In 'Prey,' I Could Deal with Violent Aliens, but not the Gaslighting


#1

When I booted up Prey for the first time, I chose to play as a woman Morgan Yu because if a game gives me a gender option, I prefer to play that way.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/evazwk/prey-bethesda-women

#2

I feel like the first part of this already answer’s Carli’s question. I played as the male Morgan and a lot of the dynamic just immediately felt like how badly I was spoken to and treated by my own older brother throughout my life. In my own case there’s a ten year age gap between us, and I think that plays a huge role in the family dynamic that does go beyond the siblings’ genders or the “stereotypical” way an older brother treats someone. Growing up I’d see remnants of the same thing between my dad and much younger uncle all the time, my grandparents on their side died when they were relatively young and there was a similar age gap between them.

But I think we also have to look at Arkane’s source material, Total Recall was a big inspiration on the manipulation bits of the story - Bethesda even held screenings of Total Recall to promote the game with folks from Arkane speaking about how important it was to them - a flick about Arnold himself himself getting gaslit, set up, blamed, and manipulated over everything in the movie from start to finish. Neither version of Morgan is an imposing an physical presence like Arnold, but Prey has the same setup of a character who at first, seemingly has it all, their personal world is pretty much perfect until they realize how forces in society (and in the end themselves as well) are fooling them for their own ends. I can’t really appreciate the idea of restricting a story like to any one single gender and was really happy that Prey offered any option at all.


#3

It feels a little like lip service to acknowledge that NB people are frequent targets of gaslighting tactics and then suggest that male Morgan shouldn’t have been in the game when there are certainly NB people (and other trans folks) who picked him because he was somehow closer to their identity.


#4

I’d never heard of “gaslighting” before, but the term definitely describes behavior I’ve experienced and, admittedly, committed myself.

As a caveat, I haven’t played Prey myself yet, but based on your description of the gaslighting in the game, I’m not sure why you think it’s only commenting on the experience of women or non-binary persons. I’m not going to say men are the victims of gaslighting as much as women. As the group traditionally in power, I’m sure men have been the perpetrators a disproportionate amount.

While I don’t think you meant to say cis men don’t experience gaslighting, I do think your statement, “All of this is to say that Alex treats Morgan less like a little brother and more like a stereotypical little sister,” at least misrepresents the little brother/big brother dynamic. As a little brother myself (and the youngest in my family up through all my first cousins as well), I absolutely experienced what could be described as gaslighting. Heck, my brother still patronizes me, dismisses my opinions and tries to talk over me all the time.

As for my own bad behavior, when I was in high school my mom and I moved into her boyfriend’s house, giving me the opportunity to act as a de facto older brother to his youngest son. You’d think I’d be better than my older brother, having been the target of his bullying myself, but I still wound up treating him “like a nuisance, not like an equal,” although I like to think our relationship is better now as adults.

In pop culture, you really need look no further than Malcolm in the Middle for a depiction of what’s to many the big brother/little brother dynamic. All of the brothers in that show put down the next youngest brother, with Francis at the top as the cool, oldest brother who constantly tries to manipulate his brothers’ perceptions in his favor. I won’t say gaslighting happens more often in brothers than it does between a brother and a sister, but I do think it’s prevalent enough that plenty of men can relate too.

More recently than my family experiences, at my first “professional” job out of college, the female owner of the company absolutely gaslighted me and everyone on her staff. She primarily hired young professionals, preying on our inexperience to try to pass off the horrible work conditions and her obscene behavior as not just normal, but preferable to a corporate culture.

Based on how you describe this game, it sounds like my own experiences with gaslighting could help me relate to Prey’s story and character, regardless of which gender I play as. I’m sure there are additional wrinkles of meaning for women and non-binary players thanks to the particularities of their experiences with personal and systemic gaslighting, but it doesn’t sound like the game is intended to exclusively cater to those experiences.

There could have been merit in honing in on those experiences specifically, of course. But I often find in criticism that when you arrive at the question, “Why doesn’t this text yield fully to my interpretation?” the answer is simply that the interpretation doesn’t fully encapsulate the intended meaning. Arkane may have painted a broader picture so as to cater to a broader audience. Developers should focus on the experiences of women and non-binary peoples more, and I think your article is a useful reminder of that. I just don’t think Arkane is necessarily wrong for not doing so here.


#5

As someone who hasn’t played, is there any in-game indication of male Morgan’s sexual identity? Sure, he’s depicted as a male, but if the game doesn’t explicitly state his sexuality, a lot of non-binary people could still conceivably prefer to use him as their avatar.


#6

Male Morgan (or MM as I will call him) doesn’t fit into the Prey narrative because the story is about the experience of being a woman. At the very least, it’s a story about oppressed and marginalized groups.

I mean…Morgan is a person of color though? As an Asian man I feel like I get ignored/not listened to plenty by society.


#7

So I think there are good reasons above for how Man-Morgan (MM) still preserves those themes of gaslighting, though I can definitely see how and why making Morgan canonically a woman would heighten these elements of abuse, power disparity, and gender that are already present in the text.

But I also got a lot of value out of playing MM for other reasons. Like, for me the game begins almost as a story of the rightful prince returning to the palace and to correct his wicked brother’s misrule. It’s easy to think, right from that start, that you are a victim in all this. The wool was pulled over your eyes while your company went fully past the ethical event horizon. You would never have let this happen.

