Spotlight: Thirty Flights of Loving

“Thirty Flights of Loving” begins as more games should: with some smooth jazz.  After walking downstairs and encountering these fine gentlemen…

 

Stop looking at meeeee!

 

…we make our way through a secret passageway into the basement where we run into our two comrades, Anita (at least I’m assuming that’s her real name) and…uh…Other Guy.

 

 

 

Clicking on either of them brings up a flashy series of images denoting their skills.  It’s clear that Anita is the muscle of the group, as her skills include demolitions and sharpshooting.  Other Guy has a more utility focus, as he is a forger and a safecracker.

 

Evidently he’s also good at weddings.

 

You make your way downstairs to an airplane and the three of you take off.  The scene quickly cuts and it’s obvious something went horribly wrong.  Anita has a gun pointed at you that’s clicking empty and Other Guy has a bullet wound in his chest.  You pick him up and begin making your way through the crowded airport.  But soon enough the scene shifts again.  This time it’s a flashback, as you and Anita are in an apartment, peeling and eating oranges.

 

Why oranges? Why NOT oranges?

 

As you walk toward the door time jumps forward and Anita is joined by Other Guy.  The three of you make your way up to the building’s rooftop and sit down at a reception.  People start dancing.  You and Anita start drinking…a lot.

 

I’m not sure if this makes me want to drink less…or more.

 

The two of you then make your way downstairs to the apartment, where Anita waits for you on the bed.  Before you get to her, the scene shifts back to the airport, where you use a luggage carrier to help move Other Guy.

 

Oh wait, his name is Winston? Ah screw it, I’m still calling him Other Guy.

 

Making your way into the main entrance for the airport, you suddenly find yourselves trapped and set upon by police cameras floating from balloons.  Other Guy pulls out two guns and begins shooting them down.  Eventually, you are allowed to make your way through the entrance where the cops are waiting.  The scene jumps forward and apparently the two of you were able to steal a cop car.

 

Oh no, they’re chasing us through the highway of love!

 

You have a sudden flashback to you and Anita riding together on a motorcycle.  She turns around to you, love clearly in her eyes.  But the scene is quickly interrupted by an on-rushing semi-truck, snapping you back to the present.  However, it’s too late, as you collide with it head on.

And then, in what is either a self-aware jab or a display of pretentiousness, you are catapulted into a museum scene where people are standing around drinking champagne and marveling at various exhibits related to the game.

 

Mmm yes quite…that is a lovely police vehicle…mmm yes….

 

All in all, the game takes about 10-15 minutes to beat.  It’s not very long, and there’s no dialogue at all.  In fact, whenever someone talks it reminds me of the adults from Charlie Brown.  But the big question is, did I like it?

Honestly…not really.  The game is too short and lacks the detail that would normally get me invested in a story.

Now, before someone says it, I understand that was the point.  “Thirty Flights of Loving” is an experiment in telling a short story with all the context ripped out of it.  So you either have to poke and prod to find the context or make your own.

I get what the game was going for.  It just didn’t resonate with me.

But apparently it did with video game journalists when it came out six years ago.  The site Rock Paper Shotgun praised the game in a recommendation back in 2015, saying that “it’s more thrilling, funny, romantic, and tragic than many games manage in fifteen hours.”  Now, I’m not sure if I missed something, but I didn’t feel that emotional at all when I finished the game my first time through a few years ago.

In fact, my reaction was more “wait…that’s it?

 

There’s also a weird section in the museum about Bernoulli’s principle…because reasons.

 

I understand that many video games can get bogged down by bloated storytelling.  You don’t have to look much further than “Modern Warfare 2” as a good example of this (I did a story analysis of the game way back when too).  In the game the main villain’s motivation is literally “I lost a whole bunch of soldiers when a nuke went off, so I started World War Three to drive up recruitment numbers”.  Because logic.

And yet, the context of a story is what makes it worth it for me.  I like learning a character’s backstory, their motivations, their hopes and dreams.  It’s part of what makes reading books so engaging.  You get to see how the character thinks and feels.  “Thirty Flights of Loving” doesn’t have that.  If anything, stripping out the context only made me understand why I like that context in the first place.  Hell, it’s a big part of the reason why I enjoyed “Cryostasis” the game I talked about last month.  And I couldn’t even explain half of what happened in the game.  To me, “Thirty Flights of Loving” feels more like a hollow shell of a story.  It’s got charm and style on the outside, but the inside is just air.

All of this is going to make my next statement seem very strange:

I’m glad this game exists.

I may not have liked the game, but I still think it’s good that the game is out there.  It’s good that independent game developers are able to experiment and get their creations noticed.  They may not appeal to everyone, but the nature of artistic expression cannot always be held down by what is profitable or what has wide market appeal.  Because sometimes, you don’t know what has wide market appeal.  Something new could come along and drastically reshape things.  It’s kind of like how superhero movies experienced a downturn for a while, then Marvel came along and started their cinematic universe.  Suddenly BAM…it feels like we can’t go more than two or three months without another superhero movie opening in theaters and making hundreds of millions in revenue.

I may not have cared for “Thirty Flights of Loving” in much the same way that I don’t really care for superhero movies anymore, but I can appreciate that it exists.  Experimentation should be encouraged, because even failed experiments can teach us valuable lessons.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post, and as always, have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Spotlight: Cryostasis

 

…I have no idea what this game is about.  At least not entirely.

On the surface, “Cryostasis” doesn’t seem all that out of the ordinary.  It’s a survival-horror game where you as the player make your way through the frozen wreck of a ship, doing battle with mutated monsters and making the best of your limited resources.  But there are some unique elements.

For example, your health is determined by temperature.  The colder you get, the weaker you are and the easier it is to die.  This means that the only way to gain health back is to seek out heat sources.  You can regain health by warming up at a smoldering pile of wood…

 

 

…light bulbs…

 

 

…and other, less conventional heating sources.

 

 

This interplay of heat vs. cold also plays into one of the major thematic motifs of the story, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

As you progress through the ruins of the ship, you’ll do battle with the mutated denizens with a variety of melee weapons as well as some guns you’ll find later on.  Combat is slow and clunky, but purposefully so.  Being in such a cold environment and clad in heavy winter gear, you’re not going to be running around and jumping off of walls like an action hero.  No, the game forces you to play methodically.  Because if you don’t, you will die.

 

Hello sir! Do you mind if I…AXE you a question? Ha ha ha…follow my blog for more top tier jokes!

 

So now that the basics of the gameplay are down, let’s jump into the story.

Spoiler alert: it’s weird.

As the story begins, we’re treated to a very optimistic and upbeat quote…

 

I lied.

 

But before we even get control of our character, we’re introduced to this strange parallel plot of a group of villagers and their trek through a dark forest.  It almost feels like a fairy tale of sorts.

