If The Third Time’s Not The Charm, What Is?
After the fiasco that was my inability to settle in and enjoy Dishonored 2, I made a promise to relax: to let myself enjoy the next and final(?) game in the series.
And I sorta failed.
Part of a week-long series to close out 2019
Note: spoiler-free for Death of the Outsider
In all senses but one, Death of the Outsider is essentially a stand-alone, tighter expansion of Dishonored 2. You inhabit Billie Lurk (voiced by Rosario Dawson), in her sole purpose to rid the world of the Outsider. She targets this enigmatic figure because he seems to imprudently bestow supernatural Void abilities to those who have fallen the furthest from grace; with the full knowledge that by using their newfound abilities to claw back redemption, they’ll wreak chaos upon the world.
And in many ways, I had hopes that seemed to be answered by Death of the Outsider: the shorter, more focused plotline; a set slate of abilities and verbs from the get-go; and the critical absence of one crucial piece: the chaos system.
The notable lack of this system meant there were no more overarching consequences based on how violently a player made their way through the world. In previous games, any encounter with a non-essential character carried the narrative weight of being penalized, should you choose to act aggressively.
I hypothesized that if the system wanted me to value the lives of these non-essential characters, I should be able to engage these characters like human beings. Without the verbs to do so, I ended up playing much of Dishonored 2 in a purposefully painful way to satisfy this moral dilemma.
I held out hope that this would finally be the Dishonored game to free me from the bonds of expectation. Finally, I could stop caring about violence and its repercussions and simply flex and scatter foes to the wind.
I thought this weight held overhead was the source of my consternation.
Turns out I was full of shit.
Even knowing there was no system actively judging me for the choices I was making, I still carried the expectation that I should move through the world as if there was one.
I wonder if there is something in my conditioning, in how I was raised, that won’t let me break this self-restriction; this self-expectation.
And then I realized I’m just making excuses for myself.
The elitist, purist, masochistic, control-freak, calculating, edgelord in me just doesn’t know yet how to relax and find pleasure in chaos and improvisation and in-the-moment kinesthetic bliss. When given an alternative to give up and try again for some fabricated idea of end-to-end perfection, I’ll take this route each time. And that’s the reality of it.
What is wrong with me actually.
Because this isn’t the only thing that’s engaging about immersive sims. In these clockwork worlds of moving systems and gears and characters, knowledge and preparation and mastery are only one half of the experience. When you twist the simulation to your will, finding the nooks and crannies to weave your way forward unseen without disturbing the pieces at work, you’re untouchable.
But there must also always be a turning point.
And that moment, despite all your knowledge and skill and information, is when the plan fails. All that preparation and calculated-ness goes awry; the simulation now turned against you. You must act as if the stakes are real, and the cinch is whether you believe that lie. That its only through your own wits and inventiveness that you’ll survive and live to tell the tale.
And yet, in seeking perfection I denied this evolution into beautiful disaster from myself, again and again, even knowing that the most memorable experiences in these games come not from pristine execution, but from cascading unintended failures overcome against all odds.
I find myself dwelling on the reality of gratification so delayed that the simple pleasures of the moment elude at every turn. Because we’ve blinded ourselves from any other way of living. That I can keep relying on a do-over to get it perfect the next time;
That perfection even matters.
Maybe that’s why I can’t relax and enjoy these.
Because I’m stuck here thinking that if I work hard enough to become the perfect assassin, I can fix anything, have anything, be anything afterwards.
When all I really wanted was to enjoy the kill.
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A part of me wishes I could have developed this aspect of myself better, playing though Arkane’s games through these years. Alas, it was not meant to be. I’ll still hold the Dishonored games fondly in my heart, and maybe one day; with slight tweaks to future games and with a little more experience under my belt; I’ll become what I’m looking for.