Video Games versus Cinema: Comparing “Xenoblade Chronicles” to “Stranger than Fiction.”

Updated analyses of “Dishonored” and “Majora’s Mask 3D” are still forthcoming, friends.  For the moment, I wish to offer an academic paper which I penned, in which I offer an example of how video games are uniquely equipped to tell stories that other media fundamentally cannot.  Interested?  Read on to find out what makes “Xenoblade Chronicles” work where “Stranger than Fiction” comes up short.

Bionis and Mechonis

Comparative critique of nested narratives in “Stranger than Fiction” and “Xenoblade Chronicles”

With a Terrible Fate, Spring 2015


            A useful way of framing discussion of narrative is the degree to which the aesthete and author (read: writer) interact to create the story in question. I take this interaction to exist on a continuum. On one end, media such as books, though leaving the reader with agency on the level of interpretation, vest the responsibility for actual creation of the story in the author: that it to say, the content of the story is fixed by the words produced by the author, and these words remain the same irrespective of the particular aesthete who reads them. On the far other end of the spectrum, one might say, is our actual world considered aesthetically, in which the aesthete perceives (or may actually have) free will and fully realized agency, and the presence of a creator is so obscure as to constitute an entire discipline of theological and cosmic debate.[1]

Video games fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum; we can support this claim by the fact that video games, while still clearly representing a mimetic world without total immersions, do have the potential to take the agency of the aesthete (henceforth ‘player’) as a fundamental in their narrative. “Xenoblade Chronicles” (Nintendo, 2010) offers an example of how a video game can situation of their narratives being designed by both author and player to tell stories that other media cannot. In Section I, I define what I call the “death of the author” motif as it is used in literature (not as it is used in literary theory), and explain how it theoretically falls short in the movie “Stranger than Fiction” (Zach Helm, 2006). In Section II, I explain the metaphysics and general narrative structure of “Xenoblade,” and show why it is equipped to theoretically back the death of the author motif where “Stranger than Fiction” fails. Finally, in Section III, I conclude by arguing that the mechanics crucial to achieving this motif are only in fact available to video games, which is an example of a type of story that can only be meaningfully told in this particular medium.

  1. The problem of authors killing themselves off

            I will immediately clarify what I mean by a ‘death of the author motif’, because the term, though borrowed from literary theory, means something distinct from the “death of the author” approach to textual interpretation. It is sometimes the case, particularly with respect to stories with nested or self-referential structures, that one level of narrative is stipulated as having a particular author, who, within the larger narrative, is killed off or otherwise robbed of agency.[2] From this point, the overarching narrative must explain this substratum of narrative in a post-authorial context: perhaps it cedes control to the characters of that narrative, or perhaps it demands the reader to account for it using her own interpretive faculties. We might describe the motif I have in mind as the narrative analogue of the literary theoretical understanding of the death of the author: as the latter treats aesthetic objects as art independent of howsoever they were created, so the former tells the story of a narrative world put in the situation of existing without its stipulated creator and authority.

But there is a problem: even though this motif seems to be comprehensible, not all stories deploy it in theoretically compelling ways. We should note, of course, that stories implementing these structures will (hopefully) never be fully theoretically realizable in terms of Leibniz’s identity of indiscernibles – otherwise, killing Poe in a story would have immediately and causally lead to the death of Poe, the historical figure. Putting this aside, however, I contend that there are still methods of analysis within narrative theory to assess whether or not a story deploys this technique in a justifiable way. To explain what I mean, I offer a quick sketch of “Stranger than Fiction” and why it fails to use this motif in a compelling manner.

The film begins with a voiceover of the day in the life of Harold Crick. Soon, however, Crick becomes aware of the narrative voice, which leads him to enter a frenzied state in which he is seen by observers as schizophrenic, yelling back at a voice that no one else can here. The viewer learns that the voice is of an author (Karen Eiffel) who is writing a book about Harold, and Harold soon learns through the narration that the author plans to kill him off. Seeking advice from a literature professor, Harold takes strides to uncover the nature of his story, and tries (in vain) to escape the plot, until he ultimately locates Eiffel. At first he tries to convince her to change the ending; yet after reading it, he comes to believe that there is no other way she could possibly end the book; he therefore asks her to finish the book as planned. Yet Eiffel decides to spare Crick in an ending where he pushes a boy out of the way of an oncoming bus and is gravely injured, yet not killed – thanks to the sacrifice of his watch, which has been anthropomorphized throughout the narrative.

This is actually a rather high quality movie as far as I’m concerned, and the plot can obviously be “told” in so far as I can write it down and recount it to you in comprehensible terms; yet all the same, there is something theoretically out-of-joint afoot in this story when we actually sit down and try to parse out how the narrative functions. Here are the relevant features that together, I think, draw a contradiction, in spite of composing a coherent plot.

  1. Eiffel, in writing her story, inexplicably instantiates humans in her actual world.
  2. The humans instantiated in [1] are numerically identical to Eiffel’s characters, and their lives evolve in accordance with the narrative she writes (her typewriter, apparently, is the apparatus responsible for this. Because they are by definition characters, those with whom they interact are also characters by virtue of being part of their narrative.
  3. One of the humans from [1] (viz. Crick) gains awareness of the narrator describing his life, and engages with it as though it were a disembodied voice speaking to him.
  4. In spite of being aware that a narrator presides over his life, Crick’s life continues to evolve in accordance with [2] and be mostly narrated by the voice; however, he appears to have a limited range of leeway from the narrative in that he can: discuss the narrative in a second-order sense with a literary critic; assess whether his narrative is a tragedy or comedy; etc.
  5. In the leeway stipulated by [4], Crick is able to pursue the voice observed by [3], meet Eiffel, and discuss his narrative with her.
  6. From [5] and [2], Eiffel necessarily becomes a character in her own story, although she also must continue as the author of the story, because the story is not yet finished.
  7. Because of [5], Eiffel changes the ending of the story she is writing, claiming that the ending of Crick dying only worked if he did not expect it, and that a person who knowingly jumped in front of a bus to save a child could not be killed off; she instead lets him live.
  8. When lauded by his girlfriend that he risked his life to save a child, Crick claims that he “had no choice,” implying that his action was a result of [2].

Coherent though the plot may be, we can see that its various features stand in opposition at several points. [6] reads like a paradox: how can Eiffel write herself into a story which she then must also finish writing? But the aesthete might object here that this sounds like a complaint derived from Leibniz’s identity of indiscernibles, because the trouble is that Eiffel the character and Eiffel the author do not seem numerically identical – and we have taken Leibniz’s identity of indiscernibles off the table.

That’s a fair complaint, but the narrative trouble to which I point is actually ontologically prior to this paradox: the issue, I contend, arises from the fact that it’s not at all clear what principles we ought to use to understand [4]. It seems to me that there is no way, within or without the explicit narrative, to pin down what I pick out as ‘narrative leeway’; yet a concept such as this must be stipulated within the logic of the narrative, because it is the only move by which to explain Crick examining and interacting with the narrative descriptor on a second-order level. It is unclear how Eiffel could substantiate a character that, while still operating within the confines of the story that she architects, also appears to be privileged to a similar sort of agency that Eiffel herself has. We can understand this “half-agency” of Crick on the level of brute plot, yet it remains ontologically mysterious within the scope of the narrative, so that the viewer cannot find traction on the issue of precisely how Crick ends up moving beyond the authority of his author in the first place (and we know from [4] that he must move beyond that authority in some way).

It may well be that a clear explication of [4] would lead to a clearer conception of what is meant by the seeming paradoxical results in [5]-[8]; however, I will argue in Section III that this is precisely what a film is incapable, by limitation of the medium, of achieving. Presently, I wish to turn to “Xenoblade” to offer readers an example of how a similar narrative structure can present with less mysterious ontology.

  1. One solution to seeming half-agency[3]

“Xenoblade Chronicles” is superficially similar to “Stranger than Fiction” in that both stories deploy a causal framework that is instantiated by an entity with “creator” status – in “Stranger than Fiction,” this entity was an author vested with peculiar metaphysical authority; in “Xenoblade,” this entity is a scientist who literally creates a universe, in which he is the god. What I will argue is that this framework of understanding ‘authorship’ in the nested-narrative context is useful for explaining why “Xenoblade” theoretically succeeds where “Stranger than Fiction” falls short. To use this framework, we first need a provisional sketch of the narrative and metaphysics of “Xenoblade.”[4]

A note on terminology before we begin: “Xenoblade” is a complicated game to parse because it stipulates multiple universes occurring across history. As such, I will be differentiating between the ‘worlds’ of the game – i.e., particular universes stipulated within the scope of the game – and the ‘universe’ of the game, referring to the totality of space-time as defined within the game’s outermost parameters.

In the original world of “Xenoblade” – call it ‘W0’ – two scientists, Klaus and Meyneth,[5] are involved in a “phase transition experiment” in which Klaus creates a new world, collapsing their own world in the process. This experiment takes place on a space station orbiting Earth – that is to say, it is stipulated within the universe of the game that W0 is the world of the player (we will return to this later). In the new world created by this experiment, Klaus and Meyneth are gods – Meyneth’s name is “Lady Meyneth” (see footnote 5), and Klaus is called “Zanza.” Zanza, in particular, has total knowledge of the causal structure of the universe (presumably by virtue of being its creator), so we can say in this sense that divine predestination obtains. The universe so created was comprised of two colossi: the Mechonis, a mechanical colossus; and the Bionis, a biological colossus. The Mechonis is representative of Meyneth, and the Bionis is representative of Zanza; in particular, the gods are described as the “souls” of these colossi. Diverse life forms, created by Zanza and Meyneth, populated both the Mechonis and Bionis, and took the colossi to be their home. This describes the most basic ontology and metaphysics of a particular world within the game’s universe following W0.

Zanza, however, was apparently a lonely god who feared the creatures of his world forgetting his status as their god. As such, he would periodically destroy the current world and give rise to a new one. Eventually, Meyneth took up arms in an effort to stop him and protect the creatures of the world; the two colossi, harboring Zanza and Meyneth as their souls, did battle, and eventually fell dormant as Meyneth was weakened and forced into stasis, and Zanza was imprisoned on the Bionis, falling dormant as well.

The setting for almost all of the game’s playable narrative is an nth such world. The player typically controls a party of multiple characters, but the narrative is focalized on one particular character as the player’s main point of access into the world: Shulk. Shulk is crucial as a character because of his relationship to Zanza, and to a sword called the Monado. When Shulk was young, he and his family came across a cave sheltering the Monado; all perished but Shulk, and Shulk developed a “bond” to the sword. Though the player doesn’t know at the beginning of the game, this “bond” is actually the fact that Zanza’s spirit, contained within the blade, came at that time to rest dormant within Shulk, waiting until late in the game to cast Shulk off as an empty shell and return in his full-fledged god form. In fact, it is within the conceit of the game that Shulk died along with the rest of his family in the cave; according to Zanza, only his (i.e., Zanza’s) spirit was animating the boy. Yet somehow Shulk returns from the dead to confront Zanza with his friend, ultimately killing the god. We will have to explain how the game can justify such a resurrection – but first, a brief digression into the Monado and Leibniz is in order.

Within the conceit of the game, the Monado is most immediately understood as a sword with the ability to perceive the future and alter reality in various ways. The game is unclear about precisely how this happens, but we can take what is happening roughly as follows: the world at bottom is a wave function in the medium of ether (“ether” is in fact explicated within the game as the world’s fundamental constituent; the wave function formalization is left implicit). The Monado is able to read this function, which is identical to the world’s causal structure as it evolves over time; and, in so doing, the wielder of the Monado (read for the moment: Shulk) can perturb the wave function so as to change the course of future events (more on the specifics of this in a moment).

However, there are other claims explicated within the game as to what the Monado is. When Zanza the god first appears after freeing himself from Shulk, he says the following to Shulk’s friends: ‘“Do not be surprised. Everything in this world is dictated by the passage of fate. As all that exists is interconnected, time can only flow toward the inevitable. That is the vision of which I, the Monado, am the origin.” Here, Zanza identifies himself with the Monado, which makes sense in so far as we have seen divine predestination obtain: the notion at this point in the game is that, even though Shulk thought he was able to change the future, he was actually being lead through a series of events foreseen by Zanza, a god who is both responsible for the causal chain of the world, and also omniscient with respect to it.

