Stories of Resistance Need to Stop Dehumanizing Everyone Who Isn't the Hero


#1

This "the only one" trope of dystopian fiction needs to go, as evidenced by 'Black the Fall'.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/59p435/stories-of-resistance-need-to-stop-dehumanizing-everyone-who-isnt-the-hero

#2

Inside is good. Also it doesn’t do this.


#3

I think the problem comes from the notion of focus, worry of you the player not being happy with just being a small part of a movement. However, this can be changed by playing as with people who are helping in different ways.


#4

Genuinely not cool with games where the resistance is a bunch of talented, intelligent people who all had illustrious pasts before things changed.

This is why Wolfenstein: The New Order is bloody perfect. The main character is certainly “the special” but it’s implied that there is something seriously wrong with him and that he is a force of pure, terrifying violence. Everyone else in the Kreisau circle is either special in ways that would get them shunned from Nazi society or are just regular people fighting against unbeatable odds. There’s nobody to fulfil an archetypal role of “special resistance role no:3#”, they just do whatever they’re best at and that often isn’t enough.

Similarly, you can’t escape the sheer nastiness of the people you’re up against in the New Order. Incidental chatter and collectibles aside, the antagonists are just such memorable people. Sure they’re pure pulp but they all have a motivations beyond generic evil and oppression. Christ that game is good.


#5

True. And it’s also almost the necessary result of the mechanics of many games. So many combat driven games, just have the player-character tearing through so many hundreds of enemies that it would be dissonant if that character wasn’t special in some way. If that character weren’t special, it would raise serious questions about how this oppressive authority at the heart of the dystopia came to the position it’s in with such incompetent personnel who can’t deal with one regular person. In the Star Wars universe, for example, we have to assume that the stormtroopers actually are competent off-camera, and that their incompetence on-screen is due to how special the likes of Luke, Han and Co. are.

This may not be the issue of portraying people as drones that Rob is getting at in the article, but it’s certainly a big part of the construction of the super-soldier protagonist. You’re correct that it definitely helps in games where other characters are understood to be contributing different ways. But that also often leaves me feeling unsatisfied with just being the muscle, so to speak, pointed in a particular direction and told to kill everything in sight. Gordon Freeman, from Half-Life, for example, is supposed to be this brilliant scientist, but really he’s not all that much different from Master Chief.


#6

This is a perspective that applies strongly to politics. Making positive change means having the right people working the levers of power but the primary base of that power should be ordinary people asserting their own humanity.

e.x. the healthcare bill wasn’t defeated by a democrat or a group of democrats playing 12-dimensional chess, it was defeated by activists in ADAPT, DSA, Indivisible and just plain regular folks willing to shut down Senator’s offices and go to jail over it.


#7

Yeah, that game’s radical individualism comes across as really Ayn-Randy to me, and since when would the workers of a fictional communist country not control their means of production?


#8

i know anyone who saw the GB Quick Look will already know this but that game’s original incarnation 3 years ago was… if you haven’t seen that Unfinished from 2014 i’d really recommend go and watching it. i’ve honestly never seen a game change so dramatically from “aping the current aesthetic indie game” to “aping the new current aesthetic indie game by the same company” in the way that Black The Fall did

original Unfinished: https://www.giantbomb.com/videos/unfinished-black-the-fall-07-10-2014/2300-9208/
recent Quick Look: https://www.giantbomb.com/videos/quick-look-black-the-fall/2300-12375/


#9

Wow, thank you for those links jaguar! I had seen Black the Fall compared to Inside before, but had no idea it was aping Limbo in development prior to that…

I’m finding something very off-putting about swerving to hit those Playdead targets so pointedly, and struggling to justify my feelings. As a developer who’s definitely inspired by and references existing works, it would be silly for me to cry “copycat”, but maybe the effort would feel more genuine if the game’s art direction felt more like a BLEND of the different Playdead titles? If superfans of their work took things they liked about both games and blended them, perhaps I’d be nodding my head instead of shaking it right now.

Watching both of those Giant Bomb videos back to back conjures images of a producer watching a trailer for Inside and breaking into a cold sweat, of a small team gathering to play Inside in preparation for a bizarre meeting about how their game needs to be totally redesigned. I’m struggling to picture this as a labor of love.


#10

The first Oddworld game’s about to turn 20, and that might be worth revisiting. The premise is very similar (although the dictatorship is decidedly capitalist). Oddworld clearly delineates the abilities of the player and the workers but emphasizes gameplay that involves meticulous planning to ensure as many workers are rescued as possible. The multiple endings are based on how many you save, and the main character won’t survive without numbers. It’s pretty clear that the game wants to paint you not as a Special, or even a savior, but as a leader, someone who’s actually of use to the oppressed in broken societies.


#11

Oh my god it’s that game! I completely forgot about it and didn’t realize they were the same game. The Inside vibes were already dangerously strong but when you add the fact that it used to be so similar to Limbo it makes me that much more uncomfortable about it. Like Xeneth said, it’s like they wanted to go for Playdead’s aesthetic so when that got updated and improved they uprooted everything to match. It comes off as more than a little skeezy.


#12

I hadn’t given this much thought before, but yeah, it does seem to undermine these narratives almost completely. I think Inside does come pretty close to this, but the (no spoilers) ending manages to subvert it.

