Slave Zero X Never Portrays Kindness

Beware all those who enter

Slave Zero X Never Portrays Kindness
Source: Press Kit.

Your enemies are bad people. They’re bad people just like you — you can perceive that they are bad because you are under the same metaphysical landscape. You are also very angry, and you want to kill and make them suffer. Not necessarily because of revenge — you are just a tool. You were chosen to fill those shoes. Not by your mentor, your past, your loved ones: you were chosen by the narrative. Your friends are so amazing and you envy them. They are perfect. You see them as perfect because you are also perfect, in your own way. Their trauma is bigger than yours, their justifications are not as heavy-handed. They are hot, and smart, and they only need you as an operator: the plan is theirs. The plot is led by them. But the pathos is yours. They need you.

The narrative will need you to do things that you are not necessarily able to. You can’t relate to anyone in Slave Zero X: if you do, you lose. You need to fear them, love them, desire them, loathe them, but you can’t understand them. They need to be unattainable. Whenever you reach them, it’s all over. You can’t reach them: not your friends, your lovers, or your enemies. In Slave Zero X, you need to be alienated from everything to do the things that the game asks you to.

"To make this difference between imaginary and symbolic identification clear, let us take some non-clinical examples. In his piercing analysis of Chaplin, Eisenstein exposed as a crucial feature of his burlesques a vicious, sadistic, humiliating attitude towards children: in Chaplin's films, children are not treated with the usual sweetness: they are teased, mocked, laughed at for their failures, food is scattered for them as if they were chickens, and so on. 

The question to ask here, however, is from which point must we look at children so that they appear to us as objects of teasing and mocking, not gentle creatures needing protection? The answer, of course, is the gaze of the children themselves - only children themselves treat their fellows this way; sadistic distance towards children thus implies the symbolic identification with the gaze of the children themselves. (...) The same goes, of course, for the Stalinist elevation of the dignity of the socialist 'ordinary working people': this idealized image of the working class is staged for the gaze of the ruling Party bureaucracy - it serves to legitimize their rule."

Slavoj Zizek, "The Sublime Object of Ideology", 1989

Slave Zero X treats all of its characters as External Beings, even the ones that it portrays in a positive light. They could never be relatable because their politics are supposed to be all alien: not in a hermetic sense where they are a system closed in itself where any parallels we see are contingencies, but in a maximalist form of our own world (disguised as the future) and everyone is complicit just by living in it. The only way to change the status quo is by being The Other to everyone else. By murdering self-identification, it shows that we can change things without trying to maintain anything that can metastasize and eventually cause the same problems.

Slave Zero X. Source: Author.

In Slave Zero X, you need to be alienated from everything to do the things that the game asks you to.

A modern narrative's strength can be measured in a lot of personal and universal ways, but having believable characters is usually something valued. Understanding the motivations of heroes and villains, externalizing depth and nuance, and creating different textures and points of view, are all signs of good writing. Slave Zero X doesn't believe that. Showing compassion and understanding are all symptoms of condescension; you need to be mean and exaggerated. That's how propaganda works, that's what has been used as a tool for oppression for centuries, and that's exactly how we know it works and can be used to fight back.

Its villains are fascists, like any villains in our current landscape. They are fascist because they think you can't beat them, that you will bow to them. Maybe you will, maybe you will not.

It would be weird, then, if this was an accessible game. It's not. You, as a player, are as much an Other as anyone inside the plot. The game doesn't want to be untangled: you need to force it to open, and it doesn't want to be opened. It will fight back, and you'll need to fight hard, and you will fail over and over again with no regard for fairness or even checkpoint consistency. Slave Zero X doesn't want to be finished, it doesn't want to be beaten. It will beat you because that's essential to its message. It sees you as an equal so it will never patronize you: it will expose itself bare, no ifs and buts. You may not like it, but it doesn't care. The best that the game can do is give you a practice room to hone your fighting game skills (something that was clearly used as the basis for Slave Zero X's mechanics and explanations). The rest is on you; no difficulty selection, no cheese (apart from a couple of secret skills [also like a fighting game]), and no save-scumming. You are alien to it too. The game won't be kind to you because it wants to take you as part of its fiction.

