I’ve spent all week ranting about capitalism, and now I feel abraded by it all, just looking for a soft, warm touch to remind me that the world isn’t a sandstorm of bullshit fully 100% of the time. I just want to make some form of contact with another human being that isn’t motivated by ego or greed, y'know? It seems so rare these days.
I imagine that’s the basic feeling that motivated Hideo Kojima in working on Death Stranding, and why I find the game so soothing. It has an extremely narrow focus on what it wants to say, and I feel like that focus is part of the thesis - it implies often that a more all-encompassing goal is more detrimental than helpful. Disco Elysium has some similar commentary - it continually points out the damage done, often to the most vulnerable individuals, by those who mean well but overlook compassion in their idealism. Both games convey harsh skepticism and fear of the ideologue who trumpets their own righteousness while repeating beat-for-beat the atrocities of their enemies. It’s a perspective that can only come from someone who has seen the realities of various ideologies played out in tank treads across their lawn, the shadows of neighbors burned into their walls. It’s a perspective that says, “You want to save the world? That’s your narcissism talking. What are you doing about the people suffering right in front of you?”
There’s what you say, and there’s what you do, y'know? When those things are in conflict, we say someone’s a hypocrite. But games are hypocritical all the time. “You big hero, you,” the game says, “You deserve seventy-two virgins and a platter of wings for slaughtering all those faceless human beings! Please, select from our custom spread of endings, each one delightfully anti-corporate because that’s what the kids are into these days, but not so anti-corporate as to question the motives of a massive corporation making cute jokes and games out of their ongoing exploitation of you and the world around you!” And then you, the hero, accept your reward, because that’s what heroes do, right? They kill things in return for greater financial rewards than anyone trying to live in this world could possibly accrue, see the civilian population of the world as targets to be hunted and objects to be looted, and this is somehow seen as helping people rather than a predator harvesting prey.
Huh. Doesn’t that sound like… the police? Kind of a tangent, but… huh. So when corporations pay us to be heroes by their standards of heroism, what we end up with is a culture of predators who are allowed to prey upon a population with virtually no limits, so long as they protect the fundamental property rights and power of the man with the biggest gun. Fascinating.
Anyway, I guess what that means is, when we say a game has “ludonarrative dissonance,” its gameplay is in ideological conflict with its message and narrative, what we’re saying is a game has no integrity. It says one thing, and does another.
If it’s easy to fall into that kind of hypocrisy as a corporation, it’s even easier - if usually less dangerous - to do so as an individual. We all fail to live up to our ideals sometimes, usually in ways that are only obvious to ourselves. Not doing this requires focus, care, and close attention to what we’re doing. It’s not automatic, being the person we want to be. You have to choose again to be that person every single minute, every time you have an opportunity to act any other way. You can’t do that fast, or automatically, or thoughtlessly. It requires going slow, being specific, and staying focused.
I’m not always that person. I’d like to be - I’d like to be more patient than I am, and I’d like my brain to not continually try to inject steroids into my ideas and plans, as if everything I do that won’t alter the world as we know it is pointless. That’s part of the miniatures thing too - helps me keep my focus tight. When I get too impatient, I fuck up, and it’s really obvious. No one will fix it unless I think it’s worthwhile. If I decide that my ego is more important - I want to go faster, or I want to do bigger, more exciting things - it won’t get fixed. That’s not a value judgment, it’s just the fact - when I try to satisfy my ego, I make bad art because I’m not trying to make good art, I’m trying to make myself feel good.
It’s not bad or wrong to do things to make myself feel good, that’s not what I’m saying - there are a lot of things I do for that reason. But the things I do to feel good are less good if I’m also trying to accomplish something at the same time, and the things I want to accomplish are less good if I’m concerned with feeling good while doing them. So we gotta do the two separately for best results. Sometimes, when we do it just right and we’re very lucky, both will happen spontaneously at the same time - we do the thing, and it’s great, and it feels good.