March 31, 2010

Extra for Daily Reporter: A Deadly Premonition Story Discussion

Well, I beat it. I was unsure if I was going to, but I totally completely completed DEADLY PREMONITION.

I liked it.

I say that with some warnings. This really isn’t a good game mechanically. The open world stuff is tedious. The shooting is awful. It has some strangely-compelling voice acting, but that’s basically it for any sort of decent budget feel to the game. These are all written off by it being a shitty game. “Who cares? It’s crap.”

For some reason, though, I cared. There are elements to the plot that make it seem like everything in the game is working towards something. It gives the impression that there is an overall vision to the game which will make all these weird-ass elements make sense. It made me interpret what was going on as I went along, and then, at the end, it threw a plot twist that, if I hadn’t been looking at the game the way I was, wouldn’t have meant anything, but has, instead, left me reeling and unsure.

Okay, time to talk about the story, so, you know, spoilers ahead.

Agent Francis York Morgan is constantly talking to Zach. It’s obvious very early on that Zach is an alternate personality. York treats him as such. It’s obvious. However, since you’re controlling York, it seems like Zach is a stand in for the player. When you stop the car to pick up a collectible or something, York goes, “Is there something you want to check out here, Zach?” Since I, the player, was the person who made the decision to stop, it seems pretty clear that Zach = Me.
I was going through the whole game thinking of it this way. York is crazy because he has a game-player in his head. That’s why the world is so very “game-y.” That’s why there are enemies in sequences where combat makes no sense at all. That’s why the game looks like an old school PS1 game, because that makes it feel all the more “game-like,” instead of the more structured experiences you find nowadays. That’s why the things anyone does every day, sleeping and eating, are shown as game systems, even though they are, overall, completely inconsequential to playing the game. It’s still something that one would be aware of, and it’s being shown in a video game way, because I am a creature of video games influencing York.

Then the game makes you play as Emily.

At first, I didn’t realize the significance of this. The game still flipped back to York whenever he talked with Zach. It never seemed to miss a beat. I assumed York’s special brand of insanity, namely me, was rubbing off on his love interest. But what this really meant, as was made clear by the ending, was that I, the player, wasn’t Zach at all. Zach was a character in the game. And in the end game, when it becomes clear that Zach is a character, and not the player as character, well, it turns basically my whole interpretation of the game upside down. No longer is the game a commentary about how insane most video game protagonists are, if you look at them from a more normal viewpoint. It’s now a completely different story, and I don’t quite know how to grok it.

Additionally, Kaysen, the last boss, not only refers to the various locations you go to in York and Zach’s mind like they were real locations he can know about, but Harry, as well, refers to those places as real locations. It’s making the supernatural elements of the game real (well, besides the conceit of the purple gas which drives people to rage, which honestly, I can be okay with. The red trees that instantly consume women they are stuck into? Well, I put that into the “insanity” folder) for reasons I don’t quite understand. It also throws in the idea that Kaysen is some sort of Highlander or something, who doesn’t age, right at the end too. I don’t understand the significance of this, either.

Is the game really just a batshit insane experience, with no real purpose?

Again, I may be giving the game too much credit, but it seems like my original explanation could still hold true with the ending. Making Zach a character rips identity away from the player, making the player relive, in a certain sense, the sort of drama of loss of self which young Zach felt all those years ago. It’s also the point where the player loses all control over the story. Sure, there are some boss battles after that point, but from then on, it’s mostly cutscenes. Even most of the final boss battle is scripted heavily. It’s no longer your story, because you are no longer Zach. He’s taken it away from the player, and dammit, it can be as insane as he wants it to be, now that it’s not a video game fever dream, but his story.

But I’m probably just being too English major-y with it.

Still, it’s the fact that I was constantly thinking about interpretations and trying to figure out what it all could mean that kept me playing all the way through the end. On that level, this game was a huge success.

I liked it a lot. I can’t recommend that everyone play it, but I really did enjoy it.

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