 

This plot runs parallel to the events of the game and helps provide some insight into the themes, but we’ll get to that a bit later.

 

After this brief introduction, the player is then given control of their character.  Through a series of flashbacks (triggered by interacting with a faceless figure in a coat), it is revealed that the player character (known as Alexander Nesterov) traveled to the wreck of the icebreaker via sled dogs, but was forced to continue on foot after the ice broke and wrecked the sled.  As Nesterov progresses through the ship, he experiences flashbacks to when the ship was operational, and it becomes clear that some type of disaster took place.

But just when you think you might have a handle on things…this happens:

 

 

The game prompts you to use your “mental echo” ability to travel into the man’s past and fix his mistake so that he survives (because, you know, that’s a thing…that…that normal people do).  These sections are often like puzzles where you have to figure out what to do.  Some are simple and logical, while others are more obtuse and frustrating.  For example, a later section sees the body of a man dead in his chair after a window exploded and pierced him with glass shrapnel.  The simple solution would be to just exit the room and shut the door behind you, right?  Wrong.  That doesn’t work.  Apparently the real solution is to hide behind the chair and let the chair take the hit.  Only then will you be able to progress.

Because logic is for suckers.

 

You get this message upon the completion of your first “mental echo” segment. I love how even the tutorials are cryptic.

 

As the story continues to progress, more flashback events give insight into the story of the ship and its crew.  And we start to get an idea of the major players in the story.  Most notable in these beginning sections are the ship’s captain and his first officer.  The first officer wants to use some sort of divining rod equipment to help steer the ship through the ice, but the captain decides to rely on sheer intuition alone.  This leads to a confrontation between the two men where they argue over the dangers of the course the ship is taking.

 

Famous last words…

 

The captain disregards the first officer’s advice and, predictably, the ship finds itself stuck.  The first officer decides to go behind the captain’s back and send a message back to the company that owns this ship.  He gets a message back and, despite being advised by the ship’s security officer not to share it with the captain, does so anyways.  The contents of the message are kept hidden for a while, but its effect on the captain is evident.  He gradually grows demoralized and finds that everyone he turns to seems to despise him.  When he goes to the chief engineer of the ship to share the message, the engineer rebukes him and tells him to just go away.

 

 

Eventually there is a flashback with the captain standing on the deck, looking forlorn as he holds the message in his hands.

 

 

After a moment, he releases the piece of paper and it floats away from him.  It is then that the contents of the message are finally revealed: the owners have decided that, following the ship’s completion of its current journey, it is to be decommissioned.

 

 

This feels like a good time to pull that parallel fairy tale story back into play.  In the fairy tale, the people are trying to escape a forest, but the forest seems alive and wants nothing more than to  prevent their escape.  It is in their darkest hour that a man among them named Danko takes charge and leads them onward.  At first, the people rejoice at Danko’s leadership, feeling hope swell within them.  However, as the journey continues and grows harder, resentment begins to take root.  They begin chattering among themselves, becoming doubtful of Danko’s ability to lead.  Eventually the people rebuke him entirely, to which Danko fires back, criticizing them for how easily they allowed themselves to be led.  The people then start surrounding him, clearly intending to kill him…

Numerous parallels to the game’s story can be found.  For example, the idea of man vs. nature becomes a very strong motif in the latter half of the game, with the shifting ice around the ship a parallel to the malevolent forest from the fairy tale.  There’s a “mental echo” segment where you play as someone in a slaughterhouse, and the solution is to open the gates and let the cows go free.

 

Damn liberals and their environmentalism…

 

Not to mention there’s a later, optional segment where you help a polar bear escape from the people hunting it.

But I digress.  As the story continues it becomes clear that something bad happened to the ship’s nuclear reactor considering…you know…there’s a giant hole where it used to be.

 

 

It’s also revealed that the crew began to suffer some kind of massive medical emergency, which appears to stem from some kind of radiation leak from the reactor.

 

 

On top of that, the ship’s layout starts to become more surreal.  Doors begin to disappear, entire areas shift around you as you interact with things, and there’s even one really bizarre scene where, after activating an old-fashioned film projector, you’re forced to battle enemies shooting at you on the screen before one of them walks through the damn thing into the room itself.  All of this seems to imply that the ship you travel through during the game might not entirely be real.  But it’s hard to say.  The game is metaphors layered on top of parallel allegories.  It confuses the hell out of me sometimes.

In any case, following his thrashing by the rest of the crew, the captain makes one last desperate move.  He orders the ship full speed ahead in an attempt to brute force their way out of the ice.  During the attempt, he is injured as the first officer and security officer break into the bridge.  They order the ship in reverse, which only makes things worse and ends up dooming the ship once and for all.  While the crew deals with fluctuating temperatures and radiation sickness, the main officers hatch a plan to take a helicopter and abandon the ship and its crew.

One popular theory is that the captain of the icebreaker is the parallel to Danko in the fairy tale, and I can see why.  They both lead their people.  And they’re both rebuked by their people when they fail to lead them to safety.  The parallels between the two of them are numerous, and it seems to be the most solid conclusion.  However, it is only but one interpretation, as I’ll explain shortly.

As the game nears its close, the two parallel tales come to a head.  In the fairy tale remember, the people are circling around Danko, ready to kill him.  But Danko finally sees that it is not hatred that drives them, but fear.  His resentment is then swept away by a wave of compassion, which causes his eyes to start glowing with light.  The people misunderstand what’s happening, fearing that the glowing is another symptom of Danko’s anger.  But then, Danko rips his still beating heart out of his chest, the sheer light of it obliterating the forest and giving way to a new land.

Danko looks upon this new world with a smile, then falls over dead.  Because happy endings are for losers.

On the icebreaker, the first officer and the security chief carry the captain to a helicopter piloted by the chief engineer.  The crew watches anxiously as the helicopter begins to take off, leaving them all behind.

But it’s not over yet…remember that whole flaming heart thing from the fairy tale?  Yeah…the ship’s nuclear reactor functions as that parallel as it decides to go all ker-plooey and explode.

 

Hooray! Everybody dies!

 

The helicopter is vaporized, and the following scene implies that the explosion transformed the crew into the monsters you fight throughout the game.

So yeah, that’s it.  That’s the story.  I mean, there’s no way things could get weirder or anythi-

 

 

 

 

Hold on a second…I have to go make sure nobody spiked my drink…

So the final boss of the game is Father Time.  No, I’m serious.  I’m dead serious.  The title of the level itself is “Chronos”, which is the ancient name for the personification of time.  So yeah, the giant blindfolded man with the hourglass is literally Father Time.

And you must do battle with him by shooting mystical orbs at the people who appear around him.