And then starting in the second act and for the rest of the game, Prey is asking, “But what if you would have? What if you not only let it happen, but were an active agent in making it happen?”

Because playing it as MM, Prey became a story about privilege, permission, and the way we can find ourselves implicated in things we find repugnant. Alex’s blame his harangues over the radio certainly smacked of gaslighting, but there more I learned about MM prior to the game’s beginning, the more I started to wonder if Alex wasn’t merely MM’s first victim. Someone who could be twisted into playing the wicked advisor while Morgan continued to be the popular corporate prince.

I don’t know to what extent my experience is “right” or canonical. But I think the different dynamics around MM are to Prey’s credit overall. Because in a game that’s as much about capitalism and violence as it is about gender, I like that there’s a version of this story where Morgan himself, in his arrogance and facile manipulations, is the monster that destroyed Talos I.


#8

It’s interesting that the author saw Alex as becoming more and more of an antagonist as the game went along. Because the more I played, and the more I realized Morgan’s own implication in the events preceding the game, the more I realized Alex had been placed in an unwinnable situation. He is literally doing what Morgan asked him to do. And I don’t doubt there was some pregame conversation in which Morgan told Alex, “No matter what I say or do after the neuromod implant, this is what I want you to do.”

So Alex was stuck in the situation of having to support new, mind-wiped Morgan, or old, sound-mind Morgan. He chose the way he thought Morgan would’ve wanted him to.

Then there’s the final reveal, in which we learn that Alex’s proddings were specifically designed to see how much Morgan would resist, and now I don’t know what to think.

Edit: typos


#9

Canonically making Morgan a woman seems beside the point, because the power dynamic isn’t at the disadvantage of the character you’re playing. I wonder how the gaslighting of Alex and January works in the case of a fantasy scenario in which Yu retains full, absolute control ? The only tangible Yu is the one you see in audio or video feed, and they are the one gaslighting you. They’re gaslighting themself.

All the actions of (real) Yu that are tangible and not player-made shows how much of a lack of empathy they possess for everything. Empathy is the ultimate thing that is being sought in Prey, the only thing that separates humans from typhons, but it’s deeply missing in the character. Can you gaslight a psychopath ?

Morgan doesn’t seem they can be the victim when they have the power to decide over all. Can you find appreciation of gender dynamics and how it relates when Yu when they are at an incredible level of privilege? Despite the character that you play, you own Yu’s identity, as well as the professional and social power that they hold over everyone. This will always matter regardless of the situation you find yourself in, like as an alien invasion. I don’t feel the gaslighting stem from Alex to Yu, but from Yu to the player. Morgan makes you think the decisions you make as them matters, because it would somehow infer that they could have empathy, or they can be preyed upon by other people. Yu simply cannot be believed, even by the person who took their identity.

If anything, Yu should critically be seen through the relationship that they have with Mikhaila Ilyushin, in which Yu was having a deliberate relationship with the woman whose father was willingly killed by them. Morgan is an manipulator that extends even beyond the simulation their memories has been put in. The very idea that you have to make decisions that Yu refused to make or to even acknowledge as worth making, in their stead, is manipulative.


#10

I can’t help but think that if the story more overtly focussed on gaslighting it would lose a great deal of its complexity. As is, every character you meet with any agency or knowledge of the situation could be considered your gaslighter, not just the older brother in a gendered power dynamic. Likewise, they could all just be spilling their truths. In fact, Morgan might be the gaslighter, the manipulative central personality whose superior charisma and passion we get snippets of throughout the game. My reading of the game had much more in common with classic tragedy than contemporary abuse narratives: I was the mastermind and it was my machinations that blew up in my face.

In the end, my Alex wasn’t much more in control than January or December. Just another pawn of Yu. (lol puns.)

I am now interested to replay as a woman and see what changes the voice actor brings to my interpretation.


#11

I’m gonna assume it’s cool not to spoiler text, mmk? Spoilers ahead:

Of course, the author of this article is entitled to interpret the game however they like, but it never even once occurred to me that a theme of the game was being marginalized when I was playing it. I will be honest that I find it kind of, strange? That the author would say that, because they viewed gaslighting as a theme of the game, the player character should be female. (Especially if the creators did not intend that theme.) I really think this kind of comes down to player preference.

@Frusti I think the word choice was bad here; I think she’s referring to the specific power dynamic between Morgan and their brother. They are both Asian, and in this way, the power dynamic is less dependent on race as it is gender or age. That was my interpretation of the text, though!

I would actually like to disagree with the author that what Alex is doing is gaslighting. In the same way, I don’t think January is gaslighting Morgan. It becomes very evident that Morgan’s identity itself changed. A major theme in the game is the changing of personality. They are both presenting and encouraging what they view as Morgan’s true identity and personality. They pick and choose what reaffirms their prerogatives and preconceptions of who Morgan is, and present it to Morgan to show them who they are. To me, this seems less like gaslighting and more like misguided behavior. It might be just that I’ve never encountered this type of gaslighting before. Maybe it is gaslighting! I would have to look into this. But if it is gaslighting, then January is gaslighting Morgan in similar ways, right? I mean, although they are not using any social power dynamics (again, I really never noticed this when playing the game myself), they are still withholding information (killing December) and constantly asking you to question your memory and identity in order to influence your choices. How is that different from what Alex is doing?

Interesting read!