By the time I finished Disco Elysium for the first time, on Frebruary 14th 2022 at 4:20AM, my steam account clocked 172 hours of playtime, putting it second to Team Fortress 2
in sheer hours running the program. Mind you, most of the time was spent just loading screens. This fucking game, with its fucking disastrous architecture, demanded me a kind of undivided attention I don't think I will ever give any other piece of media. It was so demanded, because the material conditions upon which I could go through this aesthetic experience was through the excruciating, lenghty, sometimes unbareable and outright infuriating 5 to 15 minutes of loadtimes for every mistake I made: for every door I opened that I didn't have to but I did because I wanted to be thorough, for every time I closed my computer by mistake and had to load everything up and make up for the lost progress; -sometimes I had horrible throws that I was not willing to accept for my canon first run
, which might as well be the only time I play the damn game in years, considering I will not submit myself again to almost half of my playtime dedicated to loadtimes (and the prospects of me getting a console or a better PC to run it are absolutely out of the question for the time being). For 10 days straight, from February 4th to February 14th, 2022, the only thing inhabiting my thought cabinet was Disco Elysium. I woke up to pick up the game from the day before, sometimes just leaving the game running over the night so I didn't have to load it again once morning came. Then, I would spend most of my day diving into the game, every corner and dialogue I could find. I would try every white check throw, I would do every sidequest available. In spite of all the suffering and bouts of anger the programing of the game gave me, I was unable to stop. I was mesmerized, the same way you would be under the spell of someone you are in love with. I was in love with this game. I am, I still am. I love Disco Elysium more than almost any other game or piece of media. Few things I would hold even closer to my heart than this game.
Disco Elysium is much, much more than just a game, or just an RPG. Sure, I could say something like "Disco Elysium is a cRPG that feels like a Dostoyevski novel directed by David Lynch and the protagonist is Bojack Horseman" and sure it would be the best way to summarize it in a sentence, but beyond effective one liners and funny quips, this game is also the forever in green song of hope, it's the dwellings and ponderings of a bard, wondering about our deep, deep sadness that lies in the almost imposible to describe feeling of loneliness that consumes everything, and how it ties up past with future, from what's gone to what's to come. A study about human will and how free our will truly is. It's a neverending question about what's right and what's meaningful. It's in the process of you unraveling the mysteries of this here past (be it a murder, be it an ex-something, be it your own identity) that you start to map the meaning of things, the hows and the whys, paving the way for our minds to do what they are made to do: judge the state of affairs. Are things good? Is this person to trust? Did I do right? How should things be? None of these questions are easy to answer, and this game knows it and it wants you to aknowledge the fact. It takes time to think about things, to know them, to understand them. You have to sit with your thoughts and puzzle it out. That's out blessing and our curse as human beings: to inhabit the realm of the metaphysical: of that which is not the hic et nunc
. It's a blessing because it's the foundation of all of those all so human things that make life worth living, like love and hope, but also it can be an anchor tied to your neck. It's indescribable pain and it's sublime joy. No way to have one without the other as long as we live in the material realm of things.
Like all good poetry that deals with the sadness
, it starts with the smalltalk, the mundane, the everyday stuff, breaking the ice on the surface, letting a space for you to dig deeper. Disco Elysium follows the tragic life of Lieutenant Double-Yefreitor Harrier Du Bois of the 41st Precinct of the Revachol Citizen Militia, an alcoholic cop drowning in the sadness
, driving him to self inflicted brain damage via alcohol abuse. That's how you wake up. In a room in a hotel in the middle of the discrict of Martinaise, a special economic zone where the jurisidction of the RCM barely touches, where you were sent to solve the mistery of a murdered hired mercenary found hanging in a tree behind the hotel. In absolute amnesia, not really knowing who you are, after several days of heavy drinking and unsavoury behaviour, abandoning his resposibilities and engaging in, plain and simple, selfdestruction. A very convenient plot device to have you and our protagonist have the same basic knowledge of the world around you. Stepping out of the blue, each new step, each new door lets you absorb the reality and the truth of it all: the places, the people, the living, breathing world around us. You are told of the havoc you wreaked, of which you have to take responsibility as the adult human being you are; luckily for you, confused player, Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi from the 57th Precinct of the RCM came from the other side of the jurisdicition to investigate why your job hasn't been done and do it with you. With his matter of factly, no-bullshit, straight man attitude, Harrier finds the best possible companion to his persona, no matter what you do... except if you are a fascist and a racist, then you will find no love nor sympathy for you. What an inexorable, tortuous ordeal to be imposed to make along with an asshole that hates you just for existing. But that's just a choice. You can choose to be a bigoted asshole, but you can also be a kind man; you can be a drunken disaster or strive to have a better life. From the moment you wake up, but specially after you step outside the Whirling-in-Rags for the first time, it's your perrogative to do whatever you want within the very limited scope of things a human being can do. You can be a neoliberal hussler, you can be a milquetoast social democrat (a.k.a. centrist), you can be a fascist or you can be a communist. You can be a superstar cop or an artistic cop or a sorry cop or a hobo cop. You can solve the case in a number of ways; thoroughly and slowly or fast and superficially. You can make Harrier do a lot of things, and be in different ways, but no matter what you do, there's always something deep in the soul of this very human character that remains the same. You can see it through all the game, through all his interactions: call it his aura, his vibration, call it whatever you want: the truth is Harrier Du Bois has a vast, vast blue soul. One of a deep sadness, a deep longing. The soul of a very flawed and scared human being that has something to say, a song to sing to the world. I think that's probably the greatest literary archievement of this game. All these characters are very three dimensional, fleshed out, and atop the list is, of course, him who we are to guide in order to make something out of the hours that won't come back. To resume, three are the main mysteries in this game: (1) What's going on in this world? (2) Who is our protagonist? (3) Who killed the victim?
