I’ve had so many opportunities to be the villain in role-playing games, but I rarely take the bait. I have never freed anyone from their misery if I can fix it instead. When I see a debt collector harassing a disturbed old man, I always come to the old man’s aid.
Election-based RPGs like Dragon Age: Origins or The Outer Worlds often give me the opportunity to be the “bad guy” or at least the far more pragmatic one, but I’m a softie. Being bad never feels particularly funny or fair to me. I enjoy being the honorable influence in every new environment.
At least that’s how I felt until the Disco Elysium. This is the first game in which I am hungry to find the worst solution to a problem. I hit a child and it wasn’t even justified. When my poor, overworked partner offered me the use of his vehicle, I called a poor barmaid through the dashboard, whom I had previously bothered during a bend. She was fed up with my shit, but I had some justifications for drinking, parrot attacking, screaming and eventual stripping.
When I see the chance to beg for money, I go behind like a dog with bones.
The beast is totally unleashed because I can’t get enough of being an absolute asshole. I am a tornado that runs through the city of Revachol, but I can’t help but admire the developers of Disco Elysium, ZA / UM, for making such a chaotic path through the sandpit.
I am a whirlwind of chaos in Revachol. Picture: ZA / UM
Good cop, bad cop
In Disco Elysium I take on the role of a detective who wakes up after a long time without remembering who I am or what I am doing here. I want to investigate a murder, and the city of Revachol is just so different from the real world that it gives a surreal, imaginative tone to the whole dirty affair. My poor police partner is doing his best to keep me together, but it’s like pulling a tornado. He tries, but is unfortunately not equipped and underpaid to deal with a catastrophe of my size.
Of course there is an upper limit on how good I can be. I not only work in the complex systems of a revolutionary society, I am also in a terrible condition. I almost had a heart attack and was on the verge of death trying to pull my tie off the rotating blades of a fan. Very few of my decisions are based on clearly marked binary decisions. Instead, Disco Elysium asks me to define my detective’s morale by internalizing concepts he encounters in the world.
This complex concept is well explained in Disco Elysium’s polygon review: “As you work through Disco Elysium, ideas are unlocked when interacting with the world before they are added to your inventory as articles. For example, if you choose to speak positively about women on a regular basis, you can unlock the “idea” of feminism. You can put this idea into an active slot to think about it and give yourself a set of buffs until it is internalized and its values change. “
My detective’s choices depend not only on what he meets, but also who he is.
Sometimes my cop is a naked person. Picture: ZA / UM
It’s a fascinating way to approach an RPG, especially if you take the time and really explore the world around you.
When I played through it for the first time, I didn’t do that at all. Instead, I was given the opportunity to walk the path of the Hobocops, a policeman who is happy to be released from polite society and reside under dumpsters. From then on things deteriorated rapidly and the first day of my murder investigation ended with a rented phone at my police station that literally made everyone I work with laughing when they mocked and mocked me.
OK, sure, I had to call because I couldn’t find my badge. Or my weapon. And my tie spoke to me? I also had to fish to find out what my name was, but it was a little hard to sit on the speakerphone so the whole department could laugh at my predicament. So yes, I shot back and hinted that I slept with a man’s mother. I do not regret it. I didn’t choose to be an asshole. The game just created a situation where it felt natural and maybe a little justified, and I took it from there.
I also didn’t have a bed to sleep in because I couldn’t pay the fees my alcohol-fueled bender had to pay.
shades of grey
The truth is that my Disco Elysium detective was objectively a pretty bad person – at least no one in his right mind would want to spend time with him. But I enjoyed the opportunity to play as him and I never flinched from my self-determined path of becoming an absolute disaster or maybe just being.
The truth is, I often find moral systems and factions in RPGs a difficult thing for developers to do really and effectively. It is an incredibly tough balancing act.
I liked the four different factions in Fallout: New Vegas, each with their own ending conditions for my story in post-apocalyptic Nevada. In Dragon Age: Origins, I could be as cruel as I wanted and turn the Gray Guardian order into a mockery of their noble intentions. In Mass Effect I was able to play Renegade Shepard and fight my way through the galaxy, cut through bureaucracy and switch off everyone.
Although these options are available, I rarely chose them because they often feel so cruel. In Dragon Age: Origins, a member of the Guardians who failed his initiation crawled towards me and tried to warn me of a threat. During my first run I helped him to the best of my ability. In my second run, I chose the nasty option that squeezed his head. Everyone who traveled with me hated that. I hated it! It was so brutal and unnecessary, and the idea of making my escapism escaped a murderous warlord didn’t feel good.
Hell yeah: it’s time to be rude. Image: ZA / UM
In Mass Effect, Renegade can appear across the map. I definitely made some Renegade decisions, like shooting a gas tank right under a villain as he paced the catwalk and delivered his big speech. There are times in the trilogy when Renegade presents a number of pragmatic, ruthless options. There are other times when it feels like the developers intended it to be the bad guy way. I can get my Shepard to struggle through social problems, e.g. For example, knocking out a reporter or killing the victim of a hideous alien attack that is scared and makes fun of nonsense. Paragon feels more consistent. I’m a big fucking hero doing the right thing, even under seemingly impossible circumstances.
And then there are only evil factions that have no redeeming properties. Caesar’s Legion are misogynist imperialists who run murder lotteries and execute people to detect the slightest degeneration. Why should my courier support her?
I don’t mean to imply that the systems are bad or poorly implemented. You just didn’t tickle me very much. I had a lot of fun with these games, but I have always played the role of good. It was the most fun for me to do the right thing and to help the needy.
Always mean and chaotic
Disco Elysium is the first game I’ve played for quite some time and I don’t immediately choose the most altruistic option. Instead, I tend to be a massive garbage disaster that everyone around me hates. Being a hot mess is an easier pill to swallow than a sociopath and opens up fantastic opportunities for role-playing. And it works because the game provides reasons for my slow or maybe quick breakdown into total self-absorption. I’m not trying to be a good guy or a bad guy – I’m just trying to hold out, and sometimes that means becoming a complete asshole just to be able to play the hand that gave me the game. And reader, I’m here for it.
It helps that ZA / UM has done a fantastic job and supports many roleplaying options. I’m not just a hobo cop, I’m also a tough communist. Revachol is a city that was built years ago from the bones of a failed uprising. The Communists rose, they fought and they lost. Now I am making a futile one-man attempt to rekindle this fire with their philosophy. It is an attitude that causes pity and contempt for everyone else.
Writing is really fun, but my decisions also mean that I am often the target of this humor. And so my hot mess approach has developed into a real bitterness that I play. It’s not about good or bad, wrong or right – it’s about my cop’s place in a complicated world and how he deals with it. And I treat it very badly, to the detriment of my fellow human beings.
Well, if you excuse me, I have a grudge against a parrot that I have to take care of.