February 25, 2015

Those Who Came Before: Transistor and Community

In a lot of ways, games are power fantasies. Okay, okay, not all games, but many of them hinge on that sort of power trip. It’s you, the player, who are the center, who the world revolves around. It’s you, by your own power, who solves the problem and saves the day. There’s a real joy in that, too. But it’s often losing sight of how these things really work. Behind every hero of any type, there is an almost indescribable amount of support and help. For every leader, there’s a script writer, or a team of advisors, for example. Games don’t often represent that very well. There’s often a network of other characters represented, whether in your party or in the world, and perhaps they give you quests, but in the end, it’s the character’s strength that gets them through. You get the feeling that even without them being around, this hero would succeed, and even if that wasn’t the case, if the boss wouldn’t be beaten without the other party members, it’s still the hero giving the orders and calling the shots. It’s their victory.

In Transistor, it’s the social connection to those who came before and those we know that forms the backbone of true power. Transistor represents this in its mechanics, art, and music the entire way through, and in doing so it creates a hero in Red that feels real. Or at least as real as a lady with a magic cybersword with her boyfriend in it can feel. And that means something, at least to me.

Transistor’s mechanics and combat are based upon functions. These functions are all tied to someone, some character from the past or present. Some of these characters Red knows, like her lover, but many of them she does not. It doesn’t matter. She gathers power from all of them, and it is because of these people, and what they represent, that she succeeds.

Alone, Red only has Crash(). Crash() is fine. A useful tool. But with just Crash(), battles would be much harder to downright impossible. So she gets help. Bounce() from her lover. Spark() from Lillian Platt. And so on and so forth. And as she learns the other ways their influence can help her, equipped in different slots, she learns more about them. What they did and why they are important open up to her, and she understands.

We’re all built up like this. I am the product of many influences. There is a strength that is uniquely my own, but many of my good qualities come from those around me and those who came before me. It’s easy to know how those people who are close to me, my family and friends, have affected me. It’s clear how they help me everyday and inspire me. But I am helped as well by those in the past, who fought for things I now take for granted. An author I never read touches an author I did, and my life enriched. Someone fighting against oppression before my time has influence that still makes my life better, whether I know it or not. It’s only as I learn about how much they’ve done for me that I even know they exist. And even those I don’t know have done so much for me, I can’t even say. If I have any power, it’s from them. And it’s this kind of structure that gives Red her power in the game.

The entire world of Transistor is built around this. Cloudbank is a city that is powered by the thoughts and actions of its citizens. Everything, from the structure of the city to the weather, is done, in theory, together. It’s an impressive power, this lineage. You see no other people in the game besides the villains, but Red is never alone. Red walks with this strength of those behind her. She doesn’t wield the Transistor. It drags behind her, doing the best impression of walking hand in hand with her that a sword can manage. It’s teamwork, through and through.

The Camerata, of course, figures they can control that power and that lineage, and use it for what they want. Royce doesn’t walk hand in hand with what the Transistor represents. He holds it like a sword. He uses it as a weapon. But the Camerata fail, even before Red is in the picture, and they fail because they trusted in their own power, and theirs alone. They were alone, and thus, they were powerless. Red, even with her voice gone, makes change happen because she is not alone. It’s really wonderful.

In the end, Red could take full control of Cloudbank. It would be easy. But she doesn’t, because it’s not her power. It belongs to everyone. And in the end, she joins everyone, and adds her power to the multitude of voices in the Transistor and in Cloudbank. She leaves the flaws and the problems just as they are, and it’s from those flaws that people will continue to grow.

Red is a hero who is not a chosen one. She doesn’t have some special thing about her that makes her the only person who can save Cloudbank. But what she does have is a trust in those who fought before her, and still fight, through the echos of their actions. That is a power way better than her own personal strength. “We All Become One,” the song goes. Our actions, our struggles, combine to create something greater than us. Transistor is about that, and that celebration of community is a welcome sight.

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