Slave Zero X. Source: Author.

You, as a player, are as much an Other as anyone inside the plot.

What is your importance in that story, then? It depends on you, your willingness to engage, to understand its lack of kindness towards you. I wouldn't say that the game respects you because it shows the same kind of behavior towards its amazingly over-the-top villains or allies. As pointed out by the previous Zizek quote, that kind of reckless treatment is a sign of the game gazing toward you, not down on you.

Therefore, the story, for you, will end whenever you choose to disengage. Since the game treats you as an equal and requires the same kind of effort from you as from the narrative pieces inside it, it also means that it gives you as much power as it gives them.

When does a piece of art end, anyway?

How do you exhaust a picture?

Isn't it when you choose to walk away?

The Tower of Babel - Pieter Bruegel (the Elder) - 1563. Source: Google Art Project.

You can look at Bruegel's Tower of Babel for hours, days, and weeks and see something new and unexpected every time. It wouldn't end as you get a platinum trophy or when you reach its credits. It will echo through eternity, beyond your own cognition.

It's easier, however, to see the limits of something that exists through time (narratives, music, etc) because those have a clear "ending". That kind of art has more power than you do: they tell you when they start and they let you know when they end, so you can follow their rules and leave them alone. But in Slave Zero X's case, the power balance is skewed. It can end both when it says it finishes and when you want it to. It trusts you that much, and it won't judge you if you can't handle its hordes and extremely hyper-armored bosses: that's part of the deal.

Having alienation as its biggest raison d'être is a bold move. It dares you not to care because not caring will give you power over the fiction. A true postmodern narrative is not one that merely acknowledges the audience within its fiction (Slave Zero X does not do that), but one that empowers the audience and shows a very modern detachment as a way to cope with the intricacies of the world. It's post-nihilism; you care so much that you can, at the end of the day, empower yourself to not care anymore, after seeing everything it has to show you. You are the one who chooses when everything is everything. You won't be chastised for it. You are God.

Slave Zero X trained you to be God.

Slave Zero X. Source: Author.

It can end both when it says it finishes and when you want it to. It trusts you that much, and it won't judge you if you can't handle its hordes and extremely hyper-armored bosses: that's part of the deal.

You can smite or bless it, and it can do the same to you. It will look you in the eye and dare you to look away, blinking when it understands you can fight back. It will ask you to beat its atheism, but your story will inevitably end in that world. Gods cannot exist forever. Governments will crumble. The slaves will rise and there will be new ones. Science will show itself as eldritch as any superstition. Your enemies are also God, and that's why they can kill the world, and why you need to stop them.

If they have that power, you have it too. Remember: the game sees you as equal to its narrative. It doesn't agree with you; It won't agree with you. It will fight back, ask you to try again, and remind you that dodging gives you some invincibility frames. You can parry and burst and lifesteal your way through, and when you try doing those things it will remind you that it's not enough, that it needs more. X needs more. Shou doesn't necessarily have more to give.

The world will inevitably end. You can do it using your own hands. You can turn it off and uninstall it. You can finish it and see how it connects to its Dreamcast follow-up, you can learn fighting game notation and practice it as much as you want, you can try and brute-force it by sheer luck, but it will end.

That is the point of its narrative: you need to kill Slave Zero X. You must be free from Slave Zero X. You are not there to protect the oppressed, or to help with a revolution. You are not there to free the test subjects or to liberate the villains from their tortuous ways. None of them deserve kindness. You are there to end it, so no one suffers, oppresses, fights, loves, hates, or gets beaten up anymore, and by doing that, you also touch the void. The empty space, the lack of meaning, the stretch between Actual Things.

[bf]Slave Zero X Never Portrays Kindness
One of Slave Zero X's Game Over screens. Source: Author.

God resides in the void because it sees everything as the Other. That's why God rules over mankind. They are not compassionate. They never portray kindness. They are a slave to the material reality as much as we are slaves to the void. God needs you. God wants to die.

This game was reviewed with a key provided by the publisher.

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