Yet after Shulk comes “back from the dead” and confronts Zanza with his friends, the concept of the Monado seems to evolve. The physical sword Monados were, after Zanza’s exposition, taken to be articles of gods, representative of their causal omniscience and omnipotence (Meyneth and Zanza both had Monados; but in the aftermath of Zanza’s reappearance, Zanza struck down Meyneth and took her Monado for himself); however, Shulk summons his own, third Monado in the final confrontation, which allows him to see the future and counter Zanza himself. Thereafter, we see the game’s final explanation of the Monado concept: a mysterious character who has guided Shulk at crucial points in the narrative, Alvis, reveals that he is actually “the system administrator of [the] phase transition experiment,” and that he is numerically identical with the Monado.

In order to gain traction with the game’s conception of Monados, which is crucial to its narrative structure, I propose a move to Leibniz’s monadology. Of course, the explicit reference to the ‘monad’ could just as well hearken back to the Greeks as to Leibniz’s metaphysics; however, I think we have good reason to believe the intended reference was Leibniz, and also contend that his metaphysics offers us a generally useful mode of thought with which to analyze the narrative. I will offer my analogy and interpretation of Leibniz (as explained by Jeff McDonough, in particular) as a way into analysis.

Leibniz’s mature metaphysics held that organic beings were essentially ‘machines with souls,” and that inanimate objects were comprised of a multitude of organic beings. Taking such a view, one can reduce reality ultimately to a collection of ‘souls’, by repeatedly taking the souls out of organic beings, and then analyzing the machines left over as a collection of organic beings. The souls, on Leibniz’s view, are monads, simple mind-like substances with perception and desire but without extension. This mode of representation is pervasive in “Xenoblade” and forms the basis of what I would call a fractal kind of reality: the same conflicts and relationships played out by the Mechonis and Bionis are played out by Meyneth and Zanza, and are also played out by Shulk (Zanza’s vessel) and Fiora (Shulk’s friend, and Meyneth’s vessel). More literally, the Bionis is a being that is comprised of a soul (Zanza) and a corpus, constituted by all varieties of living creatures. The same analysis holds on a variety of other levels in the game, but this will suffice to make the point.

Consider also the causal structure of the world, as initially stipulated: the world evolves from an initial state as ordained by its omniscient god. While this variety of divine predestination is not unique to Leibniz, it is in accordance with his metaphysics. The name of the swords themselves is misleading, because I see no way to reconcile them directly as mind-like fundamentals; nonetheless, I think this is sufficient to stipulate that even if the finer points of Leibniz’s metaphysics are not articulated, then its general shape is present in the world constituting most of the main narrative; and Monados, too, have a place in this. Where this framework is most useful, however, is in the places where the world’s ontology breaks with Leibniz.

Recall the words of Zanza when he manifests himself independently of Shulk for the first time: “As all that exists is interconnected, time can only flow toward the inevitable. That is the vision of which I, the Monado, am the origin.” This is a strange thing for a god in Leibniz’s world to say, because the predestined evolutions of monads are causally independent from one another; rather, the monads only perceive themselves as causally related, a sort of misconception referred to by Leibniz as ‘pre-established harmony’. I don’t take this as a reason to dismiss Leibniz’s influence on the world’s metaphysics; rather, I see it as a clue explaining how the narrative describes the collapse of a world by the introduction of an external agent: the player.

In my previous work on “Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask” (Nintendo, 2000), I defended a view that the agency of the player can serve a significant role in the narratives of video games, and I think the explanatory work such agency does in this case is an increasing amount of control over the world’s causal chain as the narrative progresses. I describe the narrative in this light as a four-stage progression.

In Stage 1 (from entry into the game until introduction of the Monado’s vision mechanic), the player enters the narrative and is presented with a rote script. She must follow the objectives laid out by the game, and has no conception of how to meaningfully alter that script. This stage is similar to the act of reading a book, as described in this paper’s introduction.

In Stage 2 (from the introduction of the Monado’s vision mechanics through Zanza’s differentiation from Shulk), the player has the false perception of influence over the narrative. The mechanics of the Monado imply to her that she is able to meaningfully alter the world’s causal structure by deciding how to act on visions presented; yet Zanza’s exposition reveals that the unfolding of all events up to that point were part of his plan, thereby declaring the player impotent with respect to narrative impact.

Yet in Stage 3 (from after Zanza’s manifestation up to killing Zanza), Shulk returns independently of Zanza and challenges what the god describes as ‘inevitable fate’. I argue that Shulk’s return is explicable by the same reason why he ultimately generates a third Monado: the player acts as his soul, and perpetuates him in a world where he has been used and eschewed by a god. This is where the player begins to make a difference: by reconstituting Shulk independently of Zanza, the player has the opportunity to utilize the Monado’s mechanics so as to actually change the causal structure of the world; a degree of freedom which culminates in killing Zanza. Zanza unwittingly forecasts this agency in moment of his causal confusion, which describes him as part of the monadology rather than its omniscient origin (we will return to Zanza’s place in all this in a moment).

I pause to clarify what I mean by “changing the causal structure of the world.” I don’t mean to imply that the player, in choosing how to act on an event forecasted by the Monado, instantiates a new universe via a collapse event, or anything so complicated. I find it more parsimonious to explain this in terms of counterfactuals: suppose a view of possible worlds such that the nearest possible worlds are those with the ‘smallest miracles’ necessary to alter the chain of events in the actual worlds. So we might say that the player does, in fact, have the ability via exercising her agency through the mechanic of the Monado to move the narrative to other, relatively local, nomologically possible worlds; but I flag for the reader that these are, relatively speaking, small jumps between possible worlds.

This matter of small jumps contrasts sharply with Stage 4 (from the killing of Zanza to the end of the game’s main plot), in which Alvis intercedes as the Monado, explains the universe’s ontology to Shulk (and, by extension, to the player), and tells Shulk that, by virtue of killing Zanza, he has ended this world, and must now choose a new world to create, as its new god. Shulk opts for “a world without gods.” The player’s agency, through this extension of the endgame, has undone the world in which the entire narrative thus far has taken place, leading to the instantiation of a new universe without gods – precisely what I had in mind with the ‘death of the author’ motif. Killing Zanza, therefore, constitutes the narrative’s apex of authority being vested in the player’s agency as opposed to the author, as represented by Zanza: in his death, the entire framework of the game is cast away and replaced with something new, at which point the game concludes.

The position of the player as an external agent relative to the game is crucial to why this death of the author motif is aesthetically consistent, in contrast to the more problematic model of “Stranger than Fiction.” By the game’s stipulation, Klaus is from the same world in which the player currently exists – Earth – and Klaus, through his phase transition experiment, has created a universe that, by virtue of his role in creating it, takes him as its god. Yet this also subordinates Klaus to the role of Zanza, bounded by the universe that he created. If this was the entire existential domain, then that would not be a problem for him; but the player exists in the world from which Klaus first engaged in his phase transition experiment, and is therefore able to affect the universe as an agent positioned to view the entire causal structure of the universe, including its god. This is the crux of why Zanza is able to be killed in a way that doesn’t feel problematic to the narrative: like Eiffel in “Stranger than Fiction,” he renders himself a character in his own world, but unlike Eiffel, authorship is narratologically transferred to the player and Shulk, who override Zanza and render him null.

III. The unique capacity of video games to kill the author

It seems to me, in closing, that the difference in structure that allows “Xenoblade” to avoid the ontologically mysterious aspects of agency troubling “Stranger than Fiction” is a direct result of the story’s status as a video game. To see what I mean, consider the problem framed as followed: if the characters created by an author within a broader narrative are to take control of the story away from the author, than they must be vested with agency at least equivalent to that of the author; otherwise, it is mysterious how entities whose existence is totally determined by another entity could surmount that entity. It isn’t clear how the author could design characters with the same amount of agency as her, while still dictating the story in which those characters exist; and, if the author creates agents without dictating the story, then these agents seem more like automata than characters as typically understood.   So it seems like the only option to traditional media is to stipulate something metaphysically clunky – e.g., “God decides, for some reason, to transform these characters into full-fledged agents, on the same level as their author.” Yet even this doesn’t map directly onto what happens in “Xenoblade,” because such a state of affairs effectively liberate the characters from the story, without the characters themselves acting against the author in order to destroy or reshape the story. We can keep adding metaphysical qualifications, but the account will continue to lose parsimony.

Video games, however, offer a compact and intuitive way of facilitating just this sort of narrative: characters in a video game, such as Shulk, can at once be ontologically related to a god or author, like Zanza, and can also derive their agency from an external source: the player. In this case, a narrative telling a variation of the death-of-the-author motif amounts to a shift between the relative authority of the author and player within the scope of the plot. This is why I posit that stories like “Xenoblade,” in spite of having plots that can be conveyed in the written word, can only be understood in a sound theoretic lens when represented through the vehicle of video games. We may well find in future studies that other motifs are similarly limited to video games, just as novels, for example, can represent things in ways that other media cannot.

[1] If the real world is a troubling example, then one might instead imagine a total immersion virtual reality experience a la “The Matrix” (Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski, 1999), in which the aesthete is fully emerge in a universe that, while designed by someone, is perceived by the aesthete to be without a definitive, foregrounded creator.

[2] For a discussion of this structure as exemplified by Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym, see Umberto Eco’s Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, pp. 17-20 (Harvard University Press, 1994).

[3] I am indebted in this section to Professor Jeff McDonough for clarifying Leibniz’s metaphysics for the purposes of my analysis. Note that no views offered here are meant to reflect Professor McDonough’s views.

[4] Unlike the sketch of “Stranger than Fiction,” this sketch will not be chronological with respect to the narrative. The reason why is because “Xenoblade” offers a story in which the beginnings of the universe, along with its general ontology, are revealed at late stages in the game, such that the player must effectively play through the narrative a second time in order to understand the ontology of the events in the early parts of the story. While intrinsically interesting, this is all peripheral to the matters at hand.

[5] A technical note: it is unlikely that “Meyneth” is actually the name of the second scientist. She is only named this because, as I will explain, a character from within a later world is relating her to her analogous form in his own world – a form named “Lady Meyneth.” We never hear her referenced by name in our one glimpse into W0, and therefore do not have confirmation on her actual name; on the other hand, we see in this glimpse that she refers to the other scientist as “Klaus,” and we can therefore assume this to be his actual name.

From the Floor of PAX East, Part II: The Aesthetics of User Interfaces.

In the second of two-part series on my time at PAX East, I want to analyze and speculate on the role of user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) in video games.  I had the chance to attend a panel featuring prominent UI designers from the gaming industry:  Vicki Ebberts [UX, Undead Labs], Alexandria Neonakis [UI/UX Designer, Naughty Dog], and Kate Welch [UI/UX, Freelance].  They offered a perspective on an aspect of game design that I’ve found is often considered an afterthought, despite how central user interface is to the quality of a game experience.  Similarly to how I reviewed GeekNights’ panel on the concept of ‘losing’, I will begin by summarizing the key points of the talk, and will then offer my own views on the material presented.

As a point of preface, I should note that the brunt of UI theory discussed was cited from Erik Fagerholt and Magnus Lorentzon’s Beyond the HUD — User Interfaces for Increased Player Immersion in FPS Games, a thesis for Chalmers University of Technology.  As a result, the Fagerholt/Lorentzon model will be largely recapitulated at the outset of this article.  You can find a summary of their work courtesy of Anthony Stonehouse’s User interface design in video games.  Do yourself a favor and hit the link to read Stonehouse’s summary; far as current taxonomies of UI go, I find this particularly useful and clear.

The Fagerholt/Lorentzon model, as outlined by the panel, turns on the fact that video games are a narrative medium, which differentiates them from other applications of user interface.  He classifies elements of video game UI based on whether or not they exist in the narrative of the game and/or in the actual world represented by the game (called “the geometry” of the game’s world); in so doing, he establishes four distinct categories of UI elements.  I will summarize each in turn.

