Despite the dark concept that Ryan Veeder‘s Taco Fiction deals with, it’s overall tone is fairly light and humorous as you interact with the world and people around you. The world of Taco Fiction consists of three food shops, Paco’s Tacos, La Pizza, and Get Your Licks, two parking lots, an alley, and a vacant lot. You learn that your character is unable to pay his rent, and is planning to rob Paco’s Tacos at gunpoint. This plan is foiled, but as you explore, you learn about a cult, called the Mystery of Thoth, which you can infiltrate and steal their membership dues.
While there are many things you can do that don’t decide your endgame but reveal more about the environment, the events that you have to complete in order to get away with stealing the cashbox are: Run into Paco in the store, open the safe and watch the screens to learn how to enter the cult meeting, rob the second man on the street to get his mask and cloak, steal the coat hanger from Get Your Licks, use the hanger to break into the Honda that appears in the parking lot, take the dagger from the backseat, enter La Pizza from the roof, enter the back office of the cult meeting, take the cashbox and the key, escape through the fire exit, shoot Paco, drive home. After this sequence of events, you learn that some shady stuff happens and Paco is acquitted, but your character doesn’t pay attention to the news, so you don’t learn what happened.
Described as “a game about crime,” the player quickly realizes that this goes far beyond what meets the eye.
You start out in your car, conflicted about what you are going to do with your gun. The first 5 or 6 times you try to type a command, you are interrupted by your own inner dialogue. This serves as a prologue to the story before the title appears and you are given your first prompt.
In your car you can find sunglasses, an umbrella, and an empty bag of m&ms. The only one that I found useful was the umbrella, but I took everything with me anyways. Outside your car, you start to get a sense of why your character is there. You learn that La Pizza is closed, but Paco’s Tacos is open late and doesn’t have any security. It’s clear at this point that you are planning on robbing the taco shop.
If you choose to point the gun at the first person you interact with, you learn that your gun isn’t even loaded. You console yourself that he shouldn’t have been walking alone so late, and it’s not really armed robbery if the gun isn’t loaded. Inside Paco’s Tacos, you will notice some bikers who turn out to be cops. The way this is revealed to the reader is particularly interesting because you will be prompted to type, but every key you press spells out COPS regardless of what you enter. If you decide to rob the place anyways (as I did the first time, because I didn’t rob the first guy and didn’t know my gun wasn’t loaded) you will end the game and learn that your gun was unloaded, but your character will reflect that at least you don’t have to pay rent in prison.
I discovered four endings, only two of which I consider “losing” actions if the goal of the game is to pay your rent. While getting arrested isn’t a satisfying ending, you no longer have to worry about your rent. Stealing the cashbox from the cult also solves your problem. However, you can also choose to get in your car and go home without doing anything, and you can get knocked out by Paco, where you receive an intimidating message about how things are going to get a lot worse. I would consider these two as “losing” actions because your character is either in the same or worse position than you started. The fact that your character finds imprisonment somewhat of a relief depicts the reality of many people in poverty.
Although I found other endings first, the clues pointing towards the cult were what kept me coming back because I knew that there must be more.
The first clue I found about the cult was from the screens in Paco’s safe where you can watch cloaked and masked members entering a room with a spiral arrangement of something on the table. I thought this was going to be some sort of sacrificial ceremony, but it turned out just to be food. All the imagery is of ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses. Next I talked to the owner of Get Your Licks, who explains that the graffiti is of an ibis, but she says that she doesn’t know anything about any cults. Later, I saw that her store is angrily circled on the cult map, so I suspect that she is the interloper that the cult discusses at their meeting. If you break into the Honda that appears after you run into Paco using the hanger you can steal from the ice cream store, you will find the fake golden dagger. Apparently, there is a letter you can find that describes where the meeting is taking place, but I never found it. I just followed the bearded man to the vacant lot.