It occurs to me that The Force Awakens introduced this problem to Star Wars, since Finn is miraculously the only Stormtrooper to ever have empathy (just because his buddy smears blood on his helmet). It’s kind of a shame, because I think his presence subverts a lot of Star Wars’ lame “Chosen One” stuff. Particularly the way he picks up a lightsaber and gets shit done.

Who knows, maybe Episode VIII or IX will have Finn leading a Stormtrooper resistance!


#13

Specifically how Inside goes out of its way to subvert this exact thing is really cool.


#14

I think a major reason so many stories fall into this trap is because they’re not really about oppression, but use an oppressive government as a metaphor and/or a plot device.

Star Wars falls into it because it’s more about the central characters and the Force, so of course the common folk without Jedi powers are ignored. The Hunger Games and similar YA dystopias use it as a metaphor for how school feels to teenagers, and focuses on special “Chosen Ones” because of how they want to appeal to to teenagers searching for an identity of their own who resent the conformity more than exploitation of regular people.

I would recommend Tyranny for a story that focuses on the actual systems and psychology behind autocratic regimes. I think it took a price drop recently on Steam


#15

Watching some video of it shows it a pretty decent game similar to inside but the character is a little too empowering. Specially the start where you just run away without any real problem and with no reason.


#16

I think that tropes are still tools, and used correctly the “only one” trope definitely has it’s uses. I’m thinking stuff like framing resistance against a totalitarian regime to discuss mental illness e.g anxiety & depression - a topic that’s pretty close to my heart. Sometimes that really does feel like even getting up for work or making a coffee so you can drag yourself out the door feels like a standout act of resistance that no-one else (read no other part of your mind) wants to do, as it’s mired down there in the murky depths. Another good point I saw made earlier in the thread is the appeal of a special resistance member in YA Dystopian fiction, which of course gives a very strong anchor to someone going through high school or your regional equivalent, I don’t think that is bad or dehumanizing - just giving a lever for a young reader to pull and identify with at a time when there is an awful lot of confusion about your identity.

Looking at this game… seems less about that and more about focusing on copycatting a more popular and in vogue body of work, leaving it with readings that either don’t say something coherent, or propose some really flawed ideas.

I guess it cuts both ways, the title is a bit clickbaity (thing NEEDS to not do other thing, you won’t believe what this dog did next!) but eh internet - I’m mostly in agreement with what the article is getting at but as mentioned above, I do disagree with the idea that it’s a binary all or nothing thing, that we as a whole need to stop.


#17

I’m definitely with Zacny on this one. I can’t pretend to offer a deeply sophisticated analysis of this idea in fiction, but I do feel that, politically speaking, ‘the only one’ is a trope that can do a lot of work for unpleasant ends, particularly by framing, as Black the Fall seems to (based on what Zacny was laying out), one individual against a backdrop of dupes and tools. While it is possible to frame this trope in a way that emphasises that someone is representative of something else, it can be easy to miss the point and play into power fantasies.

I feel like there’s something to be said for linking this to bastardised versions of Nietzche’s ‘superman’, but, as I said, I don’t think I have the sophistication to make that link strongly.


#18

There’s an A.V. club article that’s been making rounds on Tumblr—Forget zombies: In young-adult games, the hot new villain is the world itself, spoilers for Night in the Woods, Until Dawn, Life is Strange, Oxenfree—which points out how quite a few games about young adults from the past year or so have as their central conflict a struggle against implacable, callous power that seeks to retrench the world as it is and has been. More than that, though, several of the examples the article lists are specifically about how surviving this constant pressure on your own is near to impossible—they’re about the necessity of recognizing who is suffering along with you and working to fight together. These YA games that read a dystopia into the edges of the world as it is seem, in that aspect, to have a more humane understanding of the people the world hurts than many games which imagine the world replaced with one.


#19

This game’s narrative and aesthetic feel like an incredibly lazy and rehashed aping of 1950s anti-communist propaganda, like someone who read Orwell once and thought he was a genius rather than a complete wanker. The media that does this always has a weird and disgusting contempt for the worker, which is, presumably, why they hate communism so much.


#20

I think your point about YA fiction is a really good observation, but I disagree with The Hunger Games being used as the prime example because I don’t think it really ever embraces the “chosen one” prompt – or at least if it does so, it does so in very specific ways.

I think that The Hunger Games, or at least the later two books is about being a symbol and being perceived as somewhat of a “special” person without actually having the power of one. Throughout the series, Katniss and her peers are constantly being paraded around by both the government and the resistance as these larger-than-life figures that are at alternate timers either trying to quell a rebellion or feed it. They very rarely, however, have any agency behind the scenes and are most often knowing puppets for whichever side happens to have control of them at the moment. When they are actually given some sort of agency, most notably in the fighting sections, often very little happens as a direct consequence of their actions, but instead are filtered through state or rebel media sources and used to one side’s advantage in that way.

With this in mind, that series becomes a lot more about finding ways to enact change within systems outside of your control. Furthermore, I think something central to the series’ philosophy is that the presentation and symbolism of an action matters a lot more the action itself. As such, the only way the protagonists find to actually enact change is through small subversions of their public image. That still might map to the high school metaphor. Appearance is very rarely more important than it is in high school, and it’s also a place where norms on speech and action are often strictly enforced, but I think it maps in a slightly different way than at first blush

I’m pretty sure I went on a rant only tangentially related to the post so I’ll go ahead and wrap it up.