Typically, I'd associate Google Docs with work, and any form of spreadsheet with even more work, but indie game developer "droqen" has made me reassess that outlook. He's the dev behind the 2D platformers Starseed Pilgrim and Probability 0, and now Demon Deleter, a game in which you have to delete the names of a bunch of demons from a spreadsheet. It's a simple yet surprisingly fun idea that lets players hang out in this unusual shared space together. The inspiration behind it is pretty random too - droqen tells me he got the idea after spending hours cataloguing items for Animal Crossing.
"I've always been interested in online 'shared spaces', but I know how much work it takes to build them," droqen says. "It's easy to make a spreadsheet and invite people to it, but the problem there is that there's no 'game' for people to engage with on the side of socializing."
When you first open Demon Deleter (which you can play for free through Itch.io), you land in Purgatory (aka Google Sheets). It's essentially a waiting room for everyone who wants to play, so lots of people aren't all messing with the demon deletion at the same time. It's here you'll find the leaderboard, space for reviews, general chit-chat, and importantly, the rules.
The concept is simple: there is a grid of demons, and you must delete all of their names. When you select the game tab, you're told the order of which you need to delete them. Get one wrong, and you need to reset and start again. The goal is to do it as fast as possible, which is tricky when you're fumbling over keys. You can delete demons however you like, though droqen encourages players to use various keyboard commands to get the job done, like "cell skipping", to make it a little more challenging.
"I was helping my partner out with her Animal Crossing cataloguing and using Google Sheets to filter through lists and lists of items, and if you've tried Demon Deleter you can kinda imagine the sort of thing I was doing in the spreadsheet..." droqen tells me.
"Not to get too deep in the weeds of Animal Crossing labouring, but she had a list of items and the number of items we had lying on the ground didn't match the number of items in that list," he adds. "So, I had the items in four columns in a spreadsheet and I was deleting items as she read them out from Animal Crossing. And about halfway through, it started getting FUN."
At first, droqen was just going to make a little solo spreadsheet game, but then he remembered Spreadsheet MMO, a game made by his friend "quasiotter" for a Spreadsheet game jam earlier this year. Truthfully, I've had a good look at spreadsheet mmo and I do not understand in the slightest how it was played. I think folks took turns to fill in a cell, roleplaying trading goods with each other and going on expeditions. All I know for sure is that it's a very colourful spreadsheet full of absolute nonsense, which is a sign that it's been enjoyed by a bunch of people.
Demon Deleter has similar community vibes, with random cells containing snippets of conversation and commentary on the game. The social aspect is more important than the game itself really, deleting demons is pretty much just something to do while you chat with strangers. The Guestbook section in particular has some choice quotes, and even an escapee demon:
"Damn, never thought i'd die in an excel sheet - M"
"i've deleted the demons, but in doing so have i become one myself? - ryan"
"FUCK you and your puny DELTE KEY - Kinpharaph"
It's likely I'm just jaded from playing too many first person shooters where players are generally awful to each other, but there's something special about seeing strangers interact so nicely and anonymously in a random environment like this. Demon Deleter also has one of the most pleasant review sections I think I've ever seen.
"I made a column for reviews and for people to sign their name in the sheet itself, and I think that was a nice place where people left their thoughts and things like that," droqen says. "I'm surprised that the response has been so nice, there's more reviews on this than Steam reviews of the game I released last year! Of course, these reviews are not behind a paywall and are in a way 'part of the game' but it's a funny comparison to make."