  1. Diegetic UI elements.  These are the most “immersive” elements, which exist both in the game’s narrative and within the geometry of the game’s world.  Examples are the Eagle Vision of “Assassin’s Creed” or the tactical vision of a game like “Arkham City.”  Games set in the future or with science fiction are easy subjects for diegetic UI, the argument goes, because they can easily justify UI interfaces as standard technological devices, uniting player and avatar.
  2. Meta UI elements.  These exist within the game’s narrative, but lack direct spatial relation within the world itself.  Blood spatters on the screen when low on health are an extremely common example:  no one within the game’s world can “see” this, but it is representative of your character being on the verge of bleeding our within the narrative.
  3. Spatial UI elements.  In contrast to meta elements, these UI aspects bear physical relation to the game’s world, but don’t factor into its narrative.  Think of arrows over your avatar’s head that point to your next objective:  the argument is that such elements, while represented within the world, are not perceptible to anyone but the player, as they are meant to inform the player without actually impacting the storyline directly.
  4. Non-diegetic elements.  This category is thought of as something of a “last resort”:  its elements are neither in the game’s geometry nor in its narrative, and typically are presented as such only when it would be cumbersome to present them in any other way.  “Halo” and many online games present information on weapons &co in this way.

The PAX panelists pointed to two major motivators in philosophy of UI design, both of which are ultimately concerns of player experience:  the first is how intuitive the UI system is for the player to negotiate and manipulate; the second, which is closely related to the first, is the degree to which the player is “immersed” in the world of the game.  The line that was repeated throughout the panel was that the sign of an effective, sleek UI is that no player actually comments on or notices the UI.  When the future of UI was discussed, motions were made toward the promises of virtual reality to eventually develop games in which UI is ultimately seamless.

This will suffice for my reconstruction.  My critique is fairly straightforward.  I really just want to pose one question:  ought UI to categorically pursue total player immersion as the ideal towards which it strives?  The Fagerholt/Lorentzon model is useful because it defines different types of tools available for constructing an interface between a player and a fictional, narrative-driven world.  Given all of these tools, what grounds do we have for privileging immersion as the interface’s ultimate goal?

It may not be obvious that there are any competing ideals to consider in UI design, so permit me a moment to flesh out the case with an example.  Back when Richard Wagner was writing operas, he developed an aesthetic concept known as “Gesamtkunstwerk“:  German for, roughly, “collective work of art.”  The guiding principle behind this concept and Wagner’s aesthetics was that the audience of a work of art ought to be completely subsumed by the work of art, such that the world established by the art constitutes the whole of the viewer’s experience while engaged with it.  Wagner had an entire opera house built to reflect this philosophy, pioneering such innovations as turning off the theater’s house lights, and hiding the orchestral section so that the music seemed to merely “radiate” from the stage.

So immersion is certainly one sort of possible aesthetic virtue, and in many ways, Wagner’s philosophy anticipates the cinematic productions of modern times.  But it is also not the only possible virtue, and many artists actually push back against this principle, striving instead to deliberately estrange the viewer of a piece of art from the art object itself.  A common response to Gesamtkunstwerk is actually dangerously subversive because of the degree to which the piece of art aims to strip the viewer of their individuality, immersing them in the collective aesthetics instead.  Wagner’s anti-Semitism, along with the Nazi’s appreciation of his operas, only exacerbated this view.

Of course, I don’t aim to make those same arguments against immersion:  virtual reality really is a promising medium for the development of even more nuanced aesthetic types and narrative mechanics.  I merely wish to push back against the notion that the apex of gaming is a vision of “total immersion.”  Firstly, it’s difficult to even conceive of what that means:  for, if we take the concept seriously, then it seems that a totally-immersed player would be unable to differentiate the game from reality at all — think “The Matrix” for a model.  At that point, does it continue to be a game?  Is this even tractable as a theoretical notion of art?  We will surely make great progress in the coming years with respect to making the relationship player and game more seamless, but we ought to analyze seamlessness more precisely before extolling it as UI’s goal.

Moreover, we have seen that UIs have at least four distinct types available — diegetic, meta, spatial, non-diegetic.  With so many options available, it seems naive to claim that the ultimate goal of UI is to be as unnoticeable as possible.  In my own work, I have aimed at articulating how the different relationships between player, avatar, and game world can establish unique aesthetic effects (e.g., the embedded narratology of “Assassin’s Creed,” or the player-dependent metaphysics of “Legend of Zelda:  Majora’s Mask”); the most immediate facilitator of these interactions, by virtue of being the conduit between player and avatar, is the UI.  So I think it follows that UI ought to explore as many permutations of aesthetic principles as possible, rather than mere design permutations, such that we can explore the broadest boundaries of what sort of stories video games as a medium are capable of telling.  Perhaps a counterpoint to immersive UI could be intentionally alienating UI that make the player feel like an utter stranger in spite of controlling the avatar within the game; such a model could be the foundation for an aesthetic of estrangement that, by virtue of being interactive, could be much more successful as a video game than as art in another medium.

What’s more, my intuition is that it’s an artifact of the current state of UI design that we see a conceptual difference between physical space and narrative space in a video game, as the Fagerholt/Lorentzon model suggests.  As we develop a more comprehensive theory of video game aesthetics, I think it will become increasingly clear that physical game space and what’s called “narrative” are two different ways of seeing the same aesthetics.  Already, the lines between the four categories are blurry at best:  we may say that directional markers pointing the player towards a goal are “merely spatial”; yet if we extend the concept of game narrative to include the player as a fundamental, as I have argued that we must, then is this not also a narrative element?  And this is the crucial point:  for once we accept the player as a part of the game’s narrative, and the totality of the game as its world, then it seems as though all UI, while still aesthetically differentiable, is intrinsically diegetic.

It was wonderful to hear from industry professionals on a part of game design that I had not previously considered with much rigor at all; and of course, I must emphasize that I am in no way a game designer myself.  However, I do hope that the trajectory of game design practice and rhetoric in the future focuses not on a goal of immersing the player in the game.  Rather, let us accept that the game is already immersed in the player, and take steps to explore all the possible aesthetics that can follow from this relationship.

From the floor of PAX East 2015, Part I: On GeekNights’ “What is Losing?!”

I had the opportunity to attend the Friday events of PAX East 2015 last week, and had a predictably good time mingling with other video game enthusiasts and seeing the offerings of different booths.  Most of my time during the day, however, was spent attending the wonderful panels that PAX offers.  I wish to offer commentary on two of these panels in particular, which I found especially incisive and provocative.  This article is the first of these two commentaries, on GeekNights‘ lecture entitled:  “What is Losing?!”

GeekNights Logo

I’d not heard of Rym and Scott of GeekNights prior to PAX East, and I must preface my commentary by saying I was quite impressed by their analytic approach and presentation in general.  I found myself agreeing with their arguments more than disagreeing; however, there were points at which our views diverged.  In what follows, I hope to offer readers a critical perspective on what about the view’s presented in the lecture were tenable, and what might need refinement.  My intention is that such commentary will be useful in directing future inquiry into advancing the analytic tools of game analysis.

First, I’ll offer my gloss of the major arguments made by GeekNights in their talk.  I should point out two things:  firstly, their PAX East lecture, as far as I can tell, is not yet online, but you can find an excerpt of a similar talk which they gave at PAX Australia 2014 here (I will update this article if their PAX East talk becomes available online).  Secondly, their talk covered a lot of ground with regards to the domain of gaming, from single-player video games to multiplayer video games to board games to tabletop games.  This means that my own analytic approach of dealing primarily with single-player RPG video games is going to end up bracketing a lot of their talk; however, I think we’ll find there’s still plenty of material left for us to dig into.  (I grant, of course, that I could be reading GeekNights differently than they intended at certain points in their talk; my aim is to represent their argument as faithfully and charitably as possible after having seen their presentation.)

Here’s my gloss of GeekNights’ main arguments:  they’re pushing back against the assumption that the goal of games is always to win.  To do so, they offer a variety of type-wise distinctions between the concepts of losing in various games.  These are the basic forms of losing they pick out.

Losing as an obstacle:  this comes closest to the “standard interpretation” of losing.  Under this view, losing is merely an impediment to eventually winning the game — think, to use GeekNights’ example, of death in “Super Mario.”  The only narratological significance losing has here is to effect winning, which is to say that the player cannot logically win a game unless it is also possible to lose.

Losing as masochism:  terrible though this term may sound, think about a game like “Five Nights at Freddy’s.”  The argument is that ‘losing’ in this game is deliberately implementing losing as a mechanism for horror:  by temporally separating the moment when a player “loses” the game and actually dies, the player is left unable to anticipate the game, an experience which is unsettling because the player cannot use loss to quickly understand the causal relations between her actions and the feedback within the game’s world.  This kind of masochism, perhaps better glossed just as ‘horror’, is a unique thematic effect made possible by the dynamics of losing.

Losing as punishment:  this form of loss maps onto “ruthless” games, like “Dark Souls.”  The idea is that losing creates difficulty and frustration that makes eventual success more pleasurable — so in this view, the dichotomy of loss and victory reduces to hedonic interests of pain and pleasure.

Losing as a directional narrative force:  GeekNights talks about games whose plots are “pushed” by failure — in other words, failure merely pushes the storyline in another direction.  The archetypal example offered is “Chrono Trigger” (Square, 1995), in which “success” or “failure” in certain story events branches the narrative in different directions, ultimately leading to thirteen different endings.  So rather than failure stopping the story and forcing the player to try again, this model of losing actually requires that the player fail at certain points if she wishes to pursue all possible outcomes of the story.

GeekNights abstracts from these definitions to construct an argument against what they call the ‘narrative of victory’; they claim that good games actually implement ‘narratives of failure’.  They first offer the example of “Super Meat Boy,” where completion of the game is “celebrated” by a montage of every failed attempt leading to ultimate success; then, they abstract to games like “The Stanley Parable,” in which no definitive plot is privileged, but rather a diversity of unique exploratory paths through the game is offered.  They actually coin a term to define this modality as a particular type of game:  they call it an “idiogame’, “a game presenting a series of interesting player decisions leading to a personal outcome.”  Their key takeaways are fourfold:  “losing effects winning,” which is to say that winning and losing are conceptually codependent; “losing is contextual,” which is to say that individual games use the concept of losing for different narrative purposes; “losing is optional,” meaning that some games don’t implement the idea of losing at all; and, understandably, that “games should be fun.”

So much for my rendering of their argument.  As I said at the outset, there is much that I like about GeekNights’ talk.  If you’ve read my article on “Dark Souls” (and you really should), then you know I think it obvious that games can implement death and failure in ways more significant than mere obstacles to success — e.g., in the case of “Dark Souls,” the opportunity for transcendence on the part of the player.  And GeekNights does seem to pick out important differences in the types of losing which video games can implement.  However, there are two issues on which I would push back their analysis:  one is the conceptual boundaries between types of losing; the other is the status of idiogames relative to other types of single-player RPG’s.

It seems self-evident to me that games can implement losing, like difficulty more generally, in different ways.  However, if we are to taxonomize these differences, we must do so in such a way that the resulting taxonomy is accurate and analytically useful.  While the classification offered above is a good start, I think the model suffers from issues of taxonomic overlap and vagueness.

Here’s one example.  GeekNights distinguishes losing in a game like “Super Mario” from losing in text-based choose-your-own-adventure games (old school computer games) in the following way:  for “Super Mario,” they claim, there is no interesting, unique story told based on Mario losing by falling into, say, a particular pit in a particular level; on the other hand, the choose-your-own-adventure games in question often have vivid narrations of how you die when you lose in particular ways, which makes it interesting to explore dying in different ways.  But the “Super Mario” example seems like a straw man to me; when you instead consider games like “Legend of Zelda,” I think it becomes apparent that this flavor of losing is just as conceptually interesting as the choose-your-own-adventure case — otherwise, we wouldn’t have montages like this.  What GeekNights is picking out here, I would argue, is not a difference in concept so much as a difference in medium:  what text-based games represent in written narrative, more modern video games represent through graphics, sounds, &co.  By stipulation that characters can die in different places across the course of a narrative, it follows that their deaths will not all be identical, even if the degree of difference feels more superficial in the case of “Super Mario” than in the case of “Legend of Zelda.”  So maybe we will want to say the a game like “Super Mario” doesn’t deploy this concept in an aesthetically interesting way, but such analysis depends on us first establishing that these different media are deploying the same concept of losing — i.e., losing as an interesting obstacle that changes with the ecology of the game and the player’s choices.  I think such an analysis is more parsimonious and will allow us to better analyze games in a comparative framework, because we will be working from a common conceptual base.