Yeah it’s definitely one of the most out of nowhere moments I’ve ever experienced in a game.  I mean, this game was bizarre to begin with, but when this happened I think my jaw literally dropped.

Anyways, after defeating Old Man Time (I can’t believe I actually typed that), he rewards you with an opportunity to go back and change one singular moment that alters the fate of the ship and its crew entirely.  There are multiple ways this can take shape, but for this playthrough it takes the form of the chief engineer.

 

 

There was that scene earlier in the game where he basically told the captain to piss off.  Well, you can change that by having him express sympathy for the captain, a small act of kindness that averts the tragic fate of the entire vessel.

 

 

The story then shifts back to the beginning scene, with Nesterov approaching the vessel by dog sled.  Only, this time people are waiting for him.

 

 

After the sled falls through the ice, the captain appears above and extends his hand, saving Nesterov from falling into the water.  He is joined by the chief engineer, the security officer, and another officer.  Together, the five of them head off toward the ship as the story reaches a close.

 

 

Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin with this craziness…

Like I said before, the fairy tale story is a clear parallel to the tragic tale of the icebreaker.  And like I said, a popular interpretation is that the captain is Danko’s parallel.  However, I’ve also heard it as the ship’s crew being Danko’s parallel, although I don’t particularly agree with that assessment.  It seems more fitting for the crew to be the parallels of the villagers in the story, as they gradually succumb to fear and begin fighting among each other.  Another interpretation could be that the ship itself is Danko, as the captain does personify the ship during an early scene in the game, saying that to be a true captain the ship must “respect you”.

There’s a lot more to unpack with this game, but I think I’m gonna leave it alone for now.  This post has gone on long enough.

I know I made light of the game’s weirdness at points, but in all honesty that’s part of what makes the game so fascinating to think about.  It’s so weird and so out there at times that it makes you want to understand, makes you need to understand.  And there are lots of things I didn’t even go over, like the theme of confinement or being trapped that’s a motif throughout the game (many of the enemies are horrifically constrained within their armor, with one tough enemy having only a keyhole on his helmet to see through).  There’s also references to other obscure Russian works of literature and art that I haven’t even begun to delve into myself (the game’s subtitle “sleep of reason” is one such reference).  But despite how cryptic and obtuse it is, the game has a charm to it that cannot be denied despite some of the technical shortcomings (i.e. the game chugs along at times, even on powerful hardware).  Unfortunately, the game doesn’t seem to be available on any digital storefronts.  In fact, the only way I can see buying it now is via a physical copy from Amazon.  So if you’re interested in trying it out, that might be the only way to do it aside from other…less reputable means…if you catch my drift.

In any case, thanks for reading my long ramblings about some obscure game barely anyone’s ever heard of.  Have a wonderful rest of April and check back on the third Wednesday of May for my next post.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Let’s Talk About Video Game Movies

With the release of “Tomb Raider” this past Friday, we find ourselves with another movie based on a video game.  Only, this time it seems like the movie has fared decently well.  It was still outperformed by “Black Panther” at the box office (or “buried”, as news outlets like to put it…you know, because puns), but people who liked the video game also seem to have liked the movie as well.  Now, I haven’t seen the movie myself, but from what I’ve heard it seems like there might be one big reason for that:

It mirrors the video game almost exactly.

 

 

Now, I can’t speak for everybody, but I think what most people want to see is an adaptation.  They want to watch a video game they love made into movie form.  They don’t want to see Hollywood get all cute and switch things around to try to make their own version of the story.

Which is exactly what happened with the 2016 “Assassin’s Creed” movie.

If you’ve never played any of the “Assassin’s Creed” games before, here’s the rundown: they center around a device known as the Animus, which allows a user to relive the memories of their genetic ancestors.  The first game has you playing as Desmond Miles as he wakes up in a mysterious location, kidnapped by an unknown organization with sinister motives.  The sections in the present day are very brief and low-key, building up an overarching mystery as to who these people are and what they want.  But the majority of the game takes place in the Animus.

Apparently the movie didn’t get the memo, because from what I understand the majority of the film takes place in the modern-day.

Seriously, how do you take a game that features super cool stuff like jumping off tall buildings and landing in a pile of hay, and make a movie where the main character only does that twice and the majority of the movie is people sitting around talking about shadowy conspiracies?  In the games, the modern-day segments are largely kept in the background, an overarching element to the franchise’s story.  But the main focus has always been the Animus segments, with whatever assassin character it happens to be for that game.

Now while I can’t speak for the quality of “Tomb Raider”, having not seen it myself, the simple fact that it has fared better than most other video game movies would seem to indicate that it at least did something right.  I honestly think people just want to see something that compliments what came before instead of trying too hard to be its own thing.

Another failed case study of that can be found in the 2008 “Max Payne” movie.

 

 

 

In what seems like another incident of Hollywood trying to play cute, “Max Payne” only shares surface level elements with the game.  The movie keeps the names of most of the characters and the drug known as Valkyr, which plays a crucial role in the story.  Other than that, the progression of things seems  entirely different.  In fact, the main villain of the game doesn’t even die in the film.  No…instead they keep her alive so they can force in a post-credits scene to hint at a sequel.  Of course, that never came to be because of how poorly the movie did.

Hey guys, I don’t know if anyone told you, but the game already has a sequel.  And it’s certainly far better than whatever you had planned.

The sad thing is the movie should have been good.  All of the elements were there for them to turn the game into a stylish, gritty revenge movie.  But instead, they tried to twist things around to give their own personal interpretation on it.  Maybe they thought they could do better than the game’s writers did?  I don’t know.  You’d think with the history of video game movies being so terrible they’d stop and think “maybe this is a bad idea”.

I think a large part of the problem is that the people who make these movies either have never played the games themselves or just don’t have respect for the source material.  Or possibly both.  It’s almost as if they just read a synopsis of the plot somewhere and wrote a script based on that.  You’d think that if you really wanted to adapt something and do it justice, you’d actually bother immersing yourself in it.

But I guess that’s just me.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back on the third Wednesday of next month for another post and have a wonderful month.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Contrived Destiny: Prophecies in Storytelling

So lately, I’ve been thinking about prophecies.  And I’m not talking about prophecies as in biblical prophecies or any of that Nostradamus stuff.  That’s a story for another time.  What I’m talking about are prophecies in fiction.  You know what I mean: in a story a prophecy will say this or that, and then the characters end up stressing about the prophecy instead of doing anything about it even though they have adequate time to take care of things and then their laziness actually makes the prophecy come true and MY GOD WHY AREN’T YOU PEOPLE DOING ANYTHING?!

No?  Just me?

