Revengeance Data Storage – #11 Freedom & Despair, Empathy & Moral Responsibility

Raiden is confronted about the legitimacy of his actions. It’s time!

[Stop at 1:17:28]

In light of this cutscene, some of my past entries probably sounded entirely too obvious to those who had already gone through the game before reading them – remember, I am writing these as I play. The cutscene makes explicit themes that I have highlighted from the start: Raiden’s excessive use of violence, his refusal to recognize his enemies as humans, his past as a child soldier being relevant (Sam, tellingly, calls him Jack, an identity Raiden has rejected), how ideology distorts our perception of value and importance (People are “too busy fretting over money or sex, religion, fame”), the ‘one-man army’ simplistic power fantasy (“Gonna fix everything, just you and your little sword there. Solve everything with violence, is that it?”), the implied player (i.e. the player the game expects and presupposes, the “Average Joe”) as an extension of Raiden – which also means that all criticism directed at Raiden can be extended to the player (“Play savior[…] and what? Earn a medal?” where a medal for the player is an achievement, or a rank at the end of a level.)

“No matter how many Mexican kids we cut or Africans we bury, the first world looks away. No one gives a shit.” This indifference exists in a literal sense, to the extent that it is even trite to point it out, but it is also manifested in how easy it is for us to forget that our enemies (and, in general, the Other) “are still humans.” And this repressed guilt concerning the ease with which we ignore information that we do have or have access to, is beautifully represented by Sam’s face appearing in every screen around Raiden, effectively surrounding him and haunting him. Now that Raiden’s unconscious is bubbling over, impossible to repress and ignore any further, every ad and slogan and corporation, every distraction and ideology we have ever bought into turns into Sam, shattering the comfortable illusion. (Funny that he should most prominently take the place of a bottle of wine in the middle of the square. Drink to forget and all that.)

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this episode, is how it challenges the concept of agency through that of power. Raiden, consistently with his belief that he is his own man, self-made and genuine, not influenced by his context, upbringing and surroundings, naively claims that the soldiers he has killed were “adults. They made their choice.” Instead, Sam denies that most people are able to make meaningful choices, as genuine expressions of themselves.

For a game with a cast so white-washed and so male-dominated, JetStream Sam is surprisingly aware of the variety of political and socio-economic circumstances that have pushed those soldiers to sign up as mercenaries, independently from their moral beliefs or the ethical profile of their employer. Those people were powerless, and they felt like they had no other choice, outside of lying down and dying. Whether this is accurate or not, whether there was another way for them to provide for themselves and their families or not, that was how they perceived their situation. As such, in a very real way, they haven’t made any meaningful choices, at least not in a way that leads to strong moral responsibility as Raiden intends it. We can see once again that poverty and powerlessness effectively translate to reduced possibilities and choices, up to and including having no choice at all aside from dying.

But even those who have some degree of power are often blind-sided into making certain choices. Without getting into complex debates of nature vs nurture, both “the Average Joe” and Raiden (and the implied player?) made choices that would elicit moral disgust in themselves, if questioned and pressed about them, like Sam is pressing Raiden in the cutscene. And his moral responsibility is debatable, insofar as he had honestly not realized what he was doing. The Average Joe hasn’t consciously chosen to ignore the suffering of others, he has just been educated in a certain way. After all, ideology is our natural state. If this is true, attributing moral responsibility becomes a more complex matter than in Raiden’s simplistic, reductive view.

There is a beautiful juxtaposition between the senses of vision and hearing. “Open your eye and see” says Sam, but Raiden replies “I’ve seen plenty.” Sam switches to a different metaphor: “Then listen. Those battlefield emotions that the [nanomachines] suppress… listen to them.” Seeing often stops to appearances. Seeing is also, in a way, active, and exclusionary: we see some things, we exclude others, we choose what to look at and what not to pay attention to. Listening characterizes a much more open and receptive attitude. We cannot choose what to listen to: as long as there are sounds, we will hear them. What Sam is effectively encouraging Raiden to do is putting himself aside for a second, with his own pre-existing beliefs and information and his sense of purpose – in a word, his ideology. He is asking Raiden, and the player, to exercise his atrophying sense of empathy, to care instead of being indifferent, to stare the horror in the eye (unlike the rhetoric that bypasses thoughtful examination and compels to action.)

In doing that, Raiden’s mental defences are shattered. He loses the fight, until he is so afraid to die that he reacts, and his superior combat training takes over (also, the player takes over the cutscene) and he lives. Still, after the cutscene he cannot fight any longer, and is eventually beaten to the ground.

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