Another example, which I think generally requires more research, is the question of whether ‘losing as an obstacle’ and ‘losing as punishment’ are conceptually distinct.  In all honesty, it wasn’t clear to me whether or not GeekNights was claiming that they were — though I would say that they probably were.  The issue for me is where difficulty enters into the equation.  Player skill almost always factors into the frequency of losing within a game; so a game like “Super Mario,” to a first-time player of video games, might be as challenging as “Dark Souls” is to a more experienced player.  This would suggest an interpretation by which the ‘punishment’ concept, as stipulated above, might be a difference in degree from the ‘obstacle’ concept, rather than a difference in kind.  Where this becomes interesting is in analyses of the differences between the following categories:  games which allow you to pick a difficulty level, but require you to keep that difficulty level through the entire game (“Kingdom Hearts”); games that allow you to change the difficulty level at any point (“Dishonored”); and games that don’t have difficulty settings (“Dark Souls”).  It seems like we would need a particularly robust analysis here, integrating the skill level and aesthetic desires of the player.  So the concept needs to be explored further.  (It also goes without saying that, on such an analysis, we would need a distinct concept of losing for games like “Dark Souls,” where dying, though certainly an obstacle, facilitates unique ways of the player experientially progressing, in terms of despair and transcendence in the face of nihilism.)

The second issue, which I find much more interesting, is the question of just what an ‘idiogame’ is.  The stipulation, as I take it, is that certain games deny the notion of what I have been calling a main plotline, allowing the player to merely adventure through the world presented to them, thereby crafting their own story.  We can imagine the implications of this by recalling the model I’ve advanced of video games being represented by a narratological three-space:

Narrative Three-Space

For a full explanation of the model, refer to my paper, Player Agency in Majora’s Mask.  But suffice it to say as a refresher that the z axis describes a game’s main plot from its beginning at z=0 to its end at the maximum z value; the (x, y) plane, in contrast, represents all optional, ‘exploratory’ paths through the game available to the player.  A game’s narrative in a given playthrough is described by the sum of vectors taken by the player from z=0 to the maximum z value.

Now, idiogames might be able to be schematized within this framework as follows:  if, by stipulation, there is no main plot, then the game will instead extend only as an (x, y) plane, with players able to explore the world of the game as much as they wished, never encountering a set ‘end’ to the story; instead, their playthrough may merely terminate when they die, or something like that.  This does indeed retain the exploratory and personal element that the definition of idiogames has in mind; the problem is that it’s hard to see how the formalization defends an understanding of a given “exploration” as a discrete story told within the world of the game, because we have no main plot to refer to as a reference point.  Such a model feels instead much more like what is commonly called “sandboxing” — think of “Minecraft” or a big bin of Legos to build at your discretion — in which the player can explore the world presented by the game with very few limitations, but in which the elements of narrative are few and far between.  We might want to bite the bullet and say that, in such games, the player is doing something more like “brainstorming,” actively creating a story instead of engaging with and interpreting a story that was mapped out prior to the player encountering the game; but if we want to hold on to our notion of the game as a narrative object, then this seems insufficient because it describes the video game as a notebook in which to write ideas, rather than a novel to engage with in dynamic ways.  So the idiogame seems like a fascinating notion for which the analyst ultimately must answer; but it’s not clear that, as presently defined, it escapes the conceptual dilemma presented above.  We will need more analysis to resolve the tension, perhaps either by defining them as something different from a story-driven video game, or by developing a more intricate schema for relating it to our narratological formalization.

Again, I found GeekNights’ lecture to be wonderfully entertaining and insightful.  But it also ought to serve as an indicator of where we need to dig in analytically to more rigorously define our terms and parse out the narrative mechanics of games.  Resolving the issues presented above would be a significant step on the road to cleaner, rigorous analysis of video games.

When are Dunwall and Scotland like your School? Throwback Analysis of “Dishonored,” Part III.

Today, I offer readers the final piece of my older comparative analysis of “Dishonored” and “Macbeth,” published for the first time online.  If you haven’t read the first two parts, you can find the first here and the second here.  If you missed my first publication from this older works, which explains the overall project, defines terms, and analyzes “Majora’s Mask” alongside “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” you can find that here.  If you follow the analysis to the end, you might just find a new perspective on the education system, and on system dynamics more generally.

Readers can expect a thrilling new take on “Dishonored,” as well as With a Terrible Fate‘s adventures at PAX East, this coming week.

(A reminder that this work is not entirely faithful to my current views on “Dishonored,” nor to my approach to video game analysis more generally — however, note also that it is not altogether incompatible with them.)

Corvo on Samuel's Boat

D: The Prophesied Role

The prophesied role, as described above, is generated by the potentiating body and resonates with the formative trait of the operative role. In our diagram, this is indicated by the prophesied role taking the same shape as the formative trait (in the diagram’s case, triangularity). Its form suggests the potential for actualization of the formative trait’s ends, graphically depicted by the way in which its form, though identical in shape to that of the formative trait, is not solid – though it eventuality may come to be perceived as a certainty, this certainty is still contingent upon the perceptual beliefs of the operant role. Because it can only become real in the future, its existence is indeterminate in the present.

While we have already taken steps toward establishing how the prophesied role comes into being, the prophesied role’s nature can be further understood by assessing the psychical ways in which the operative role perceives and approaches it. The relationship between operative role and prophesied role is critical, because the prophesied role, by virtue of its existence depending upon to the operative role’s perception thereof, is necessarily dependent of a level of psychical investment on the operative role’s part. Because of the genesis of this investment from without (i.e., from the potentiating body), this relationship between roles has the interesting quality of an impressed vision of the operant role’s self, which the operant role then comes to see as belonging to itself. In other words, what we have here is a classic instance of internalization, where the internalized content is actually a self-concept.

The Freudian implication of such psychical mechanisms is neurosis – indeed, given the magnitude of what we have been discussing, one might even expect a measure of madness to accompany such objective internal impressions of prophesied self-knowledge. Fittingly, “Macbeth” illustrates just such madness. We have already discussed Macbeth’s unwanted regicidal thoughts upon hearing the witches’ initial prophecy; from that point on, his mind slowly frays as he becomes more closely bonded to the prophesied role. The classic moment of this descent into madness is his “dagger soliloquy,” delivered immediately before slaying King Duncan.

Is this a dagger which I see before me,

The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.

I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible

To feeling as to sight? or art thou but

A dagger of the mind, a false creation,

Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?

I see thee yet, in form as palpable

As this which now I draw.

Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going;

And such an instrument I was to use.

Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses,

Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still,

And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,

Which was not so before. There’s no such thing:

It is the bloody business which informs

Thus to mine eyes. Now o’er the one halfworld

Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse

The curtain’d sleep; witchcraft celebrates

Pale Hecate’s offerings, and wither’d murder,

Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,

Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.

With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design

Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,

Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear

Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,

And take the present horror from the time,

Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives:

Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.

A bell rings.

I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.

Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell

That summons thee to heaven or to hell.[1]

In various productions of the play, this scene has been played with a literal floating dagger projected before Macbeth, or the dagger being a figment of Macbeth’s imagination, unseen by the audience. Thematically and psychodynamically, however, these are interchangeable situations: both demonstrate an increased reality-distortion on Macbeth’s part as he approaches realization of the prophesied role.

The rational for this is as follows: if the dagger is projected before Macbeth by the witches, we may infer with little doubt that it is only perceived by him due to its phantasmal nature, by which we can establish it as an analogue to the ghost of Banquo, which similarly haunts Macbeth and is clearly only perceived by him – Lady Macbeth, in fact, draws this comparison herself when she tried to bring the Banquo-haunted Macbeth back to reality, saying that “This [ghost] is the very painting of your fear. This is the air-drawn dagger which you said led you to Duncan… When all’s done, you look on but a stool.”[2] If the dagger is only a figment of Macbeth’s own imagination, it is even more evident that none but he can see it. So, the only apparent difference seems to be that in the former case, the witches are the direct generators of the image, whereas, in the latter case, it is a creation of Macbeth’s own psyche.

Yet this difference is not as striking as one might think. After all, we have already seen that the witches have impressed upon Macbeth a concrete goal for his formative trait. In this sense, Macbeth’s psyche projecting the image of the dagger indirectly amounts to the witches projecting it, because he does so based on the internalization of the prophecy they have imposed upon him. Considering the conflict between the id-rooted sublimated drive and the superego, it is logical that increased power of the id over the drive would cause the content of this desire to seep into Macbeth’s consciousness. The ego, of course, would seek to distance itself from the increasingly conscious desire of the id for fear of retaliation by the superego; in this case, such distance is effected by imaging the desire as an external hallucination, thereby projecting the id’s desires and freeing the psyche of responsibility. Thus, Macbeth in either case is coping with the increasingly powerful drive of his formative trait, as effected by internalization of the imaged prophesied role, by creating artificial separation from his desire, even as he approaches fulfillment thereof. This coalesces with Macbeth’s interpretation of the dagger as an artifact of “pale Hecate’s” witchcraft: he is distancing himself from his drive by blaming the potentiating body, even as he actively makes the choice to continue forth with his regicidal plan. Note that this is precisely the same juxtaposition of responsibility we discussed earlier, regarding the case of Daud in “Dishonored.”

It is also worth noting that the point at which Macbeth appears to finally make his decision is at the tolling of a bell – an objectively real, natural occurrence, in contrast with the supernatural prompt of the dagger. In so doing, he is effectively delocalizing the external influence of the witches’ prophecy: he is artificially distancing himself from his id-driven drive by blaming the entirety of his external environment for compelling him to fulfill the ends of that drive. In this way, Macbeth actually effects the internalization of the prophesied role by projecting the formative trait from which it is derived onto his greater external world. This process is the heart of Macbeth’s descent into madness, because it is through this projective mechanism that he loses perceived-control over his world. This is supported by two instances later in the play: Macbeth’s decision to murder Banquo, and his actions taken against Macduff.

Macbeth’s soliloquy prior to the arrival of the murderers whom he has commissioned to eliminate Banquo and Banquo’s son son, Fleance, reveals to us both his rationalization of the need to exterminate Banquo’s lineage, as well as the greater picture of how Macbeth’s psychic state has steadily deteriorated after realization of the prophesied role of king.

To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus.

Our fears in Banquo stick deep,

And in his royalty of nature reigns that

Which would be fear’d: ’tis much he dares;

And, to that dauntless temper of his mind,

He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valor

To act in safety. There is none but he

Whose being I do fear: and, under him

My Genius is rebuked; as, it is said

Mark Antony’s was by Caesar. He chid the sisters

When first they put the name of king upon me,

And bade them speak to him. Then, prophetlike,

They hail’d him father to a line of kings.

Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown

And put a barren scepter in my grip,

Thence to be wrenched with an unlineal hand,

No son of mine succeeding. If ‘t be so,

For Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind;

For them the gracious Duncan have I murdered;

Put rancours in the vessel of my peace

Only for them; and mine eternal jewel

Given to the common enemy of man.

To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings.

Rather than so, come fate into the list,

And champion me to the utterance.[3]

Macbeth’s mounting paranoia is epitomized by his assertion that “to be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus.” His sense of powerlessness, a result of his projection of his formative trait outwardly, results in his inability to feel at peace in the prophesied role even once it is realized.

Macbeth’s turning against Banquo, once his friend, also underscores an important dynamic of this paranoia: he fears the very forces that empowered him to become king (i.e., the witches). The potentiated body, which could be anyone, can also convey prophesied roles unto anyone. Both “Dishonored” and “Macbeth” have several examples attesting to this: Daud and Granny Rags in the former, Banquo and Macduff in the latter. In Macbeth’s case, the danger is that the potential for anyone to be led to a prophesied role by the potentiating body effectively reinforces the standing social order. Macbeth’s capacity to fulfill his prophesied role is contingent upon his capacity to be the only one supernaturally informed, as this grants him an immense advantage over the standing social order – an advantage necessary for usurpation and subsequent rule. However, as soon as the prophetic knowledge is conveyed onto someone else, Macbeth’s advantage becomes immensely limited. The prophesied role of Banquo as begetter of kings suggests that Macbeth’s rule will be brief, which renders the fulfillment of Macbeth’s prophetic role null and void: the witches, as Macbeth says, “hail’d [Banquo] father to a line of kings. Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown and put a barren scepter in my grip, thence to be wrenched with an unlineal hand, no son of mine succeeding. If ’t be so, for Banquo’s issue I have filed my mind.”[4] Importantly, Macbeth reflects on Banquo’s future and comes to fear his own pursuit of a prophetic role as paving a path for actualization of Banquo’s prophetic role. And this actually seems like a rational fear. Though outside the scope of the text, it is entirely possible that Fleance’s witnessing his father murdered is what set him on the path to regency – after all, Banquo’s final words to his son are a call to vengeance.[5] Thus, we see a tendency of the presence of multiple prophetic roles to conflate individual prophecies, which, in Macbeth’s case, aggravates the psychical tension between his superego and id by increasing the perceived external danger to his personal security.