When I was younger, I didn’t really have an issue with prophecies when it came to fiction.  To me, it was just a thing, especially in fantasy.  You know, some great evil would return to the world and only the chosen hero or heroes could defeat it, that sort of thing.  But more and more, I’ve come to the realization that prophecies can be really lazy.  And indeed it seems like some stories rely on them heavily, like a sort of crutch.

This is kind of an oblique example, but here goes:

You’ve probably heard of the reboot Star Trek movies directed by J.J. Abrams.  Now, I don’t really have an issue with them.  They’re mindless, action movies that kind of miss the point of what Star Trek was about, but they’re still fun to watch.  However, once I had this particular thing pointed out to me, I couldn’t un-see it.

In the first reboot movie, time is re-written when the villain is sucked through a black hole type thing and ends up in the past.  He attacks a Federation ship and destroys it, which kills Kirk’s father.  Fast-forward into the future, and Kirk is an edgy, dark young man who gets into bar fights and has a problem with authority.  Later on in the movie, he ends up marooned on an ice planet after he pisses off Spock.  Being chased by what might as well be a Yeti, Kirk finds himself in an ice cave.  And there he meets…Old Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy (rest in peace).  Old Spock tells him that in the timeline he comes from, Spock and Kirk are best friends.  Therefore, because of that, they are sort of destined to work together.  With that knowledge, Kirk and Spock inevitably put aside their differences and work together.

But that’s kind of lazy storytelling when you think about it, isn’t it?

Instead of Kirk and Spock naturally becoming friends, they end up as friends because they’re supposed to to be friends.  History has been changed.  Events occurred differently, shaping Kirk and Spock into different people than they would have been originally.  But instead of figuring out a clever way to use Kirk’s brashness and Spock’s logical thinking to save the day, they just force the two together because Old Spock said it was meant to be.

Their characters don’t really develop.  They’re just fated to be together…apparently.

 

Old Spock (Leonard Nimoy)

 

And this is something you can see in a lot of stories with prophecies in them.  Why does the hero become the hero?  Does he work hard?  Is he of admirable character?  Does he train and get stronger over time?  Or does he become the hero because some obscure, ancient writing said he was going to be the hero?

Now, prophecies can be used in interesting ways.  Take the video game “Final Fantasy X” for example.  In the game, there is this giant monster that returns to devastate the world and only a summoner can defeat it.  But to do so, they must sacrifice themselves to summon a being powerful enough to defeat it.  Later on, the main characters come to the realization that this is all a bunch of nonsense, because the monster will just keep coming back over and over again.  It’s at that point where the heroes basically say “screw prophecies” and forge their own path.  In that way, it uses prophecy to expose the flawed nature of the religion that the game’s world is based on.

So you see, you could do that.  Or you could do what “Snow White and the Huntsman” did: kill off Kristen Stewart, only to have her magically come back to life and suddenly be a badass warrior.

Why?  Because prophecy baby!

By insisting that a character be a hero according to prophecy, a writer can get past all sorts of pesky things like character growth, development, training, and so on.  The hero can just have god damn magical powers if they want.  And why not?  It’s a prophecy!  Anything goes!  Even “The Matrix” pulled something like that, although in that case it actually worked because it served to highlight the movie’s theme of rebirth.

 

Wait…Neo is an anagram for “one”? My god it’s ALL COMING TOGETHER!

 

Like I said, prophecy isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s just too easy to use as a lazy crutch.  Why bother coming up with experiences for the character to justify their growth into a hero when you can just predestine that from the very beginning?  No one’s going to question it, because it has to be so if the prophecy said it.

The problem with prophecies is that they often become too binding.  They force things to play out in a certain way, whether it fits in line with the prophecy or not.  There are two basic outcomes to a prophecy in fiction:

  1. The prophecy comes true.  Heroes deal with the fallout and try to fix things.
  2. The prophecy doesn’t come true.  Cue preachy message about the future not being written in stone.

As you can see, there’s not a lot of wiggle room between these two outcomes.  At best, prophecies are usually a convenient way to foreshadow a major, future event.

At worst, they’re just lazy writing.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for my next short story, and as always, have a wonderful week!

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

What’s in a Story? The Importance of Narrative Fiction.

Considering how often I like to talk about stories (particularly in video games and the like), I thought I’d take some time to examine why such things even exist.  Why are stories so important to us?  Back at the dawn of our existence, sitting around a campfire, we shared stories of the hunt with our fellow humans.  What is their purpose?  Why do we seem to need them?

Recently some outrage occurred on the internet (big shock right).  It was announced that for the new Star Wars movie they were throwing out most of the expanded universe (essentially stories that exist in some form beyond the movies).  This got some hardcore fans really upset, with some making the comment that they quote “wasted twenty years” reading those books, as if one person or company’s re-evaluation of canonical material immediately invalidates another’s enjoyment of it.  If you enjoyed reading those books, you didn’t waste your time is how I see it.  But it made me wonder, why were people so up in arms about it?  What power do these stories hold, and why are they so important to the people who read them?

We’re going into existential territory this week, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

Escapism

The most obvious reason for the intrinsic value of stories is escapism.  The grind of everyday life can get to us, as it often does.  Sometimes, we need to immerse ourselves in a world not guided by complex social and societal factors, where money isn’t always a constant concern, and where events and people are larger than life.  We want the comfort of a place scripted beforehand, where the events are carefully crafted and constructed by a writer for the enjoyment of the audience.  Nothing goes wrong without intention.  The randomness of the real world does not apply.

Dragons, fairies, heroes and villains, all tropes of a fantasy world that doesn’t abide by the rules of the world we live in.  Whenever we read these books, watch these movies, or play these games, we are visiting an impossible realm of magical proportions.  No one who went and saw Lord of the Rings in theaters thought to themselves “yeah, that’s an accurate depiction of life”.  Realism isn’t usually a primary concern with such things.  The entire point of it is to be fantastic, because that’s what people are drawn to.

The climax of the game Max Payne 3 involves the titular hero taking on an army of private military goons in a Brazilian airport.  Is it realistic?  Oh no.  Is it epic?  Oh yeah.

The climax of the video game Max Payne 3 involves the titular hero taking on an army of private military goons at a Brazilian airport. Is it realistic? Oh no. Is it epic? Oh yeah.

When I fire up a game like Dark Fall or Alan Wake, I don’t go into it analyzing it by real world mechanics.  I don’t question the plausibility of ghosts and the supernatural.  I enjoy the ride, let myself be taken away by the fantastic elements present in the games.  It’s not about how realistic it is, it’s about how enjoyable it is as a form of entertainment.  Sometimes I feel like people forget that, and start over-analyzing all the little details.  Because in the end, no piece of narrative fiction is truly realistic because it’s always scripted in the same ways and never changes, unlike real life (unless you want to get into solipsism in which case, for the love of god, don’t).

