Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Pillars of Eternity, Nemo and The Mindless Rabble From Which You Sprang

"Gentleness, sobriety, are rare in this society
At night a candle's brighter than the sun"

Sting - Englishman in New York

So this is me in Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes.
Years ago it earned me an accusation of truculence from an acquaintance I've sadly alienated since but it does sort of illustrate much of the game's appeal. I've seen people ask, flabbergasted, why anyone would play Fallen Enchantress with its almost nonexistent AI, its relatively low production values, its generic setting, its slow pacing etc. True, all true, but it also allows you to stamp that game world in your image, hitting that sweet spot between sandbox and fully fleshed out imaginary world allowing the player to design modular units and factions... and when you start up a new game with your custom leader and empire, the first thing you see is your very own creation speaking your words.

So tickle me pink and call me a xaurip's uncle if Obsidian didn't paraphrase half my character description and insert it into Durance's very first dialogue in Pillars of Eternity!
Hey. Hey!
Where's my writing credit you bums? Durance even looks like my Elemental self.
Eh, fine, alright, fiiine, the whole "I care about what's on the inside" schtick complete with denouncement of tribal identities has likely been repeated innumerable times by greater hacks than I since the enlightenment. I'm hardly the first to mock and slander granfalloons. I grudgingly concede primacy in such matters to Captain Nemo and a host of other Byronic antiheroes. But man oh man, there's Durance holding a bright little candle up to the facetious smokescreens of political correctness. Whatever few doubts I still nursed as to my enjoyment of PoE vanished as soon as I ran across those first couple of paragraphs at Magran's Fork.

Gonna diverge now ever so slightly but I want you to keep Durance' little diatribe from above in mind.
When Alan Moore slipped Nemo in among the rest of this Victorian-era freakshow in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he did the character a great disservice by slapping a turban on him. It's not that Nemo's supposed to despise his Indian heritage any more than he does every other nation in the world, but the guy went to superhuman lengths to efface any such primitive tribalistic distinctions aboard the Nautilus, to the point of fabricating an entire artificial language for his crew's use so everyone would have a bad accent but none could tell. Nemo, Corsair extraordinaire, citizen of the world and self-appointed enemy of pyramids of power, would be the last character in the multiverse to willingly don such a ridiculous badge of religious slavishness as a fucking turban!

I'm willing to bet Moore and O'Neill know that. The problem with the league of bombastic titles (from the little I saw of it in its movie incarnation) is that it panders to a juvenile audience suckled on and addicted to the facile, shallow moralism of identity politics. The audience wants to take the perceived moral high ground of saying turbans are just as cool as baseball caps... all the while missing the point that no individual should feel socially obligated to wear either. The true victory of equality would not be the partitioning of the world into a myriad self-justifying brands of chauvinism, but their erasure to free individuals from under the heel of such power hierarchies.

I've seen forum comments about Pillars of Eternity bemoaning the lack of varied accents among the various characters. Apparently players wanted the various Inuit, Polynesian and other distinguishably unAmerican characters to talk in funny voices like Apu from the Kwik-e-Mart because (and everyone repeat after me like good little sheep) we respect their diversity!
You don't respect others as individuals by demanding they play up their role in your little tribal identity pigeonholing.
Never mind this has been a thorny issue in Hollywood movies for a century, most famously lampooned by Mel Brooks in History of the World Part 1 where the Parisian poor exclaim "we ahre so poohr we don't even 'ave our own languaje.... jus' dis stoopid aks-hent!" Playing up trivial differences for freakshow value diminishes all but the most shallow characters. People with accents are not accents with people. We all sound like Richard Dawkins in our heads.

Pillars of Eternity does let itself get dragged into the victimology poker game to some extent (if much less than most mass entertainment these days, including the news) so I'm all the more amused (but not surprised) to see a few of its customers still complaining because enough is never enough to feed their constant need for validation as champions of the designated weak. The damsel's never distressed enough for their tastes. I should think Siege of Dragonspear should have served as sufficient warning as to what happens when that type get their way.

See, I actually like that Sagani's a straight-talkin' ranger archetype with a sense of humor who just happens to have hunted seals instead of deer, and Kana's just a big ole' song-quoting nerd who happens to have grown up in a library on an island instead of a library on a continent. The differences are good, and should be mentioned. We're long overdue for some Pacific landscapes and iconography in games, as well as those of the Arctic circle and the Equator and a myriad other places. Good characters however are defined by internal, individual traits, not ... how did Durance put it?
"whatever liar's tongue coats" their names.

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