Macbeth seeks to regain his sense of security by returning to the witches for further reinforcement of his position through prophecy, and they summon three spirits, possibly of Hecate’s demonic tier, to outfit him with three opaque prophetic truths: that be must beware Macduff;[6] that he will never be harmed by one who was born of woman;[7] and that he will not be slain until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill.[8] This “bond of fate” which Macbeth takes reinforces his sense of security by providing him with knowledge of one apparently easily resolvable danger (Macduff) and two seemingly impossible preconditions for his defeat.[9] Yet, in the same way that Macbeth bonded himself to Banquo’s prophecy, he fulfills his own demise: he enrages Macduff by slaughtering his family, leading him to storm the gates of Macbeth’s stronghold at Dunsinane behind branches taken from Birnam Wood. It is Macduff who is fated to slay Macbeth, because Macduff is a man who was “from his mother’s womb untimely ripped” (i.e., delivered via C-section)[10] Once again, we see Macbeth playing into the hands of a broader, conflated sense of prophecy by trying to secure his own prophesied role of king. When he learns during his confrontation with Macduff that Macduff was not born of woman, he responds predictably by cursing the agents of fate, but simultaneously accepting their will.

   Accursed be that tongue that tells me so,

   For it hath cow’d my better part of man;

   And be these juggling fiends no more believed,

   That palter with us in a double sense,

   That keep the word of promise to our ear

   And break it to our hope. I’ll not fight with thee.[11]

Yet when Macduff mocks Macbeth, telling him to yield, he responds defiantly, saying, “I will not yield… Though Birnam Wood be come to Dunsinane, and thou opposed, being of no woman born, yet I will try the last.”[12] Macbeth thereby accepts the fate to which he has inextricably bound himself, yet conveys in his last words that fundamental, formative trait for which all his battles were waged: unyielding pride and ambition. In this sense, though he did not intend it this way, his formative trait really was actualized through prophetic fulfillment – the equivocating witches simply achieved this in a way completely unintended by Macbeth.

In contrast to the Shakespearean tragedy of a man driven mad by his own ambition, “Dishonored” tells the story of the choices a girl’s beloved guardian makes in attempting to save her. Consequently, Corvo’s relationship to his prophesied role is less of a paranoid grasping at security, but rather a definition of self-image through the pursuit of his prophesied role. Emily, whose recue is Corvo’s end goal, also serves as a barometer for the way his choices define him throughout the game. Earlier, we addressed the way Emily’s drawings – direct insight into her perspective of Corvo – differ drastically in high- and low-chaos playthroughs. An even more direct gauge of Corvo’s influence on his prophesied role is the way Emily ultimately turns out at the game’s conclusion. Upon finding Admiral Havelock at his island hideaway with Emily, Corvo faces his final choice as to how to deal with the Loyalist mastermind. Emily can emerge from the aftermath of the conflicts in one of three states:

  1. A wise and benevolent monarch, ruling with her beloved Corvo by her side.
  2. A ruthless tyrant, guiding Dunwall to its ultimate obliteration by the plague.

In the low-chaos scenario, Corvo enters the lighthouse apartment where the Loyalists were holed up and finds Havelock ranting to himself, his fellow Loyalists seated at a dining table, dead – poisoned by Havelock, who feared their betrayal. Emily is locked in a side room. Corvo must choose a way to neutralize Havelock and then let Emily out, after which she follows the Corvo’s example to lead Dunwall into a new age of prosperity.[13]

In the high-chaos scenario, Corvo navigates past the other Loyalists leaders on the island who are turning against each other, and eventually finds Havelock alone with Emily at the top of lighthouse scaffolding, threatening to push her off. If Corvo moves too close to Havelock, he grabs Emily and threatens to jump. Corvo can either incapacitate Havelock in some way and save Emily, after which she will become a tyrannical queen after the fashion of Corvo’s own merciless path taken in saving her; or, if Corvo either moves to close to Havelock or waits too long, then Havelock will jump, taking Emily with him. Havelock’s last, biting words at Corvo illustrate the overarching dynamics at work.

Stay where you are Corvo, or I jump. [Emily implores Corvo to save her] Quiet! He won’t. Will you, Corvo? You had your chance to be a hero. In a minute this will be just another bloody mess you left behind. Did you want your honor back? To rescue the lady in distress? Oh, no, Corvo. That’s not you.

Corvo’s purpose, his formative trait, is the reclamation of his honor and the rescue of Emily. Yet here, Havelock jeers at Corvo, saying that that’s “not [him],” and that this, too, shall be “just another bloody mess [he] left behind.” This is largely true: in the high-chaos scenario, Corvo has essentially bled Dunwall dry on the warpath to save Emily. Havelock points out the subtle, crucial truth that the path taken in actualization of the prophesied role affects the operative role, and, by relation, the eventual realization of the prophesied role. Corvo can hardly regain his honor if he clears his name through dishonorable means. This third ending of the game is therefore a powerful representation of the broader implications of this meta-role dynamic: just as Macbeth ended up dead in pursuit of the crown, the operative role can quite literally kill the sought-after prophesied role and conjoined formative trait merely by virtue of the pursuing that prophesied role. Corvo’s choices, therefore (largely enabled by The Outsider), have enormous implications concerning the realization of his end goal, as well as his self-understanding.

Synthesizing the dynamics of Macbeth and Corvo’s respective pursuits of and relationships to their prophesied roles, we now have a clearer notion of the prophesied role itself. It is, as we stated at the outset, a future-image contingent upon the operative role’s perception thereof; because it is generic insofar as any number of people could have prophesied roles, the nature of the prophesied role is often bound in opaque ways to other prophesied roles (though, judging by the apparent lack of this dynamic in “Dishonored,” we should rightly qualify this feature with some manner of moral inclination or ultimate goal on the part of the potentiating body – something which is present in the witches and absent in The Outsider); and the reality of the role, when it comes to exist in the present tense, is largely dependent upon the path the operative role has taken in arriving there. This is not to say the operative role makes the choices along its path without external forces impressing influence upon it; but, in the end, the architect of the prophesied role’s design seems to be the operant role.

E: The Actualizing Impetus

            Thus far, we have focused primarily on the development of the prophesied role within the context of mechanisms internal to the operative role; but the path of the operative role, as we have seen, is effected by both internal and external factors. While we have assessed the relationship between external impressions generated by potentiating bodies, we cannot forget to consider the more discrete, mundane forces influencing the path walked. This force, termed the actualizing impetus, is Lady Macbeth in “Macbeth” and the Loyalists in “Dishonored.”

We immediately find a curious juxtaposition: whereas the potentiating body was a hierarchical group in “Macbeth” (the witches and Hecate) and a singular entity in “Dishonored” (The Outsider), the actualizing impetus is a singular entity in “Macbeth” and a hierarchical group in “Dishonored.” Each story therefore appears to have one component of collective influence, and one component of individual influence. To examine the implications of this, we return to the basic affect of each type of influence.

We discussed earlier the way in which The Outsider’s freedom from hierarchy increased the intimacy of his relationship to Corvo. A similar dynamic is present in Lady Macbeth’s relationship to Macbeth: the personal nature of their bond by which Lady is Macbeth’s “dearest love” confers upon their relationship a level of trust not otherwise present in Macbeth’s life.[14] We see this in the way they engage in the plot of usurpation together, differentiating themselves from the societal whole in such a way that they actually share asides in several instances, such as when Lady tries to bring Macbeth back to reality when he sees Banquo’s ghost.[15]

The moment with Banquo’s ghost underscores the psychical stratification of the operative role within the prophesied role paradigm: Macbeth engages in asides with Lady Macbeth because they have established what might be called a ‘shared prophesied personal reality’ – that is, a way of seeing the future of their world (through usurpation) which is concealed from the greater collective reality. Yet, at the same time, Lady cannot see the ghost that haunts Macbeth. This is a primary characteristic of the actualizing impetus: it is intimately privy to the operative role’s reality, but still psychically discrete relative to the operative role.

Lady’s love-relationship to Macbeth puts her in the ideal position to emotionally manipulate the Thane into following the regicidal path, thereby furthering the ends of his ambition as well as her own. She does so by explicitly seeking to augment his formative trait’s psychical dominance, as she discusses in soliloquy after reading a letter Macbeth sent recounting the witches’ prophecies, before Macbeth returns from his first encounter with the witches.

   Glamis thou [i.e., Macbeth] art, and Cawdor, and shalt be

   What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature.

   It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness

   To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,

   Art not without ambition, but without

   The illness should attend it. What thou wouldst highly,

   That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false,

   And yet wouldst wrongly win. Thou’dst have, great Glamis,

   That which cries ‘Thus thou must do, if thou have it;

 And that which rather thou dost fear to do

   Than wishest should be undone.’ Hie thee hither,

   That I may pour my spirits in thine ear

   And chastise with the valour of my tongue

   All that impedes thee from the golden round

   Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem

   To have thee crown’d withal.[16]

Lady seeks to relieve Macbeth of the morality that makes him fear his ambitious drive, and takes it upon herself, using her special standing with him, to manipulate his already malleable character. She encourages him to assume a false countenance to effect the usurpation, which encourages an increased association between the two of them by virtue of their willful separation from the rest of the collective reality.[17] By so strengthening her own position, she is able to goad him into committing the act itself, mocking his manhood at his moment of hesitation before killing Duncan, and saying that his cowardice is reflective of the quality of his love for her.[18] Thus we see that the singular actualizing impetus bonds the operative role to it through object cathexis, thereby enabling the manipulation of the operative role’s psyche from without.

The Loyalists, on the other hand, do not exercise such intimate manipulation of Corvo – a nonissue, because Corvo does not need this sort of manipulation. Macbeth came into conflict with his formative trait by virtue of his superego, and Lady therefore manipulated his psyche in order to override this conflict; Corvo has no such internal conflict regarding his need to save Emily. His only sense of conflict comes from the choice of how to save her, which does not alter his determination to realize his prophesied role. Thus, the Loyalists need only to direct Corvo as to how he may achieve his internally motivated ends – a purpose for which an organization-based actualizing impetus is perfectly suited. They issue Corvo missions, offer him cursory reassurance as to the justice he is exacting through his actions, and send him further and further down the rabbit hole of achieving their own ends. Along the way, individual Loyalists request that Corvo further their own desires: for example, when Corvo must incapacitate the Pendleton twins, who are found to be holding Emily for the Lord Regent, Lord Pendleton, the twins’ brother and a Loyalist, implies that he would prefer Corvo to incapacitate them without killing him – and indeed, he handsomely rewards Corvo if Corvo does this. Interactions of this sort color the conglomerate impetus with a largely superficial sense of personal relationship, which furthers the impetus’s goal by downplaying its covert intention to manipulate Corvo through direction of his formative trait. Thus, via manipulation through less-overt means than Lady, the Loyalists are able to realize their goal through employment of Corvo, without Corvo getting wise to their endgame.

When the potentiating body is singular and unincorporated, so to speak, the dynamics of the projected prophesied role are much clearer cut, because the role’s design and intention are not handed down the hierarchy, as we see in the case of Hecate and her witches. Hierarchy appears to thereby obscure prophecy, which is no doubt part of why what is actually transmitted to Macbeth is so equivocal. When the actualizing impetus is singular and unincorporated, the operative role is much more vulnerable to manipulation by virtue of the close, intimate bond shared with this impetus; in an organization-based impetus, however, such a level of manipulation is largely mitigated by the fact that the composite members of the impetus body must put their personal inclinations aside (for the most part) in order to present a cohesive directive to the operative role. Synthesizing these, the Shakespearean dynamic of a hierarchical potentiating body combined with a singular actualizing impetus could be used to easily predict the hopeless path trod by Macbeth to bloodshed and self-destruction. The Bethesdian dynamic of singular potentiating body paired with organized actualizing impetus allows for the broadest conception of choice on the operative role’s part, as we have seen time-and-again infused within the narrative of Corvo. We are therefore able to understand the combinatory dynamics potentiating body and actualizing impetus as a matrix for determining the amount of choice available to the operative role.