Mirror Mirror

Escapism helps explain most of our fascination with stories, but what about those other stories, the ones with characters that aren’t perfectly heroic or morally good?  What about those stories with characters you don’t care for, characters whose actions can cause you to despise them?  Where do their stories fit in, and why are we so fascinated with them?  Why is Walter White’s slow descent into evil in Breaking Bad such a fascinating experience for us?

It has to do with something I like to call the Mirror Effect.  There’s a genre of literature called satire, where the follies and evils of humankind were made to be larger than life and more ridiculous for the sake of pointing them out to the audience.  The story’s purpose in that sense was moralistic, to point out our flaws so that we can better ourselves.  Essentially, it put a mirror up to our society so that we could see in full view the things we ignore or just plain don’t notice in our culture that are considered detrimental by the author.  Satires were especially big during Shakespeare’s era, with many playwrights leaving social commentary peppered throughout their works.

But it’s not just satire that falls under this effect.  Many works that aren’t satires have left their comments on our societal ills.  The 2009 movie District 9 is a clear example, with the story of humans oppressing and mistreating extra-terrestrial refugees a dead ringer for rampant racism that is still present in our modern day.  Stories classified under the horror genre are good at this as well, exposing our very human faults and our capacities for great evil, greater than some of us can even imagine.

The story of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs isn’t just about the main character’s descent into madness and quest for redemption. It’s also about the fear of ourselves, of what we are capable of as a species.

In Walter White’s case, it is a tale of greed and pride gone too far, of vanity that destroys.  At the beginning of Breaking Bad, Walter has a chance to solve his issues without going into the drug trade.  However, for reasons of pride, he chooses to make meth instead of accept charity from people he dislikes.  Walter slowly and surely transforms into a monster, and by the end of Breaking Bad‘s five season run, he has alienated himself from everyone he cares about, and the fault lies directly with him.  But we still understand his choices despite the absolute terror he becomes, because his choices are so flawed but so human at the same time.

The power of narrative fiction to reveal certain truths present within ourselves and our society cannot and should not be denied.  But they can only go so far.  Stories aren’t some mystical magic spell.  They can’t just fix our problems just by existing.  What they can do is point them out to us.  Fiction can be like a signpost, pointing the way to our problems so that we can build our way to the solutions.

Closing Thoughts

In the end though, I think it mostly comes down to entertainment.  Stories are there for us to enjoy.  We like seeing this portrayals of over the top heroes just as much as we like watching the flawed anti-heroes.  We like watching stuff explode and people struggle with issues that are both believable and ridiculous.  We like watching the drama unfold, because it is thrilling for us.

I feel like the people who complain all the time about certain things not being realistic in a movie or television show or whatever are missing the point.  Who cares if that car wouldn’t explode like that in real life?  Who cares if that explosion wouldn’t be that big realistically?  Who cares if that object wouldn’t float that way in space?  It’s entertainment, pure and simple.  If you find yourself spending more time focusing on such tiny details, then I’d say you’re missing the point.  You can think that way if you want, but I feel like you’re just depriving yourself of a good experience over something incredibly inconsequential.

It started with tales around a stone age campfire, progressed through myths and fables, and has since become a multi-billion dollar industry of storytelling, for better or worse.  Storytelling comes as naturally to humans as breathing and walking.  It is fundamental.  It is powerful.  And it is here to stay.

We all have our different ways of enjoying stories, but we enjoy stories nonetheless.  Regardless of our own personal preferences and inclinations, we can all agree on the fact that our love for fictional narratives runs deep down into our history.  We can complain about the state of Hollywood, that the movie industry has become a place for phonies.  We can complain that the video games industry has become too focused on money and budgets.  But the fact remains that despite all that, we will continue to look for new stories to enjoy.  We will continue to indulge our lust for escapism, our almost voyeuristic interest in the lives of fictional people.  Because that is who we are.  We are storytellers.  We are creative.  We are artists.  We are human.

And that’s all for this week.  To access next week’s post, run down a long hallway, narrowly escaping an explosion by diving out a window at the other end.  Until then, have a great week.  See you next Wednesday.

The picture from the video game Max Payne 3 was taken from the Steam store page here.

 

 

 

 

The Horrors of Humanity: Story Analysis of Amnesia A Machine for Pigs

A bit of forewarning, the following post is going to spoil the entirety of Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and a little bit of The Dark Descent as well.  If you haven’t played through either and want the plots of one or both to remain unspoiled, avert your gaze now.  If you’ve already played through them, or just don’t care, then read on.  This is not a review, this is my personal analysis of the game’s story.

“This world is a machine, a machine for pigs, fit only for the slaughtering of pigs!”

This line is only said once in the game, but it’s a powerful and important line.  It has multiple meanings, multiple interpretations, and ultimately is  as complicated as the game’s plot.  But before we jump into A Machine for Pigs itself, some background is necessary.

Background

Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a video game released back in September of 2010, and was a horror game predicated on the fact that your only defense was running away and hiding.  It was made by a company known as Frictional Games, whose previous efforts, known as the Penumbra franchise, had a small cult following.  Using their knowledge of spooky things happening in spooky places, Frictional took what they learned from the Penumbra games and created a totally new world.  Frictional Games wasn’t super well-known outside the indie world, but Amnesia would change all that.

When The Dark Descent hit, it sent a tidal wave through the gaming community.  Here was a game that, instead of relying on cheap jump-scares and loud noises, built up an atmosphere and generally terrified people by forcing them to look away from the monsters to spare their character’s sanity.  The game jump-started the career of many a let’s-play channel on Youtube, with it being the first game many people played on their channel.  The multitudinous screams of “OH GOD NO” while barreling through dark castle hallways soaked up the views, and a new video phenomenon was born.

Fast-forward three years later, and another Amnesia game was on the horizon.  Would it be as good as the first one?  Would it set off a new wave of terrified let’s-play videos on Youtube?  No one really knew.  What no one could have predicted was the incredibly polarizing effect A Machine for Pigs would have.  Some loved it, taking note that the story it told was far more complex than The Dark Descent.  Others hated it, citing that the shift in gameplay style and simplification of game mechanics betrayed what they loved about the original.  Despite the differing opinions one truth stood out.  A Machine for Pigs was a different beast than its predecessor.

So join me as I explore the tale of insanity, greed, and woe that is Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.

New Years Eve

“Daddy, daddy, please don’t kill me.”

Something sparks to life in the darkness, something that is, but should not be.  A low rumbling can be heard as it begins to stir.  Red lights begin to flip on as the sparking increases, foretelling its activation.  And then, with a loud clanking, something spins to life, shattering the air and shaking the ground.

