Welcome back for Part Two of the Video Game Literary Classics Collaboration! This week we leave the bright, optimistic plains of Nippon and Hyrule of Part One behind and head into ancient kingdoms steeped in shadow and futures full of technology gone wrong. Thank you to my better half, Connor, for assisting with some of these titles that he has played and I have not. Let’s take a look at the next set of classics selected by the gaming blogger community!
Chosen by Aaron – This is Art Not Real Life
Themes: Oblique storytelling, the hero’s journey, failure and perseverance, player interpretation
Dark Souls drops the player into a crumbling land inhabited by insane undead and faded gods and kings as a decidedly un-special undead who has been thrown into a cell to await the end of the world. The game gives only very loose direction on what the player should do in this hostile and unforgiving environment, and every individual the player interacts with has their own motives and story.
It’s left to the player to forge a purpose to fight on, which is implicitly what differentiates sane undead from the insensate hollows they fight. In his post, Aaron meditates on the role of transient failure, perseverance, and overcoming adversity through self-improvement in Dark Souls‘s storytelling and thematic direction.
[ENDING SPOILER WARNING]
Chosen by Varian – Between Stars Unknown
Themes: Tragedy, player agency, oblique storytelling
Hollow Knight takes a similar narrative approach as Dark Souls, starting the player with nothing to direct them besides their own curiosity and breadcrumbs of the story that they collect over time. The game takes place primarily within Hallownest, a once-grand underground kingdom of insects which is slowly succumbing to an infection of madness.
It’s up to the player to explore the hazardous remains of Hallownest to find their past and their purpose. Varian discusses free will and the tragedy of Hallownest’s fall.
Chosen by Chris – OverThinkery
Themes: Philosophy, humanism, purpose, AI ethics, player interpretation
In Nier: Automata, the player inhabits the circuitry of androids created by humanity as weapons in an apocalyptic war against machines of alien origin. The player is told that neither the aliens nor the humans have had any visible presence on Earth in centuries. The humans have fled to the moon, and the aliens are in hiding, making the war between androids and machines fully proxy – self-replicating automata fighting endlessly in the name of their absent creators in the bombed-out and overgrown remains of human civilization.
Chris proposed a half dozen nominations for video game classics, but I think the extensive literary and philosophical grounding and viewpoints explicit and implicit in Nier: Automata‘s make it the best choice from his list for academic analysis.
Detroit Become Human
Chosen by Naithin – Time to Loot
Themes: Definition of being human, minority treatment, prejudice, civil rights, social issues
Speaking of androids, Detroit Become Human shows us a much nearer future where it is common place for humans to own AI Android servants. These Androids, similar to humans in all by physiology, are built by humans and given consciousness only to be owned. They perform menial labor, must sit at the back of the bus, are abused without consequence, etc. They have no rights whatsoever.
The game is not shy about making obvious parallels to historical civil rights violations in America’s past and its handling of these callbacks has been very controversial in video game media. Naithin suggests that Detroit Become Human could be the catalyst for some deep discussion centering around portrayal of racial discord and how such discourse is approached by video game developers.
SOMA [Early story spoilers]
Chosen by Thomas – Quietschisto
Themes: Definition of being human, AI ethics, player agency, moral choice
In SOMA you play as a fellow named Simon who undergoes a brain scan one moment in his own time and the next wakes up almost 100 years later. Congrats, you’ve made it to post-apocalypse Earth! Human minds are being preserved via a technological “ARK” by the remaining survivors living at the bottom of the sea and AI has gone rogue in its quest to keep humans from completely dying off. The “people” you’ll meet are an enigma of sentience for you to decipher in this horror-thriller-mystery.
Thomas brings up some thought provoking questions about the nature of being human and the best way to handle the denizens of SOMA. Where does one draw the line between self interest and importance of another life? Without providing definitive closure, SOMA’s message is left completely open to player interpretation.
In next week’s Part Three, we’ll check out the last set of gaming blogger submissions with a wide range of themes! Please be sure to check out the linked articles and drop the bloggers a comment if you liked their contribution.
Thanks for reading!
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