Equally as compelling as this qualitative difference in the actualizing impetuses is the fact that they meet the same end: descent into the chaos of madness. Lady’s madness is exposed through her famous sleepwalking soliloquy, wherein she wanders the halls of her stronghold, with her eyes open, but their sense shut.[19]

Yet here’s a spot…

   Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One: two: why,

   then, ’tis time to do’t.–Hell is murky!–Fie, my

   lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we

   fear who knows it, when none can call our power to

   account?–Yet who would have thought the old man

   to have had so much blood in him…

   The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?–

   What, will these hands ne’er be clean?–No more o’

   that, my lord, no more o’ that: you mar all with

   this starting.

   Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the

   perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little

   hand. Oh, oh, oh!…

   Wash your hands, put on your nightgown; look not so

   pale.–I tell you yet again, Banquo’s buried; he

   cannot come out on’s grave…

   To bed, to bed! there’s knocking at the gate:

   come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What’s

   done cannot be undone.–To bed, to bed, to bed![20]

We enter this soliloquy through the Freudian theory of dreams as wish fulfillment: in this situation, Lady’s nightmare acts out that which cannot be consciously expressed: guilt over her actions (“hers” insofar as, as we just discussed, she compelled Macbeth to order Macduff’s family and Banquo murdered). Clearly, Macbeth is not the only one being haunted, though his ghost seems a more direct result of the witches than Lady’s ghost, which is a result of her own actions taken upon Macbeth. We ought not to be surprised by this: after all, at the outset of her machinations, Lady makes an appeal to the spirits that govern mortal affairs to “unsex her,” to fill her with cruelty and erase all remorseful inclinations.[21] In effect, she compels suppression of those traits that might mitigate ambition, such that she might be in a better position to induce the same in her husband’s case.

It appears, then, that the actualizing impetus affects itself severely in the very act of affecting the operative role – it is, in other words, not a one-way street. It is appropriate, then, that she is driven mad like her husband; yet, in many ways, her death is more tragic because it does not bear the insignia of fate. Hers was not an end fated by the witches – she simply doomed herself to it by seeking to manipulate Macbeth’s prophesied role for her own ends.

As one might expect of an organization-based actualizing impetus, madness in the Loyalists’ case takes the form of the breakdown of order, which takes different forms in low- and high-chaos endings. In the high-chaos ending, Loyalist leaders Lord Pendleton, High Overseer Martin, and Admiral Havelock all turn against each other on the island, grasping for control as the last semblance of order falls apart. Havelock, as we discussed earlier, seizes Emily and flees to the lighthouse; below, Lord Pendleton, shot, is holed up in the island gatehouse, shot and mortally wounded, as he exchanges hopeless fire with High Overseer Martin, attacking from below. The two power-hungry men, once united in their desire for control and authority over Dunwall, are now at each other’s throats. Samuel describes the breakdown of Loyalist power to Corvo as he ferries him to the island.

Looks like they fought, maybe over Emily, just after they landed. I bet the Admiral’s got her locked up in the lighthouse somewhere. If Pendleton’s lost the first round, he’s probably dug in someplace, doing his best to drink himself to death. I suspect it’s Martin who’s got the lighthouse under siege. They turned on each other, at last. So the Admiral is power mad, Martin’s a snake and *Lord* Pendleton is a coward. And you, Corvo… the things you’ve done. You could be the worst of us.

So it is that, in having achieved the goal of their design, the acquisition of Emily, the three men stab each other in the back, their own personal greed overpowering the bond they shared – a bond that, by having lead to the heiress’s abduction, has largely served its purpose at this point.

After Corvo dispatches Martin, he finds Pendleton crouched in a corner, bleeding out. Pendleton’s last words give his own account of what the Loyalist’s once-grand man has come to.

I’m dying, Ren [soldier siding with Pendleton]. That bastard’s done me in. I should have killed them all when I had the chance… First my brothers, now me. It’s my own fault. And now cousin Celia’s going to inherit. That’s the worst of it. *laughs, coughs.*…

[Ren “leaves,” in one way or another. Corvo enters.]

Corvo. I knew you would get here. (coughs.) Well you’re too late. I’m already dying without your help. A stray bullet; I’ll never know whose. What could I offer you, anyway? You want money? Well, I’m broke. Women, maybe? Everyone knows you were screwing the Empress. You like noblewomen? You should meet my cousin, Cilia *laughs, coughs.*

Pendleton is the picture of a nobleman whose stature was undone by his very pursuit of extending his power. Once a respected man, he dies a nobody, shot by a nobody, with nothing left to offer the man whom he had so long manipulated in pursuit of a selfish vision. In the end, he was made to recall that his reasons for joining the collective of the Loyalists were selfish advancement – a motive fundamentally in conflict to unity and common purpose. Thus, in the aftermath of the Loyalists success, he reverts to his individual, non-collective identity: “a coward.”

In the low-chaos ending, Havelock, speaking aloud alone before his slaughtered cohorts in the lighthouse, offers a testimony quite similar to Pendleton’s, albeit a bit more involved.

Remember when this was just a dream shared by a few angry, desperate men in the back room of a bar? Lord Treavor Pendleton, the neglected youngest son, bullied by your brothers. This is all Martin’s fault. If we hadn’t helped Corvo get out of prison. If Corvo hadn’t been so damned good at his job. If we hadn’t gotten greedy and afraid. If if if. Always too sure, that was my problem. Never hesitated. Too sure of what I wanted to do, when other men stopped to consider. Saw it as weakness. I know Corvo’s coming for me just like he came for the others. Crossing the island below like it was nothing. It’s only a question of how and when. But I’m lacking a countermove. It’s all fallen apart. All the steps that led us here made sense. When I was young I went to sea. Took command of a ship and made aimless men into sailors. Made a collection of boots into a navy. Then founded a conspiracy and almost led an empire. No comprise, never showed mercy, never showed weakness. I showed the world what mattered. Will and vision. And not being afraid of getting dirty. And now, I’ll lose it all to a man with a faster sword hand. Or is it that he has a slower sword hand? There’s something wrong with the world. It will make a good story for the histories. I’ll have a good epitaph: “In his time, he commanded a noble Lord [Pendleton], a High Overseer [Martin], and an Empress [Emily]. The man who brought down a tyrant.” Admiral Havelock, Son of the high Ocean.

From the Admiral’s last speech, largely detached from reality, an image comes into focus of a psyche fraught with rationalization, projection, and a frenzy that could be likened to Lady Macbeth’s. We must note too that Havelock largely blames the Loyalists’ manipulation of Corvo for the impending doom now upon him. This is largely true: it was the Loyalists’ pushing Corvo to success, while simultaneously suppressing their own individual identities and desires, that prompted the explosion of the suppressed Loyalist personalities upon acquisition of Emily. Havelock copes with his newly repossessed individual self by defending it, desperately seeking to maintain his sense of personal identity by offloading the blame for disintegration of the Loyalists’ common goal onto his former comrades – though he has a moment of acknowledging his own faults, he quickly returns to mere rationalization. Again, this is understandable: with his plans falling apart around him, his identity is all he has left.

Lady Macbeth succumbed to madness from the suppressive measures she undertook to effect her selfish advancement through her husband; similarly, the Loyalists met madness when they were forced to confront the individualism they had suppressed during the time in which they were acting as a singular actualizing impetus. Thus, each case is a picture of the actualizing impetus as a self-motivated manipulator who seeks to effectively direct the operative role single-mindedly to the ends of the prophesied role by suppressing parts of their (i.e., the actualizing impetus’s) own identity. This process, in a Freudian framework, leads to advanced neurosis, inducing acute pain when the self-imposed deceptive field of suppression is shattered. Defense mechanisms inevitably take over, to the point where any further action or resolution is absolutely precluded by psychical paralysis.

The actualizing impetus is a precariously perched self-advocate, entering into the suppressive paradigm of the prophesied meta-role for the purpose of self-advancement, but almost inevitably ensuring self-destruction in the process. In the low-chaos ending to “Dishonored,” if Corvo approaches Havelock, he will offer him the key to Emily’s locked room and stand before him, giving him the opportunity to kill or subdue him. Yet, whether Corvo takes the key or confronts him, the Admiral will immediately burst forth in a fit of furious swordsmanship, fighting Corvo tooth-and-nail to the death. This typifies the bizarre, overarching paradox of the actualizing impetus: to participate in the prophesied meta-role paradigm is to tacitly endorse and submit to the operative role’s destiny, upon which the paradigm is based; and yet to at the same time, to do so is to forfeit any stake in this destiny. There is no prophesied fulfillment for the actualizing impetus; it is only the greed within them that creates their envisioned future, which becomes dependent upon someone else’s fate and their own self-renunciation.


Synthesis: “I hope the days are near at hand that chambers will be safe”

To condense this treatment to a single point, we have uncovered a paradigm of pigeonholing: an operative role is redefined exclusively in terms of its dominant drive by the introduction of a realistic path to fulfillment of that drive’s ends; and external, selfish forces help the operative role along this path for their own ulterior motives, at the cost of pigeonholing or otherwise suppressing themselves. Particularly against the backdrop of “Macbeth” and the high-chaos endings of “Dishonored,” it may rightly feel difficult to conceive of a way in which this could at all relieve the image-evolution paradox – or, indeed, to anything else. In stepping back and considering this paradigm’s implications, however, we might come to see that our knowledge and implementation of the overall paradigm might be far less oppressive than its component pieces.

From our first assessments of perceptual dynamics in “Dishonored” to our final assessments of the functional range of the actualizing impetus, a constant consideration has been the matter of choice provided to the operant role within this paradigm. The actualizing impetus is clearly oppressed via self-renunciation, but, while a level of manipulation is always exerted on the operative role, the operative role is not necessarily oppressed as a result. After all, at the most fundamental level, the operative role is merely being offered and enabled to follow the path it is most driven to follow by its formative trait; the elimination of choice in how this path is tread is effected, as we have seen, by a moral potentiating body, a hierarchical potentiating body, or a singular, personal actualizing impetus. When viewed in this light, it is no wonder why “Macbeth” is so bleak: its paradigm has all three of these “negative types” tending to remove the operative role’s capacity to choose his own path.

In contrast, “Dishonored” offers a paradigm with all the “positive types” of these component dynamics: an amoral potentiating body, a singular, personal potentiating body, and an organization-based actualizing impetus. In a world just as bleak as Macbeth’s – a plague-beset city ruled by a usurping, curiously Macbeth-like tyrannical Lord Regent – a happy ending is possible for Corvo as well as a tragic ending. The locus of control for this difference in outcome is within Corvo himself. Yet given so many preconditions for this scenario, is this message an empowering one of the human capacity for choice, or a bleaker one of near-certain manipulation?

Let us abstract from the context of the game and consider the real-world applications of this paradigm. First, as we have already suggested, there is nothing requiring a literally supernatural force(s) within the framework we have developed – both “Macbeth” and “Dishonored” go out of their way to indicate that the specific entities serving as the potentiating bodies are in no way unique. In fact, the potentiating body can be any force which exists with some level of separation from the operative role’s commonly-understood and inhabited reality, and which offers the operative role a vision of future fulfillment in the manner of a prophesied role. So ‘potentiating body’ is a far more broadly applicable term than a moniker for god-figures. To demonstrate the usefulness in this understanding of the paradigm, we will take as a realistic example the concept of education, though any number of examples could be used here (systems, in particular, such as the judicial, governmental, educational systems, are particularly salient examples because they, by design, are separated from reality in the sense that they exert themselves upon the larger society/system).

We can read teachers as potentiating bodies. They are separate from the student’s (read: operative role’s) greater world insofar as they operate within the specific system of the school for the purpose of giving the student the knowledge (abilities) necessary to travel the path to where they see themselves in the future (the prophesied role, defined by the student’s formative trait). Along the way, the student may be pushed by any number of pressures: family, peers, society (examples of actualizing impetuses), all of which seek to force or guide him along the path, in large part due to their own interests or ideas of what is best for the student. Again, this analysis may be repeated with any number of examples, particularly with systems or institutions.

We can see by the method of analogy that the prophesied-role paradigm does mitigate the image-evolution paradox through an imperative or responsibility, much like our treatment of the platonic meta-role paradigm. Even if we contain our paradigm to a critique of institutional/systemic examples, we have just demonstrated that such systems by their inherent nature have the capacity to drastically influence the capacity for the participant’s choice in his or her own development, as described in terms of the path to the future self understood as the prophesied role. At their best, schools can enable students to walk into their future in any way they choose; at their worst, they pigeonhole them into an inescapable, suppressed, half-existence.