The game opens on New Years Eve, 1899 in London.  Our protagonist, Oswald Mandus, wakes up in bed with a fever and haunting visions.  Pulling himself to his feet, he can hear his children calling to him from somewhere off in the darkness, his only company aside from a diary page filled with incoherent rambling.  How much time has passed?  What has happened?  Why can’t he remember? Steeling himself, Mandus pulls open the bedroom door and ventures out into the hallway.  The game begins.

The story starts up similarly enough to other horror stories.  There’s a vague call to action (in the form of Mandus’s sons) and a strong sense of foreboding.  The game doesn’t take long to show us that things are not exactly good around here.  For example, why are there cages on all the beds?  And why are so many doors barred shut?  Where is everyone?

Certainly not a standard feature in Victorian-era houses.

Certainly not a standard feature in Victorian-era houses.

One of the first things we learn about Mandus is his wife’s death.  “You lived long enough to see Edwin, but not Enoch,” Mandus solemnly intones as the player walks in to another bedroom down the hall.  Evidently she died during childbirth, giving birth to the twins Mandus now journeys through the darkness to find.

Continuing onward, we go upstairs and into the attic, where we find a diary entry from Mandus’s sons.  The page adds further fuel to the idea that things are not alright in the Mandus household.  Apparently they’ve heard their father crying a lot, and there’s a creepy reference to a pig in the backyard.  Grabbing a lantern, we continue through the attic, accompanied by the teasing voice of the children and a rather creepy music box tune rippling through the walls.  Floorboards creak and things go “thump” all the while.

Everyone's favorite dark happy place, the attic!

Everyone’s favorite dark happy place, the attic!

We find another page a minute later, this time from Mandus’s diary.  In it, he recounts a snippet of a trip he and the children went on to Mexico.  Mandus had been in search of some kind of financial opportunity, apparently in the form of some old ruins he believes to be buried deep underground.

Going downward we get our first glimpse at another common storytelling tool, the audio recording.  Lying on a small table is a little hand-crank machine that looks almost like a tiny phonograph.  Interacting with it causes a conversation to play back, one between Mandus and a character known only as the Professor.  This one really only serves to highlight Mandus’s intention to record their dialogue, hinting at further recordings down the line.

Honey, the piano's playing itself again!

Honey, the piano’s playing itself again!

The Machine Stirs

Continuing through the house we start to get a sense for the immensity of the machine below ground.  Several times the house begins to quake and shudder as something below begins to turn on.  Chandeliers sway back and forth, paintings fall to the ground, and in one instance a piano slams shut as the entire house feels like it’s about to come crashing down around Mandus.  Whatever lies below the house must be massive in scale.

Going forward we learn several things.  We learn that this Professor character was sent by some institute, or group, to check out the work Mandus has been doing ever since he returned from his trip to Mexico.  We also learn that his trip to Mexico ended in tragedy, but of what kind we don’t know yet.  We also get a glimpse at another character, a voice heard only over a strange intercom.  This voice directs Mandus to restart the machine because his children are trapped below and that’s the only way to free them.  Someone has sabotaged the machine and Mandus must fix it.  Mandus knows the voice somehow but can’t place him.

There’s also a network of secret passageways strewn throughout the house that (in true creepy fashion) have one-way mirrors that are situated, among other places, right behind the bathrooms.  Yep, that’s a thing.

Oh Mandus, you rogue.

Oh Mandus, you rogue.

After turning some valves we descend into some kind of steam-punk underground room that leads outside.  Once outside we are treated to an audio flashback.  Mandus’s children are telling him to come see what they’ve found: some kind of stone egg.  Those who know the story of the first Amnesia game might make the connection here, but we’ll explore this at a more opportune time.

The steam-punk level design is truly something.

The steam-punk level design is truly something.

After an accident with a falling pipe and collapsing stairs, we find our character wandering in a cellar filled with some strange and unknown chemical.  After fixing more of the saboteur’s handiwork, and progressing through the dark and dank cellar, we find ourselves in a deserted factory area.  Not much new information is gleamed here, but it is at this point that Mandus’s diary entries begin to take on the tone of a demented philosopher, frustrated with the world at large and striving to change it somehow.  He also refers to some kind of “product” that his factory is making, but there’s no clue yet as to what it is.  Of particular note here is an entry about the idea of a machine that could think like a man.  Mandus rejects the idea, saying that such a machine would be nothing less than a god.

These paintings are always so creepy looking, or maybe it has to do with the FOOT IN THE COOKING POT.

These paintings are always so creepy looking, or maybe it has to do with the FOOT IN THE COOKING POT.

The Descent Continues

After a near-encounter with some monster lurking in the dark of the factory, and solving another puzzle,  we set our eyes on the church, searching for a path underground.  Inside the church we learn that Mandus was known for some charity he began rather recently (after the Mexico trip most likely).  People revered him, and he walked among them almost like some kind of messiah.  The altar, complete with creepy dead pig, is revealed to be hiding some hidden passage downward into the depths of the church.

Hee hee...blasphemy......

Hee hee…blasphemy……

Oh and what’s down there?  Cages, lots of cages.  Oh god, so many cages…

It’s a literal dungeon.  Are these the “product” that Mandus’s diary refers to?  One of the cages lurches forward as we pass, its occupant screaming for freedom.  As we descend further, we have a run-in with one of the monsters.  And it’s the first time we get a good look at it.

It looks like some kind of bipedal pig abomination, squealing and roaring if it gets too close.  It trots around slowly, almost pathetic looking in a way.  Narrowly escaping it takes us outside again.  After another stroll through an outside area, we enter into the heart of the factory.  Another recording further cements Mandus as some kind of demented philosopher.  He rants and raves about people in authority, calling them hypocrites and liars.  “We can bring forth paradise now,” he exclaims.

We continue onward, stoking the fires of the machine and plunging headlong into the dark depths of the factory.  After a close run in with more of those pig creatures, we find ourselves in a dark lower area of the conveyor belts.  And it is here that we find a diary entry which finally connects the two Amnesia games in a significant way.

Little piggy ain't little no more...

Little piggy ain’t little no more…

This entry details the arrival of some corpse to Mandus.  This body is described in such a way that it perfectly resembles one of the monsters from the original Amnesia game, leather straps binding the chest and all.  Those that remember the original game’s story might remember that the antagonist, Alexander, created these monsters to do his bidding.  And to do so, he used something known as an Orb, a sphere of incredible supernatural power that the protagonist Daniel haplessly stumbles upon, triggering a chain of events that leads him to Alexander.

This orb could also be described as, oh I don’t know, a stone egg.

So now the earlier reference to the stone egg takes on a much more sinister light.  Apparently Mandus’s children found an Orb while on their trip in Mexico.  Not only that, but Mandus refers to the body in the entry as being the work of his great-uncle.  Presumably that would mean that Mandus is the descendant of none other than Alexander, the big bad guy from The Dark Descent.  And if he discovered an Orb while in Mexico, it’s no wonder something went wrong.  Things always go wrong when one of those things is involved, and I mean always.

