Friday, May 26, 2023

Quick Sips 05/19/2023

In which I...

- Share a mood with Morn

- Give some brief updates

- Discuss amnesia in Disco Elysium and Breath of the Wild

So I've made it another week! Yay! Though I am also still in full struggle duck mode. For those not familiar with the struggle duck, it's a bit like the struggle bus but is a duck and therefore more adorable, grumpy, and tired. Yeah. Anyway, I am basically Morn in this photo, which means exhausted and Done with everything and just wanting to let those paws dangle. The battle is not over but Morn is no longer fighting. Let the storm sweep past, let it batter itself on the mountains and over the seas. Morn will weather what comes, preferably while sleeping. Which...a mood.

Anyway, not too much going on with me at the moment (a lie, but I will not bore you all with the details). I continue to have stories out at JMS Books (you can find them here: and have finally (finally!!!) finished having to write up blurbs for them, which let me tell you is A Lot. I can now start to think about putting together some collections of this amazing smut. I'm also looking ahead to WisCon, though honestly I'm probably not preparing as much as I should. I do have some panels and etc and we'll just have to see how that goes. Hahaha

In media, I managed to finish an initial play through of Disco Elysium, and am happy to report that the game did indeed subvert some of the things that I was a little hesitant about earlier on. Namely, it did turn things around regarding some of the morality checks and etc., which often pushed you to chose among a bunch of options that were all bad. And while having to make those kind of no-good-option decisions is real and worthy of exploration in its own right, the game did end up framing many of those as the result of your unconscious (the various voices in your head) trying to actively discourage you from trying, because trying is hard and leads to emotional pain and (at times) self destructive behavior because caring so much in such a deeply broken system just isn't great (or healthy or etc).

But finishing the game for the first time also reminded me that the other big game I played through recently, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, has a pretty big element in common with Disco Elysium—both of the main characters begin the game with amnesia. And both characters have voices in their head who are trying to "help" them navigate the world. In BOTW, the voice is that of Zelda, the princess who is caught in a magical struggle with Ganon and who needs Link to get back in the fight so that they can win.

One of my only complaints with BOTW, actually, was that the game frames Link's quest as one where he rediscovers who he is, and ends up falling rather neatly back into the role that he was in before his near death experience. The game is basically about Link remembering who he was so that he can be that person again. When the game ends, he has put himself back into the same kind of relationship he had with Zelda before. What was lacking here was the chance for Link to define himself outside of that role. Away from Zelda. Away from the expectation that he be the Chosen One and save the day. He doesn't really develop a different personality, and he can't. Which isn't necessarily great, given that he wasn't entirely happy in that role, in that life.

In Disco Elysium, though, Harry's loss of memory is never really framed as something that he'll get back. Where Link recovers his memories and re-becomes himself, Harry is given a lot more freedom to become...anything. Or almost anything at least. He's not on a journey to re-become himself. Rather, that self was obliterated (there are different theories as to why exactly) and the game is a process of growing him/changing him/etc into a different person. Maybe a better person. Maybe not. But it wipes the slate clean so that you can start over, keeping what you like, discarding the rest. The result is a Harry that might be able to live in this world, fight for this world, where the old Harry was just done, completely burned out, etc.

In pure game mechanics, both characters have amnesia for the same reason—to let players decide how they want to focus on powering the characters up. But the results couldn't be more different. Just look at the end results. Players can decide what to focus on in BOTW (grip or hearts), but if players stick with it they reach the conclusion of that, which is the same for everyone. Your Link in BOTW is the same as my Link in BOTW unless you didn't do all the shrines. But Harry...Harry can grow in a lot of different directions, customized by stats, by skills/ability, by thought garden, by copotype and political affiliation. Your Harry is almost certainly different than my Harry.

And that really gets into the themes of the games in some interesting ways, and shows how they use amnesia to pursue two different thematic avenues. For BOTW, the amnesia provides a way for players to come to terms with the fate that's at the heart of Link's character. Though it can be long avoided, the game cannot be beaten until players go after Ganon and take him down. The game is about accepting responsibility, putting aside the exploration and crafting and making good on the prophecy, always with the voice in your head urging you on, assuring you that you're doing the right thing (and kinda laying on a bit of guilt that Zelda has been doing this on her own for so long). Now, you can always just...not. The game doesn't force the player to progress the story, which is nice. You can just avoid the end boss forever. But you are not rewarded narratively for doing so.

Disco Elysium, meanwhile, frames the voices you hear as almost anything but helpful. They are misleading when not outright hostile, trying to convince Harry to give up rather than pursue solving the mystery and learning who he was. But the game also has a ticking clock, a set expiration date, and players really don't have many options other than progressing the story when it comes to things to do. Though the voices discourage Harry from finding out who he is, the game really doesn't let you avoid it without just sort of checking out. Your amnesia becomes part of the mystery you are solving, and so you're rather locked in to solving it, but solving that mystery in fact does not lock you into who you were.

Hilariously, the amnesia in both games is where I find my small but present frustrations with both games. With Link, because he's not allowed to grow beyond what his role was. Isn't allowed to speak, isn't allowed to really go his own way. And with Harry because, for all that the memory loss has wiped the slate clean, you still have to be a cop. And for all that I appreciate a lot about Disco Elysium...ACAB.

But as much as there were things I was ehhhh on, I'm also just interested in how both games took this common video game device (that really is designed to hard bake in world building and exposition) and took so drastically different tracks. And made two such different but wonderful games. So yeah, just sort of stewing with my thoughts and figured I'd share. That's about it for now, though. Stay awesome! Cheers!


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