We have three criteria for the mitigation of this paradigm’s dangers: an amoral potentiating body, a singular, personal potentiating body, and an organization-based actualizing impetus. This, too, can be translated into a model for responsible systems. In our school example, our treatment theoretically demonstrates the need for the student to have a personal, one-on-one relationship with their teacher in the learning process, and the need for those who might pressure the student to be more aware of this and consider themselves a single component of a larger, collective pressure, such that their individual weight is reduced in the student’s eyes. Bracketing the question of whether an amoral education is possible, we will simply say that we have demonstrated the need for the teacher to teach as objectively as possible, and to assess one’s moral compass such that, where moral interference is unavoidable, the morals that interfere are at least defensible morals.

Such an approach to systems would theoretically empower the participant with greater choice in his or her ever-evolving sense of self. This would mitigate the image-evolution paradox because a large part of the issue in the paradox is a sense of conflict between the understood self at any given moment, and the dynamic nature of the self across time. Such a conflict is necessarily aggravated when the self does not understand why it has changed in the ways that it has over time. How is it ever to understand such change if the choice of how to change was never truly in the hands of the self as an operative role?

Before seizing the branches of Birnam Wood and marching on the tyrant Macbeth’s fortress, Malcolm turns to his fellows and declares that “[he hopes] the days are near at hand that chambers will be safe.”[22] In closing this treatment, we echo his words in hoping that the days are near at hand when the destructive influence of negative-typed components of the prophesied meta-role paradigm is no longer an issue. After all, how shall we ever be safe in our chambers, if we did not choose those chambers for ourselves?

[1] Ibid, II.1.34-65.

[2] Ibid, III.4.62-69.

[3] Ibid, III.1.48-72.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, III.4.21-22.

[6] Ibid, IV.1.95-96.

[7] Ibid, IV.1.101-103.

[8] Ibid, IV.1.113-117.

[9] Ibid, IV.1.106.

[10] Ibid, V.8.15-16.

[11] Ibid, V.8.17-22.

[12] Ibid, V.8.28-32.

[13] “Neutralizing Havelock” can be as innocuous as merely stealing the key to Emily’s room; Corvo does not need to render him unconscious or kill him, although these options are available to him as well.

[14] Ibid, I.5.58.

[15] Ibid, III.4.59-77.

[16] Ibid, I.5.14-29.

[17] Ibid, I.5.59-69.

[18] Ibid, I.7.35-39.

[19] Ibid, V.1 24-25.

[20] Ibid, V.1 31-67, excerpted.

[21] Ibid, I.5.39-53.

[22] Ibid, V.4.1-2.

The Bard and Bethesda: Throwback Analysis of “Dishonored,” Part II.

You’ll recall that, a few days ago, I released the first part of a three-part analysis of “Dishonored” which I produced several years ago.  Today, I offer fans the second part of that analysis; following the third part, be on the lookout for up-to-date theory on what makes “Dishonored” an architecturally worthwhile piece of art.

(A reminder that this work is not entirely faithful to my current views on “Dishonored,” nor to my approach to video game analysis more generally — however, note also that it is not altogether incompatible with them.)

Corvo and Emily

Analysis by Definition: the Prophesied Meta-Role in Action

            Though they are separated by many years, “Macbeth” and “Dishonored” share a common paradigm: main characters with a driving passion are granted a vision of how the future could be, and are given the means to realize it by virtue of a supernatural force. Along the way, they are compelled to pursue this path by various external parties, and eventually – for better or worse – they realize the vision of their future. Though there are clear differences between the exact natures of these dynamics in each case, the paradigm may be boiled down to a single, core conception of a unique brand of meta-role. Though rooted in the presence of a supernatural force, we shall see in summation that our framework has applicability independent of such a presence.

The Prophesied Meta-Role Paradigm

As per our typical process, we consider a graphical representation of the prophesied role paradigm, above, and use it as our point of entry into understanding this meta-role. We will assess each of its five component parts in turn, before considering the broader implications of the paradigm in relation to the image-evolution paradox.

We may formally define the working paradigm as follows: the prophesied meta-role paradigm is defined as a framework wherein a character playing an operative role (A), the tenor of which is determined by a formative trait (B) in the role, is compelled by virtue of this formative trait and external compulsion by an actualizing impetus (E) to pursue assumption of a prophesied role (D) foretold and enabled by a potentiating body (C). The remainder of the treatment will be spent defining these five terms and understanding the dynamics at work between them.


A: The Operative Role

            The operative role is the player’s entry point into the meta-role paradigm, analagous to the primary role in our more general meta-role framework. In the case of “Dishonored,” Corvo is the operative role; in “Macbeth,” Macbeth is the operative role.

Upon further consideration of Corvo’s role as a silent, first-person avatar, we see many similarities between the way a player encounters the Royal Protector and the way an actor might encounter his role. In eliminating a god-point camera perspective and avatar dialogue reflective of a sentience separate from the player’s, the game works to approximate the avatar as a persona – a sleeve into which the player may slip such that he might experience the game’s reality more directly.

Such an approximation is necessarily imperfect. Sensory input is not directly correlated in “Dishonored” as it is in acting; senses of touch, smell, pain, and taste and entirely disembodied from the avatar, while senses of hearing and sight are incomplete inasmuch as the player is not isolated from the sounds and sights of his actual reality; so immersion in the game’s reality is limited. Another key difference, as we have previously noted, rests in the fact that NPC’s have no conception of the player outside of the game’s reality. No preconceptions about the player’s body or reminders of who he “really is” need to be surmounted, as is the case in theater.

The commonalities pertinent to the cases at hand are focused on impressionability and the external locus of the operative role’s direction. We have already touched on the way Corvo’s silence begets the external imposition of his directives; the very nature of the game’s setup reinforces this in how he is sent on assassination missions issued by the Loyalist hierarchy. Even after the Loyalists betray him, the Royal Protector is literally ferried on his way by Samuel the boatman. Thus, though Corvo’s journey is billed as a quest for personal vindication, he is at every juncture reacting as opposed to acting. The exact nature of these external forces will be treated further in our consideration of the actualizing impetus; for now, we simply note the manner in which Corvo, as an operative role, is a reactionary agent of choice.

This is closely related to the acting pedagogy of ‘scene presence’. It is not acting to simply await one’s cue onstage and recite the lines of one’s character; rather, in accordance with the heightened consciousness through mindfulness which we have previously discussed, the way in which the actor brings forth the lines as the character finds its organic quality in genuine reaction on the actor’s part to the stimuli being impressed upon him by the actions of other characters. Macbeth’s thirst for knowledge and assurance from the witches and spirits is not genuine unless the actor, armed with a clear conception of Macbeth’s defining character (something we will discuss more in the next section), reacts to the appearance of the witches, declaration of him as king, etc., through a methodology of resonance: he must pose the question of how each new stimulus informs his character, and act accordingly through reaction.

So the operative role is defined first and foremost by its quality of reactivity. The choices it has to make are thrust upon it by external forces and preconditions, be they prophecy, assassination contracts, or the threat of a disruptive agent (in Macbeth’s case, Banquo). Though both “Macbeth” and “Dishonored” are colored by the impact of the choices the operative role makes, the operative role seems caught in the tragic quandry of always being put in a reactive position, rather than choosing through initiative. Not surprisingly, it is the fundamental drive within each operative role that determines which external forces will push it to a junction of reactive choice; this drive, consequently, is responsible for the most essential shape of the operative role.


B: The Formative Trait

            We consider here the primary internal drive motivating the actions of the operative role, which we will call the ‘formative trait’.

We may lean upon Freud to sketch a psychological framework for this trait; in so doing, we find it closely related to the concept of sublimation. In the Freudian construction of the mind, the id’s libidinal drive – i.e., the pleasure principle – is translated in the ego into narcissistic cathexes. It is not difficult to move this into our current meta-role paradigm: the ego, the mind’s evolutionary coping mechanism for reality, bridles the id’s primordial object cathexes by translating them into narcissistic energies expressed internally and externally.[1] Such sublimation leads to the differentiation of unbound libidinal energies into distinct ego-objects and drives – in our examples, platonic love and ambition.

We can think of the formative trait as the dominant sublimated drive present in the operative role – that drive which, in the diagram, literally gives the role its shape (triangularity, in the graphic) by directing its actions within the confines of the reality principle. Macbeth’s formative trait is ambition: from the first, we are introduced to the Thane of Glamis by reports of his slaying the traitor Macdonwald, after which he “unseamed him from the nave to th’ chaps and fixed his head upon [the] battlements.”[2] His initial ferocity, which could be perceived as patriotism or loyalty to the regency, is redefined as we see him react to the witches prophesying that he shall be king. He quickly becomes frightened by his own murderous thoughts of regicide: he refers in an aside to his acquisition of the titles of Thane of Glamis and Cawdor as “two truths” that are “happy prologues to the swelling act of the imperial theme,”[3] and goes on to describe the terror with which he yields to his thought’s suggestion of regicide.[4]

We ought not to be surprised that Macbeth reacts in this way; as we shall later see, the prophesied role, as designed by the witches, inherently resonates with the operative role’s formative trait. Why would such resonance terrify Macbeth? Freud again aids us in explanation: he describes the ego as “a poor creature owing service to three masters and consequently menaced by three dangers: from the external world, from the libido [of] the id, and from the severity of the super-ego.”[5] The superego, the policing force exerting the social expectations of without upon the ego, almost always stands in opposition to the desires of the instinctually driven id.[6] Sublimation as a defense mechanism, then, allows the ego to fulfill the instinctual desires of the id via a socially acceptable method, a process that placates both id and super-ego.

The witches appear and prophesy Macbeth king, providing “proof” in the form of first prophesying his acquisition of the Thane titles. This feeds Macbeth’s ambition by making his ascension to the throne seem plausible. Whence is ambition derived? The pleasure principle of the id, distorted through the process of sublimation. Thus, this potentiality for fulfillment of the sublimated drive (i.e., the formative trait) speaks, through translation, to the id, wherefrom emerges the regicidal impulse. This id-driven desire runs in direct opposition to the mental and behavioral proscriptions of the super-ego, and is even more alarming because it enters consciousness through the intermediate drive of a sublimated instinct, which both id and super-ego are meant to accept. A similar process occurs in “Dishonored,” where Corvo’s platonic love for Emily (and, perhaps by association, his sense of justice) is invoked in The Outsider’s actualization of his capacity to realize the desired ends of his formative drive: saving Emily and reinstating the proper monarchical lineage. Such power, in combination with external pressures in the form of actualizing impetuses (discussed below), compels him to step outside socially proscribed actions in order to effect fundamental social change in pursuit of fulfillment of his primary drive. He steps out of the role of Royal Protector and into the role of Masked Assassin because of a perceived path to fulfilling the will of his formative trait – a path provided by The Outsider.


C: The Potentiating Body

            The social dynamics of both “Dishonored” and “Macbeth” are rather ironic because, while they both project images of powerful – at times totalitarian – monarchies or otherwise regencies, the governmental structure is subordinate to supernatural occult authority. The supernatural entity responsible for establishment of the prophesied role is termed the ‘potentiating body’, in reference to the fact that the entire paradigm in consideration finds its genesis is their prophecies. Though we have just determined that a similar internal process occurs in both Corvo and Macbeth in learning of their foretold futures, The Outsider and the supernatural entities of Macbeth – the witches and Hecate – differ in several ways, which will help us to unpack the dynamics of the potentiating body.

The Outsider is understood in occult lore to exist outside of morality, a fact symbolized by the way in which he literally exists outside the physical world, in the extra-spatiotemporal space known as The Void. Of course, as is natural in response to occult groups, he and his followers are branded heretical demons by the dominant, state-sanctioned religion – the “Abbey of the Everyman,” or, as The Outsider puts it, “a great cult dedicated to loathing me,” led by Overseers, “religious militants dedicated to fighting witchcraft.” The Void, likewise, is purported by Overseers to be a place of “turpitude,” against which one must guard one’s soul by devoting oneself to the Abbey. In contrast, those who have directly experienced the Void view it as welcoming and empowering. One work of fiction that is available for Corvo to find within Dunwall, Call to the Spheres, tells the story of a disciple of the Abbey who, on a journey with Abbey hierarchy, is called by and communes with The Outsider in the Void, and ultimately kills the Abbey men with whom he was traveling. The last excerpt reflects his awakening to The Outsider, referred to in the traditionally-biblical usage of “He.”

