put into its proper context, viewed not just as “an ending,” but as the choice to end, it’s all the more powerful. You can replay any game you want as many times as you want, and Undertale acknowledges this fictively. The only true way to finish any game is to finally leave it undisturbed. Untroubled. Untouched.
So, too, YouTube’s insatiable desire to show me Undertale fan content. I have to leave it be. I have to fight the curiosity to know what Monster Kid will say if I kill everyone but him. I have to listen to Undertale remixes on Apple Music, not YouTube, because Apple Music is not good at serving me good recommendations, and so it is safe. I have to take my thinking about Undertale offline, or else this will continue on forever, my feeds flooded by permutation after permutation of this very same essay, this very same take, this very same experience.
Perhaps I should’ve left Undertale unplayed, then. Perhaps I should’ve let sleeping algorithms lie.
Perhaps—nah, lol. How else would I have learned what a jam Megalovania is?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have “Streamer_boi Beats Sans First Try” to cross off my Watch Later playlist.