Saturday, May 26, 2018

Easy cognition, easy morality, Obsidian style

"And what will that leave, that Third World insanity? Will that put an end to all life, of every kind, everywhere? When our planet becomes a dead planet, by our own hands?
He could not believe that. Even if all life on our planet is destroyed, there must be other life somewhere which we know nothing of. It is impossible that ours is the only world; there must be world after world unseen by us, in some region or dimension that we simply do not perceive.
The terrible dilemma of our lives. Whatever happens, it is evil beyond compare. Why struggle, then? Why choose? If all alternatives are the same.
We do not have the ideal world, such as we would like, where morality is easy because cognition is easy. Where one can do right with no effort because he can detect the obvious."

Philip K. Dick - The Man in the High Castle

Major end-game spoilers for Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire

One of the many problems with fanaticism aside from the active harm it causes is that like physical substance addiction it tends to take over one's entire thought pattern. The addictive self-righteousness of constantly proclaiming your holier-than-thou adherence to the one true faith tends to eclipse other, more mundane considerations... like the quality of your work.

In the world of cRPGs, this came out in a big way with Siege of Dragonspear, by most accounts a parasitic hijacking of a classic game series by shameless profiteers. Quite a few dissatisfied customers complained about the game's shallow, utterly gratuitous social justice activism. Fine, whatever. The more interesting reviews came from those with the wherewithal to note that Dragonspear also lacked any relevant qualities as a game, that it was a completely buggy mess missing entire sections of its promised functionality, riddled with terrible interface and other design choices, a linear series of 10x10foot rooms with no meaningful roleplaying choices, forgettable characters and total content amounting to other games' last act. Regardless of what you think of political correctness, the more immediate issue was the design team hiding their incompetence and laziness behind said correctness. It's Beamdog's glaring assumption that they shouldn't need anything besides proselytizing to sell their shoddy product.

Glad I dodged that bullet. Unfortunately, Obsidian's Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire seems to suffer from a smaller degree of the same problem. Unlike Dragonspear's reputation, Deadfire's actually rather promising from an abstract game design standpoint but its writing has obviously suffered compared to PoE1. For a Role-Playing Game, especially a story-based one, this is not to be shrugged off.
This is how I chose to end my first playthrough. As in the first game, you end by making a monumental decision by siding with one of several deities who embody various philosophical or sociopolitical ideals. This decision is said to affect the fate of the world, and in my case I went with the god representing the heat death of the universe... with somewhat predictable results. I'd picked Rymrgand's option to grind baby souls to dust at the end of the first game so what the hey, I thought I'd go for an encore in the sequel, for consistency's sake. That, and Deadfire's shallow storytelling and nonstop wall-to-wall misandry had me about ready to end that world anyway. Yet when my character tries to explain that choice, those are my only two options? "I just hate life" and a valid but still shallow claim of nihilism?

The intellectual depth of the gods from the first game, their philosophical overlap, seems to have completely vanished. Rymrgand was a god of death, finality, entropy, decay, yet this did not necessarily mean a straightforward apocalypse, much less a petulant "let's blow up the world" one-liner. In fact the quest to gain his favor in the first game dealt with a population of elves desperate to escape Samsara and find peace in one-ness with the universe. Where is that aspect of Rymrgand worship now? How does Obsidian's anti-white, anti-male rainbow-sprinkle politically correct gibberish mesh with insulting one of the core beliefs of half a billion Buddhists? (Plus quite a few Hindus as I understand it.)

Compare that truncated, simpleminded, peevish two-line denigration of nihilism above with this discussion of Rymrgand's philosophy from PoE1:
Rymrgand grinds worlds to dust but he does so when it suits him, gradually, painstakingly, inevitably. In itself, this might've made an excellent plot hook for a canonical transition to a third PoE game. Set it in a world gradually fading as entropy grips the veins of Eora, a barely perceptible apocalypse with societies struggling to hold themselves together in the face of dwindling birth rates and natural resources. Mad Max with dragons and magic wands.
Be honest with yourself. You would play the shit out of that.

Or take the supporting arguments provided by Ondra and Skaen above. Maybe an act of destruction merely prevents a greater evil, an eternity of slavery to the Queen that Was. Maybe disintegration prevents the rise of abominations and the greater misery which pretty routinely cropped up in PoE1 when souls were misplaced. There is such a thing as a fate worse than death. Maybe a fallow season is needed to enrich the soil for new growth. Maybe we need a scorched earth strategy to stop an enemy on the cusp of victory.
Where are those arguments now, that nuance, in Obsidian's reinvented Eora?

Or was all that consideration TL:DR maybe?
Is this just a matter of cutting the length of in-game text?
Hardly. Compare the almost identical length of dialogue I screenshotted for my last post about Deadfire, dealing with firing one petty bureaucrat of one trade company. You don't think the fate of the world warrants at least that much consideration?
But of course that wasn't just about firing the (male) trading company representative, but replacing him with his (female) second in command, a repeating pattern throughout your adventures. When it came to justifying their anti-male chauvinism, Obsidian saw no problem with filling page after page with very detailed, passionate and well-supported reasons why almost every man you meet just happens to be either stupid or evil or both, and juxtaposing them with glorified saintly women. No amount of "boys stink, girls rule" was too much.

Note this was done while most side-quests utterly lack any sort of roleplaying choices. Labyrinths, cannibal shipwreck survivors, the vampire lord of an entire island, the secret of teleportation, murderously xenophobic Noble Savages, hell, even the fate of the world; Deadfire's littered with material which should have been better integrated into player decision-making, or at least padded with more justifications.
Why, instead of fleshing out the number or moral depth of choices made by the player, was so much energy reserved instead for propping up the pedestal of femininity?
Because you just hate men. All of them.
Your self-justifying postmodern absolutist moral relativism, your fanaticism, your narcissism seemed more important to you than the actual quality of your storytelling.

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