I do not fear the Void, nor am I concerned with the spiritual sanctity of the weak. For I am now His herald, His chosen, having seen His sublime vault, where eternally He feeds upon the substance of the Void.

Alone in Orchado’s ship, the floor painted red with life, I draw designs with my fingers and gaze through the portals at the land rising below. There I will build the first monument to His glory, a rotting wound in the flesh of nature.

Patiently, I’ll build, awaiting Your arrival, oh great scion of the Void!

We can contrast this account to that given by Daud, the leader of the assassins commissioned by the then-Spy Master, soon-to-be Lord Regent, to kill the Empress. After Corvo finally finds Daud, if he chooses to face Daud in combat, Daud, upon defeat, offers a plea and confession to his would-be assassin.

I ask for my life. When I killed your Empress and took her daughter, something broke inside me. Now I see the design on the back of your hand, the mark of the Outsider himself, and I remember all I’ve done. The years of waiting for the right moment to step forward from an alley and drive a knife between the ribs of some noble. All the money exchanging hands, from one rich bastard or another. Killing for one of them one year, then being paid to kill him in return the next. And what have I accomplished? More than you have, or much less?

I remember bending at the shrines, listening as the Outsider whispered that I was going to change things, that I was somehow important. It felt good, made me believe I was powerful. Now I want nothing but to leave this city. And fade from the memory of those who reside here. I’ve had enough killing. The men you worked for asked you to kill for them, but you always found another way. You took a path I could have followed, but did not. So my life is in your hands.

Daud is notable because he is the clearest example of a person marked by The Outsider other than Corvo. Taken in tandem with the excerpt from Call to the Spheres, what we have before us are bookends to a lifetime spent heeding The Outsider’s call, with practically diametrically opposed tones.

Before considering the two together, we dwell on Daud’s account for a moment. Firstly, it is interesting to compare his final appeal to the character of Macbeth. In particular, his recollection of The Outsider’s words to him sound as though they could have come directly from Macbeth. This is easily demonstrated by replacing a single word in Daud’s speech: “I remember bending at the shrines listening as the [witches] whispered that I was going to change things, that I was somehow important. It felt good, made me believe I was powerful.” Following our above considerations of Macbeth’s formative trait (ambition), we could rightly say that Daud was similarly bent on achieving power and status.

Further, two opposing perspectives juxtapose themselves starkly in Daud’s words: on the one hand, he seems to blame The Outsider for the emptiness he now finds in review of his life; on the other hand, he seems to blame himself by acknowledging that Corvo, in the same position as Daud once was, “took a path [Daud] could have followed, but did not.” This is a critical point to consider in analyzing the potentiating body. The Outsider, as we know from both lore and firsthand experience with Corvo, is largely amoral. He is an interested observer who gives those who peak His interest the supernatural tools to further their own designs. No deal is struck; no contract is signed. As He says to Corvo during their first meeting, “How you use what I have given you falls upon you, as it has to the others before you… but know that I will be watching with great interest.” The Outsider, then, is only at fault insofar as he allows those he marks to fulfill their own desires (i.e., their formative trait). The question, then, must follow: if The Outsider is enabling the fulfillment of a force which drives the mind and behavior of his chosen, then does the chosen (in this case, Daud) have any choice in the path he treads?

The obvious answer is that this choice absolutely exists, because the entire storyline is dependent upon the choices that Corvo makes. Yet, as tempting as this answer is, the dilemma is not so easily waved off – it could, after all, very well be that the particular nature of Corvo’s formative trait enables him to choose from a multitude of paths, in a way that Daud’s did not. Furthermore, we noted earlier that the nature of the game’s perceptual dynamics is such that the player is not even aware until late in the game that Corvo is fighting for his daughter. Therefore, as a player, Corvo’s formative trait is largely opaque, which may mean that freedom of choice manifests because the player is able to arrive at the realization of Corvo’s formative trait via multiple, unique paths. This idea will be treated later in consideration of the prophesied role itself; suffice it to say now that Corvo’s case cannot be automatically equated with Daud’s.

A more relevant piece of information is provided by the mechanical “heart of a living thing” which the Outsider gives Corvo at the beginning of the game to guide him to the Outsider’s relics. The heart has the ability to whisper secrets to Corvo about the things he sees; if Corvo points it at Daud after his plea is issued, the heart tells him that “His hands do violence, but there is a different dream in his heart.” The statement, of course, is so psychologically opaque that it’s almost intractable. We can say, however, that the heart tells us Daud’s motives were not violent ones. Presumably, this means that his formative trait’s fulfillment was not contingent upon violence – in the same way that a necessary condition for becoming king is not regicide, Daud did not have to become an assassin lord of crime to realize his wish for power and importance.

The powers The Outsider grants are multifarious, with some tending towards violent elements and some towards nonviolent solutions. Corvo can acquire the ability to see through walls, aiding him in stealth; or, he can learn to summon a rat swarm to devour his enemies (or, he can learn both abilities). There is nothing in the gift of The Outsider that inherently pushes the chosen in the direction of violence or nonviolence. The Outsider sets up a choice, merely giving people the capacity to walk whatever path they like. Clearly, there are different ways to fulfill the ends of any formative trait. Perhaps the seat of choice rests within the chosen, or perhaps the chosen’s external environment compels him; either way, it is clear that The Outsider is not an agent of determinism – rather, he an enabler of choice.

In direct contrast to the neutrality of The Outsider, the witches of Macbeth make no secret of their malevolent bent: Hecate, upon arrival in the third act, refers to herself as “the mistress of [the witches’ charms], the close contriver of all harms.”[7] They are also characterized as vengeful – for example, see their meeting prior to first speaking wih Macbeth, during which the first witch tells a story of her latest exploit.

A sailor’ wife had chestnuts in her lap

And munched and munched and munched. “Give me,” quoth I.

“Aroit thee, witch!” the rump-fed runnion cries.

But i a sieve I’ll thither sail

And like a rat without a tail,

I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do.[8]

The three then plot the coming torment of the sailor, all in revenge for his wife’s refusal to share chestnuts.[9] This is clearly unlike the distant, amoral force we saw in “Dishonored.” Quite to the contrary: in perhaps their most famous line, the witches declare in deciding to meet with Macbeth that “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”[10] Instead of exempting themselves from the moral order, the witches are intentionally subverting it. Their goal might be seen as a sort of deadly mischief: the witches are like a hugely hyperbolized, malevolent sorority, pulling pranks for their own petty amusement.

Their tenor, then, is distinct from The Outsider in that they fully substantiate the evil, demonic rumors about them, whereas The Outsider is merely disparaged because the reigning religion seeks to maintain order. But is there a distinction between the way in which the witches interact with Macbeth and the way in which The Outsider interacts with Corvo? Yes: The Outsider appears after Corvo already has an active goal (the rescue and reinstatement of Emily) and provides him with the means to achieve this goal; the witches appear before Macbeth has an active goal, and implant within him the idea of an end goal.

Stated so starkly, we might wonder how two such cases are related at all. We must remember that both are grounded in an operative role that is offered a path to fulfillment of its formative trait; the only difference here is the presence of an active goal at the time when the path is presented. The path to Corvo’s fulfillment is offered as a way to realize the goal he has already selected as the end desire of his formative trait, whereas the witches are presenting Macbeth with an end desire (being king) which, if at all present previously, was presumably not conscious. It is no surprise that the presence and absence of active goals segregate in this manner: there is something inherently manipulative in directing the drive of someone towards a previously unconscious goal, suggesting some sort of ulterior motive; whereas, on the other hand, providing them with tools to realize their own goal is far less insidious. This coalesces with our assessment of The Outsider and the witches thus far.

Further distinctions that we must consider are multiplicity and hierarchy versus singularity. In “Dishonored,” there is one potentiating body, The Outsider, whereas “Macbeth” hosts three witches, subordinate under Hecate, a demon or pagan entity of sorts, serving as an entire “potentiating system,” so to speak. Upon examination, we immediately see that hierarchy is the more real and interesting than multiplicity.

Multiplicity is largely superficial. The very nature of The Outsider, as previously described (a completely average-looking, non-remarkable young man), suggests that there could be any number of such entities – paradoxically, there is nothing particularly special about this supremely powerful deity. This line of reasoning is supplemented by the way in which Granny Rags, a fallen aristocrat in Dunwall, driven to madness and blindness by an encounter with The Outsider, achieved partial immortality by infusing a cameo of herself with her soul. If one could elevate oneself to a level of partial immortality through occult magic, it seems naïve to believe The Outsider is any sort of true singularity. It is interesting, also, to consider the way Shakespeare implies the witches could “be anyone” through the indeterminate nature of their sex, as Banquo notes when he tells the witches that “You should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so.”[11] Both the Bard and Bethesda apparently go out of their way to point out that the potentiating body could be anyone or anything – a statement that, as suggested earlier, greatly relieves this paradigm of any implied relation to a deity or other actual religious framework.

Hierarchy, however, cannot be found even implicitly as far as The Outsider is concerned. In point of fact, this is one of the key differentiating traits of his: in contrast to the rigid, hierarchical structure of Dunwall’s corrupt government and religion, The Outsider does not answer to anyone – a fact which makes exchanges with him much more intimate than with anyone else Corvo encounters. The Loyalists are still part of a system, with responsibilities divided out amongst them; thus, speaking with them typically amounts speaking with a system, for, even though their aim is to oust the current hierarchy, it is only for the end of replacing it with their own hierarchy. This sensation of being bound to a system is elicited by the gameplay in subtle ways, such as how Corvo must often speak to and conduct business with many different Loyalists between each mission in order to keep the organization running smoothly. In contrast, he meets the Outsider at small, intimate shrines, one-on-one, invoking a far more personal, unassuming experience.

The witches, on the other hand, are part of the “corporation” of the occult, serving under Hecate. We noted above how Hecate sees herself as the overseer of the witches’ machinations, which is why she is so offended when they act of their own accord;[12] when next they perform black magic before meeting with Macbeth, she takes on her role as manager, praising them in due course: “O, well done!” she tells her witches, “I commend your pains, and every one shall share i’ th’ gains.”[13] Upon her first interaction with the witches, she intimates her relationship to them by saying that they are the instruments of her ill will.

Your vessels and your spells provide,

Your charms and every thing beside.

I am for the air; this night I’ll spend

Unto a dismal and a fatal end:

Great business must be wrought ere noon:

Upon the corner of the moon

There hangs a vaporous drop profound;

I’ll catch it ere it come to ground:

And that distill’d by magic sleights

Shall raise such artificial sprites

As by the strength of their illusion

Shall draw him on to his confusion:

He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear

He hopes ‘bove wisdom, grace and fear:

And you all know, security

Is mortals’ chiefest enemy.[14]

The witches are the vessels, or agents, of Hecate’s malicious will against man – in this case, against Macbeth. Yet Hecate herself is not hierarchically singular either – the entire latter half of the scene where she asserts herself to her witches is spent with three spirits calling her back, presumably to Hell or some other demonic other-realm.[15] So we see that even the supposed mastermind of the prophesied role is at the top of the food chain.

We have, then, the model of an entity that can be anyone or anything, moral or amoral, which actualizes the fulfillment of the operative role’s formative trait in either a direct or neutral way. This entity is preeminently separate – not only is it mysterious with respect to the operative role, but it is largely separated from reality as the operative role conceives it. The potentiating body is seen as a visitor to the operative role’s world, which, in a subtle way imputed here by the notion of “supernatural-ness,” validates their capacity for prophecy – particularly, as we have seen, when their authority is validated by events in reality. This puts them in the ideal position to establish for the operative role a picture of its future self in the form of a prophesied role. It is this prophesied role that we consider next.

[1] The Ego and the Id, p. 44-45 & 58.

[2] “Macbeth,” I.2.22-23.

[3] Ibid, I.3.127-129.

[4] Ibid, I.3.134-142.

[5] The Ego and the Id, p. 58.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Macbeth,” III.5.7-8.

[8] Ibid, 1.3.4-10.

[9] Ibid, I.3.3-25.

[10] Ibid, I.1 12.

[11] Ibid, I.3.45-47.

[12] Ibid, III.5.1-9.

[13] Ibid, IV.1.39-40.

[14] Ibid, III.5.18-33.

[15] Ibid, III.5.36-68.