Plunged into this world, with the task of answering the big questions, Disco Elysium slowly unravels like a flower on spring comes, unfurling each detail with utmost care, like a braid, intertwining each part at your own pace, on your own terms. Given enough time, given the correct (or maybe wrong) choices, you are to become aware of the horrible ghost that haunts Harrier. You realise Harry has been binge drinking in an attempt to forget this past, this ghost that won't let him live in peace. In a sense, this game has something akin to Undertale
, insofar you are punished for trying to push every boundry you are given. The consequences of digging through Harrier's past is to make him aware once again of that which he does not want to face. In a sense, the most ethical thing to do would be to let the poor, aching man oblivious to his past. It's one of the many things Disco Elysium is trying to say: That there's things we cling, and we cling so hard, unwilling to let go because of our ego, because of who we are -or who we think we are- and as ling as we hold onto that, we are unable to move on. We live in the past, longing for a lost future that never will be. Often times I feel like this. My best friend commited suicide five years ago. He was the man I loved the most, in a way I will never love no other man: As a partner, as a best friend. He was the Lennon to my McCartney, the Wilson to my House, the Sasuke of my Naruto, the Claus of my Lucas. It's been five years, and I still cry for him. I still miss him. I miss his voice and I miss his hair and I miss us cooking wonderful weird stuff and I miss us playing music, watching Workaholics
stoned as fuck. I miss the concerts, I miss the moments we shared the most intimate things, the sunsets listening to Loveless
waking down the center of Santiago. It's really hard for me to keep on living knowing there will never be someone like him for me, not the way he did. The private jokes, the years and years knowing each other (11 years we were friends, that's more than anyone else sans my mother as the writing of this review). Sometimes I feel this feeling that I should not be happy because it's unfair to be happy in a world where Victor is no longer there by my side. Some days I wake up and I feel it. I feel the sadness
, dripping slowly, seeping into my vital horizon, eating any energy I would have for living my life. I know how it feels to live with a ghost around you. You alone, and your ghost. I feel for Harrier's pain because it is my pain too. It's all to familiar. That's why I broke down in tears playing this game. In the karaoke scene. I couldn't take it without feeling it to the deepest of its extent. Never had a videogame torn my heart to pieces in this way since Chapter 6 of Mother 3. Staring in awe, I cried hard for Harry, and I cried hard for myself. I felt so sad he had to know the sadness
. I felt so sad I had to know the sadness
. But there I was, tears pouring as I stared into the vast, blue soul of a videogame character called Harrier Du Bois, he who came to know love and loss. Longing is something human, we all do, but that much longing only will turn itself backwards into a death wish. Harrier, thank God, despite all his suffering, is someone that still clings to life, to hope. He wants to be alive still -otherwise there'd be no game, wouldn't it? It's his will to live (also known as "Volition") that keeps him on this side of the line that divides the living and the dead. It's because and through this willpower that Harrier will engage with the questions set by the game; it is through this life impuse that we get to know Martinaise and it's people, their hopes and dreams, their expectations and wishes. Through this poverty-ridden wilderness we find reasons and will to do what we must, reflecting upon our own. Would you help kids mount a disco inside a church? Run from one side of town to the other to help some old lady that lost his husband? What are you willing to give up for others? What are you willing to give up for yourself (even if you don't want to give it up)? Disco Elysium is as much a political statement as it is a love letter, and I firmly believe this is a Soviet work of art, much like a Tarkovski film; that is: A work of art that cuts straight into the bone about the mystery of human existence in the midst of our mundane and everyday life of our common lives –within the limits of the world in that work– tying up the different perspectives, from the personal to the universal, from Harry to Iosif to the Phasmid. A Soviet videogame in a post-soviet world. Who would have imagined that? It's like the game in itself were that bullet that kicks in the events of this game: A scream from a reality long gone by, refusing to stop resounding without at least making a last change in the the world. To remind us that longing for a lost future only leads to death, in hope for the best, so that we may work for the real future. For ourselves, for our loved ones, for all of mandkind.
Disco Elysium, like few other games, gives a human face to the struggles of others, letting you wield the power of your will to make this world better for everyone, which, again ties up to the layer of political comentary within the game. Everyone is unhappy in Martinaise, no one feels "complete" nor "satisifed" with the way things are. Some would only fight for themselves, some would like to keep things as they are, some would like to fight for their friends, family and community, and it's up to you how much you do to make things better for this world. You can be someone that just speaks about communism but never helps their community, you can be a fascist that does charity to make themself sleep at night. It's clear you are no God and won't bring the dictatorship of the proletariat on your own, but there's so much you can do as a human being. Theory and practice either go hand in hand or they become a contradiction inside yourself. Such emapthy will eventually lead to extend that same respect to other living beings. Animals, plants, geists
, even God themself. But to come to these grand realisations, one ought to sit down with their thoughts and ponder a long time. To be honest about my life experience, it takes years, and I don't think it could be any other way. And to write them down, –to make them into an interactive experience like Disco Elysium– takes a Bard that has sat and pondered all these thoughts for all of us, someone that has experienced the sadness
one way or another, someone that knows how all these threads are tied together: the question of who we are, of where we are, and what we ought to do. It takes a philosopher to make a meaning of all of this. This game is an invitation to be that philosopher for your life, to be the captain of your ship, to be the bard that sings the unsung. Disco Elysium is the forever in green song of hope; the song that demands you to stand up and sing with all your heart. The song that through wonder and woe rings through your soul, piercing like an bullet.
The name of that bullet is Love.