Going forward nothing much happens.  We solve some puzzles, run from some piggies, and generally creep ourselves out.  One bit of information that comes up is that Mandus embarked on whatever task he set himself to with someone referred to only as the engineer or the visionary.  Astute players will likely connect him to the voice over the intercom, as he is the only unknown character at this point.

So we travel through some sewers, drain some water, and hear the children calling from off in the darkness.  Nothing much new is gleamed, but there is one scene I want to call attention to.  It takes place in what I can only call the “holding pens”.  And oh boy, is it mighty freaking creepy.

UH NOPE!  NOPE!  COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF NOPE!

UH NOPE! NOPE! COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF NOPE!

It’s a large holding area for the pig creatures.  They wander around in a downstairs area as you look down from above.  There’s even a table set for them, smeared with blood and littered with what I can only assume is food for them.  Going further reveals row after row of little cells, each containing one of the things.  Mandus himself even notes that the creatures seem almost childlike (couldn’t have found a creepier adjective myself).  Moving on we find ourselves crawling through some large pipes until we get to a new area.  We descend a long staircase to an elevator.  We’re almost there now.

Revelations

We’ve fixed the damage.  Now all that’s left is to turn the machine on.  Descending in the elevator, the background walls give way to reveal a gigantic underground chamber.  And in the center of it is some kind of giant metal orb.  This must be the machine.  Everything has led up to this point.  And I must mention that the haunting music here (complete with epic choir singer) is just downright awesome.  In fact, most of the music in this game in general is awesome.

“Oh dear god, dear Christ what is this place,” asks Mandus as he emerges from the lift.

The machine at last.

The machine at last.

Finding one last bit of sabotage we fix it and return to the main chamber.  Climbing a set of stairs takes us to what appears to be some kind of control room.  Inside are two levers.  One is lit green, the other is red.  Throwing the first one causes the giant metal ball to light up.

“Now Mandus, set them free.  Set them all free!”

The other lever turns green, and we grasp it and pull.  The doors behind us slowly close as a massive ear-splitting rumble rips through the air.  A gigantic shock wave sends Mandus flying backwards as the window in front of him shatters.  And it is then that we learn the truth.

We’ve been lied to.

The lever of epic plot twists.

The lever of epic plot twists.

“I live, I breath again!  I rise, I will rise to bleach the sky and still the water!  I will spin the world wheel and set the future on the path to redemption!”

Two things become readily apparent.  The first is that the voice over the intercom urging you onward has nothing but bad things planned.  Apparently this was the voice of the machine itself, leading Mandus on to its own twisted ends.  It cackles madly as Mandus screams at it.  “You promised me my children,” he cries.  But there is the second truth we learn, and something we probably already suspected.

They’re dead.  They were always dead.

“I’m so sorry,” Mandus says softly as he picks himself up off the floor to see their bloodied faces looking down at him.  In one swift act they reach inside their chests, and rip their hearts out right in front of him.  And then, everything goes black.

Determination

“And, emerging, I raised my head to an uncaring sun and I cursed this world of pain and despair.  This civilization built on the ricketed bones of the unfortunate, on the greed and swell of Mammon and Empire.  Cradling a stone egg in my jacket, I kissed my children farewell and I crawled my way home.”

The twist involving Mandus’s sons is admittedly a bit obvious, but maybe that was the point.  Maybe Mandus was so far gone into his fever dream that he couldn’t see what should have been right in front of him.  Whatever the case is, we find ourselves in another elevator suddenly.  Picking ourselves up, we move onward.  We hallucinate the children again, and find a note that reveals something else.  Mandus is the saboteur.  Realizing all that he had done, he tried to destroy his machine in one last frenzy before he succumbed to the fever.

AAMFP

But even now, Mandus cannot accept the truth.  He still asks for his children.  “Why do you ask Mandus?  You know the answer well enough,” the machine says to him.  I feel this gives more credence to the idea that Mandus is completely blinded by the fever and the loss that he suffered that he just cannot or will not see what he knows is true.

But Mandus is not done yet.  He dons the role of saboteur once more, taking apart what he put together again, ripping out fuses and breaking steam pipes.  After a harrowing run through a gigantic steam pipe, we find ourselves at another elevator and with it, return to the surface.  But all is not well, as the machine’s plan is revealed.

London is burning.

AAMFP (16)

The earth shakes underfoot.  Explosions rip through the air, casting glaring orange flashes onto the brick walls and pavement.  Shrill screams intermingle with horrid squeals as people are dragged away from their homes, down to the processing plant to become part of the ever-growing mass of “product”.

“Oh no, oh god no.  What have I done?!”

Mandus is in horror.  The ramifications of all that he has done surrounds him.  And it is with that realization that his path is set.  He is determined to end this.  He will find his way back beneath ground, tear apart the machine with his own hands, and end the madness of his own creations.

An End to All Things

After the harrowing moments above in the city, we return below ground, destroy vital components of the machine wherever we can.  The last part of the game really reveals the depths of Mandus’ insanity, as we see objects in places where they shouldn’t, and couldn’t, be.  Toy letter bricks and a little paper house pop up, which we have seen before in the nursery back at the Mandus household.  Things really go off the rails at this point, as we even jump forward in location a few times without understanding how.

And we also get a glimpse at the fate of the Professor character.  An audio flashback reveals that Mandus locks him in a dark room somewhere, after promising to introduce him to his engineer friend (who by now we know is the machine itself).

“We are the pig professor.  We are all the pig,” Mandus says darkly.  So what happened to him?  If I had to guess, I would say that he became a part of that “product” Mandus was making.

But something else comes to light as well.  As we travel below into the heart of the machine compound, Mandus asks why his children died, and the machine tells him the truth for once.  “Of all the blood we have spilled together, the first drops fell from your hands alone,” it says.

“Then I am damned for a filicide and everything is lost,” is all Mandus can say.

So now the truth comes out.  Some players probably guessed that Mandus killed his children, but this is the first time we get confirmation on it.  So we know basically all that Mandus has done, but we still don’t know why yet.  Going further into the labyrinth prompts the machine to try to reason with Mandus.  And it is here that we find another wrinkle in the story.

“You may hate me Mandus, but I have seen the future, your twentieth century and let me tell you this: a far greater slaughter awaits you there.  I seek to save the world by blood now, before millions fall beneath history, pushed under by blade, bullet, and gas.”

Oh boy, this just got complicated.  He’s talking about war, and most likely World War One (WWI) in particular.  If you know history, you know how damaging World War One was to the psyche of the world as a whole.  Entire worldviews were shattered and re-shaped with the onslaught of this brutal event.  But how does this connect with Mandus?  We have to push on further to find out.

