Friday 23 January, 2015
Lists. I think all I do is assemble lists of things that I need more of to keep my characters alive. Physical lists, scrawled on whatever paper I can find, often in what look more a cuneiform than English. Day 11. "4 gears [I don't even bother to write the actual names], 6+ wood, parts++." Day 12. "Food." The hard days are made evident by the brevity of their lists. It wasn't until day 12 that I noticed the "Some thoughts" section on the menu screen. I don't know if had been there all along, but suddenly, these characters were real, writing notes about the struggles that they (we) were facing, and it all seemed so real.
I made my first kill today. I didn't mean to, really. It's just that Pavle finally was in perfect condition--no wounds, no cough, full rested and fed--and I wanted to give him a chance to go out (in part, to be honest, so that Marko could have a day of much needed rest). I also knew at that point that I was going to have to steal--like confront people and steal right in front of them--and since Pavle was a fast runner, I figured he could grab the goods and hightail it out of there without any problem. Cue theft, Pavle went into combat mode (unarmed, mind you), and the two guys whose stuff I had taken did the same. For the first 5 seconds, I fumbled around trying to figure out how to run away, and they Pavle once, twice. A fist appeared over one, and I thoughtm "Maybe I can knock him back and then run," so I swung. The guy came at me again and swung, but after all that time of putting up with Pavle--of bandaging his almost ever-present wounds, of feeding him despite the fact that he could only lay in bed all day, of expending meds exclusively on him and in great quantities--I wasn't going to let him die to a bum in a bombed out school over a couple of tins of canned food. So I swung again, and the guy fell, and Pavle was suddenly a killer, and then Pavle was suddenly gone. The other guy had struck him from behind, and Pavle died. And it was only then that I noticed that Steam had given me an achievement: "First Kill," as if it were something to be glad about.
I can't get over the other characters' responses when they got back. Some of it, admittedly, was pretty corny, and it kind of broke the immersion for them to shout things like, "I can't believe Pavle's dead." It all felt too sanitized, as if Pavle were a cat from down the lane or a plant growing in the corner. All of my remaining characters were sad, and Marko was still in pretty rough shape, but he had the largest bag, and he had proven successful so many times before, so I sent him out to retrieve the things Pavle would have left. I guess I didn't think about the consequences that would have on Marko--I just knew that we were going to die without those supplies, so I packed up a few things and headed back to the school.
This time, though, preparing took on a different meaning. As I looked at my gear and remembered Pavle's untimely end, I hesitated on the knife for a moment before moving it into my pack. I knew then that the fact that I was taking the knife mean that I was willing to kill with that knife--I knew I was putting Marko's life above that of the bum in the school, but I also knew that everyone was depending on Marko. He had held the group together for so long, and he would carry them through this rough patch as well. I found Pavle, and I killed the hobo. And then the loot option popped up on the hobo. I was stunned, wondering if that could really be what I thought it was, and sure enough, when I looted the body, I picked up an item or two. And then, the sick, discouraged part of me that was lost somewhere in the game thought to itself, "Gee, if one hobo has stuff to loot, maybe the others have stuff on them, too." War changes the way you think about people. It makes you and them less human, and you kind of have to become okay with that.
When Marko got back, he wouldn't move from the entry way. He sat down and stared and wouldn't move. The trader came by, and Marko sat, depressed and broken. Marin played music on the radio, and Bruno made food--good food--but Marko just sat and stared. I don't know that it really even dawned on me what had happened: I knew Pavle had died, and they all "knew" Pavle had died, so I didn't really think about the fact that Marko, should he return to the school, would see his friend's body for the first time. I didn't realize it would break him. But when Bruno said, "Marko will never forget this..." I knew I had made a big mistake, and I felt terrible. Marko had held the team together that whole time--he was the strong one, the one who kept everyone else alive--and then he was gone, the shell left over after the angel moth flies away.
I think it's clear by now that this game invites deep connection with its characters and handles mood and personality in unique and innovative ways. I honestly didn't expect half of the psychological twists or responses that I've witnessed playing this game, and I'm loving the new experience. I'm also realizing that when survival is on the line, a lot of the time, it's easier to focus on physical health, but emotional and psychological health can sometimes be even more important and in much more profound disarray. Someone once said that war is a thing that gives us meaning, but the more I encounter war--whether through video games, film, or literature--I find that it often robs us of even the most basic meanings. It deprives us of whatever humanity we have salvaged from childhood and gives us instead pain, loss, sadness, and an unceasing hunger of both body and soul.
I don't know what to say about this game more than that it is amazing. I have loved it so far, and I grow more attached to it with each day that I play: more endeared to its rich narrative, its emergent play style, its unique psychological approach, its beautiful artwork and music, and perhaps more than anything, I have fallen in love with the beautiful truths scattered in the ashes and rubble of this bitter war of mine.