I struggled the most with figuring out how to climb the fire escape. I had both the umbrella and the bent hanger to use as my “hooked object” but the program didn’t recognize the verb “use.” The author even broke the fourth wall to tell me that it wouldn’t work. Instead of the usual error message, I got:
While I was looking for a hooked object, I ran into another person going to the cult meeting. He lied about going camping, and I wound up robbing him for the cloak and cat mask. Apparently, there are other masks you can find as well: a goat and a hawk are the other two I encountered; maybe the animals change?
On the roof, an interesting game mechanic is coded to make entering the building more difficult. You pet the cat statue to stop the water, but the waterfall will start again after you type one command. For instance, I tried “open door” but received the message that the door was already open, and the water started before I could type “in.”
Inside the building, you must wear the cloak and mask, and perform the correct actions to get past the wolf-head man. He’ll interrupt you or get frustrated if you try to speak or do the wrong actions, but I didn’t try to push to see how long it would take until he would eventually deny you access, or if that is even possible. You have to enter all three steps correctly in order to enter. If you mess up one step, he will make you start over. For instance, I entered “point dagger” instead of “point dagger at him” and he got annoyed that I wasn’t doing it properly.
Paco is leading the meeting, although you learn that’s not his real name. He tries to break the ice with some jokes, but all the members are worried about the mysterious interloper. Eventually the meeting dissolves into people yelling and calling to nominate a new leader, but that will go on indefinitely if you don’t enter the back office. In the back office, you can find the cashbox and a bunch of papers. Paco will eventually come after you. If you are still in the office, he’ll punch you and it will end. If you escape out the Emergency Exit, you can then pull your gun out on him. The gun will go off and knock him out, even though you didn’t think it was loaded.
The aspect of corruption in Taco Fiction is a little more tricky to figure out, as it requires you to read all the papers found in the back office. The ending where you get away with the cashbox hints that Paco’s acquittal is the product of a corrupt court, but your character doesn’t listen to the news enough to give you any details. However, the map shows the town divided up, with Get Your Licks angrily circled. The menus show gradually increasing prices at all the restaurants in town. The list shows a bunch of names and positions and the amount those people must have paid, including the mayor. The minutes describe the desire of one member to switch masks with another, which is denied, but later resolved by that member paying the other off in private. All these clues tell the reader that a bunch of business leaders, particularly restaurant owners, are running a monopoly and paying off politicians and other government officials. It seems like the cult’s activities are much less like a cult, and more like a gang.
At first I thought the cops were corrupt as well because I reported the body in the Honda before I learned that it was just a duffel bag. When you check again after the cop tells you that there wasn’t a body, your character even thinks that it is definitely a dead body. The mounting paranoia in both your character and the player as you find more pieces to the puzzle is a powerful tool that drives the plot.
Taco Fiction is categorized as Crime/ Humor, and while it’s a dark humor, the writing was light and entertaining. Veeder took bleak subject matter and presented it in an ironic and humorous way. Blogger and Interactive Fiction writer Emily Short describes Taco Fiction as: “not a deep work, not a work with important social issues to reflect on, not a work of penetrating characterization; but a very well crafted, light-hearted, and entertaining bit of IF,” but I disagree with her conclusion. While on the surface, it is a fun and interactive mystery, it offers perspective on real world issues. In order to progress in the story, the player has to become a criminal and mug people, break into cars, and shoot someone. In this way, Taco Fiction examines helplessness and desperation among the impoverished. It also looks at our ability to rationalize our decisions. At first, I felt bad pointing my gun at anyone, but as it became clear that it was the only way to continue, it became my reflexive decision. It also became easier as I realized that these people were involved with the cult. I felt no remorse when I learned what the cult did; I even felt that they deserved it for abusing their power and position. These are things that real business owners, politicians, and government officials do every day, but by wrapping them up in a cult, something that typically everyone agrees is a negative association, the author forces the player to examine them critically.