We're getting closer to the end.

We’re getting closer to the end.

Much of this last stretch of the game seems to deal with Mandus coming to terms with all he’s done.  “I would have given my soul to spare you this world…” he quietly cries as he walks among the emblems of his children, lying on a walkway far below ground where they shouldn’t be.  Knowing all that he has done, and what the fruits of his labors have come to be, he is absolutely crushed.  But he is not beaten.  He quietly vows to make things right, and proceeds onward.

After a couple run-ins with a freaky teleporting electric pig (that’s a thing now too), we find ourselves in another area.  This has some creepy machination with what appears to be a heart or something held aloft by metal pincers.  We activate some odd-looking devices that light up, and then we experience another strange jump in location.  The end is at hand.

AAMFP (18)

The Final Moments

We find ourselves on a walkway proceeding towards a giant conveyor belt.  We can hear the machine shutting down slowly, as different parts along the conveyor belt power down as we pass.  The machine pleads with Mandus, begging him not to do it.  “I am no more evil than you,” it says with a hint of desperation.  And then, the full truth, the reason why Mandus killed his children, comes to light.

“Your sons with drown, lungs full of mud and shrapnel, on the banks of the Somme.”

Epic monologues abound.

Epic monologues abound.

“This is the vision we shared…”

We now know why, and we can begin to understand the chain of events.  Connecting the dots, we can guess that the Orb that Mandus found showed him a vision of the future, a vision of such horrific intensity that it completely destroyed his psyche.  Knowing what the coming century would bring about, and knowing their fate, he sacrificed his sons in an effort to spare them a horrible and likely slow death in the trenches of war.  The vision resulted in Mandus becoming greatly dissatisfied with the world and civilization at large, knowing the face of the world was about to change abruptly.  He suffered a fever of not only physical but psychological torment as well.

And this is why I find this game’s story so much more intriguing than the first game.  In the first Amnesia, Daniel’s motivation for doing all the horrible things he did was to try to save his own life.  He sacrificed possibly innocent people in an attempt to prolong his life until he could appease the shadowy monster that pursued him and the Orb he stole.  But in this case, Mandus had a goal not of self-interest, but of twisted salvation.  He wanted to save the world, but couldn’t figure out how without destroying it completely.  He does horrible things, but his reasoning for doing so is almost…understandable, in a way.  He is a man caught between centuries, knowing how the world will change with the advent the twentieth century and the horror of WWI.

Emerging through a set of spinning doors at the end of the conveyor brings us into a massive chamber with some kind of giant temple in the middle.  We have seen the scale model version of this place lying around before, and it is presumably a re-creation of the kind of place Mandus saw in Mexico.  But none of that matters now.

“Daddy.”  A final cry splits the silence after the music fades.  It’s time to end this.

The final ascent...

The final ascent…

“I have stood knee-deep in mud and bone and filled my lungs with mustard gas.  I have seen two brothers fall.  I have lain with holy wars and copulated with the autumnal fallout.  I have dug trenches for the refugees; I have murdered dissidents where the ground never thaws and starved the masses into faith.  A child’s shadow burnt into the brickwork.  A house of skulls in the jungle.  The innocent, the innocent, Mandus, trod and bled, and gassed and starved and beaten and murdered and enslaved!  This is your coming century!  They will eat them Mandus, they will make pigs of you all, and they will bury their snouts into your ribs and they will eat, your, hearts!”

I could analyze this speech by the machine and make it into its own blog post if I really wanted to.  The complexity of it is amazing.  There are so many different allusions here.  I put it here because I feel it is a very powerful and pivotal part of the game.

Mandus says nothing.  His course is set.

As we approach the top of the giant temple staircase the screen goes white.  Suddenly, Mandus finds himself next to a chair.  The machine begs, sounding absolutely afraid now.  Climbing into the chair, Mandus is surrounded by strange metal things that look sort of like pincers.  A large button glows in front of him, prompting Mandus’s final act.  After the button is pressed, a metallic roar is heard as something seems to charge up.  The pincers suddenly close in on him, and everything cuts to black.

It'll all be over soon...

It’ll all be over soon…

Epilogue and Closing Thoughts

“I lay there and watched the god I had created die.”

The game ends with Mandus and the machine dead, entwined forever in the dark underground.  Up above, the city merely turns over in its sleep as the twentieth century dawns.  The factory doors close forever, and Mandus’s tale concludes.

There are still a lot of uncertain variables in the story.  The purpose of the machine and the reasoning behind Mandus’s experiments with pigs are still unclear as the game comes to a close.  But perhaps that’s for the better.  From a story standpoint, the overall thematic point the game sends off is far more important than the little details if you ask me.  And besides, horror isn’t horror if everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow.  Horror works best when it leaves certain details up to you, when you have to fill in some of the blanks.

The machine itself is also representative of something, or maybe many things.  The primary thing seems to be a metaphor for Mandus’ conscience.  Several times Mandus makes reference to a moment when the world seemed to split in two for him.  My theory on this is that the Orb somehow split his consciousness into two halves.  The one became the machine, that side of him that has so deluded itself into thinking that the path he has chosen is the only way.  The other remained with Mandus himself, the part of him that loves and cares for his children, which would explain his obsessive behavior in pursuing them throughout the game even though it was obvious they were dead.  It could also just be a metaphor, who knows?  That’s the nature of stories, and horror stories in particular.

Overall I loved the story in this game.  It was gruesome.  It was complex.  It was mysterious.  It had a lot of the things I want out of a horror story, and even threw some things at me I never expected.  The WWI aspect of the game really took me by surprise.  This game manages to capture the horrific effect World War One had on the British.  I took a British Literature class in college, and one of the things we talked about was how damaging to English moral WWI truly was.  No longer was war this dutiful thing you did for king and country.  It was horrific.  It was bloody.  It meant the end of so many young lives.  And nobody really knew why it happened, it just did.  Even today trying to study WWI leads to confusion.  We know the event that triggered it (Franz Ferdinand’s assassination), but it’s extremely difficult to figure out the “why”.

Mandus reacts to WWI in much the same way as the historical British do.  His worldview is completely shattered, his faith in humanity gone.  He felt hopelessness, frustration, and anger all it once.  He felt that the world was no longer just.  All in all, he reacts in much the same way people who actually experienced the war did.  Writing and art were transformed into a movement that acknowledged the horror and pointlessness of war and death.  There is a reason why WWI was called “the war to end all wars”.

And they say video games can’t tackle deep subject matter.

If you got this far, thanks for sticking with it and reading the entirety of this long analysis.  I truly do appreciate it.  Tune in next week for another (and probably shorter) post coming on Wednesday.