There’s been a murder in a run-down area of Krakow, Poland. “The Stacks” is what locals call the tenement building that is an unending tangle of apartments and trash. The only reason I’m here is because I got a suspicious call in my squad car about an hour ago and traced it to this location. Rock bottom. Just about everything surviving in 2084 Poland can be described as such. Absolute rock bottom.
“Observer” is a recent release that convinced me to pick it up by using such descriptors as “cyberpunk,” “noir,” “horror,” and Rutger Hauer, who voices the main character. I’m glad I did no research on this before I started playing. It feels like the old days when you’d rent some filthy cartridge from the video store because it had cool cover art.
After an exciting beginning where I got to gather clues from a murder scene using cybernetic implants with overlay displays akin to DOS circa 1995, I left the crime scene to ask around. Now I’m arguing with some paranoid guy through his locked front door about sudden lockdown on the building. I have no actual idea of why there is a lockdown, or what that even means in this context, but I am compelled to win this argument. The sudden realization that I wanted to be right more than being correct pulled me out of the game for a moment.
I was stressed arguing with this fictional character because I wanted to be right without actually knowing what the hell was going on. Some kind of primal reaction was filling me with judgment and hardening my convictions. I didn’t have any solid knowledge of what was happening, but at the point of provocation I was defensive. Indignant, even. This is a feeling that doesn’t just happen when I’m playing games.
Why should I have such an attachment to a story or event that I really have no control of? I know what I have experienced and have feeling about what I believe to be true, but that doesn’t have to be right. It can be easily argued that I’m frequently not right. I’m not always right in my actions with others – my friends, family, coworkers. I’m not even right about my own life half the time. In this case I’m certainly not right arguing with this stranger behind a locked door and a thick layer of outdated computer hardware providing two-way communication for me to shout into. What am I doing? Is this what I go through for that entirely hypothetical opportunity to say “I told you so!”?
The machine loosely bolted to the door goes quiet and I let out a sigh before walking to the next apartment. Some of the doors are broken or locked and I have to pass through some tenant-sanctioned holes in the brickwork to the other side of the building. I’m thinking about righteousness. I’m thinking about how we argue every day through social media. How we turn someone else’s experience into a personal affront. I no longer think there’s a direct connection between what is true and what is “right.” There is a rift between what I and what any other person has experienced. These different experiences, which we know to be true at least to ourselves, won’t always sync up with one another. I see little value in fighting to be right when I should instead be embracing my own truths and feelings. I should state my position clearly, stand up for my values, and combat the injustices I witness or encounter. My truths may change, they may turn out to be wrong or I may alter my opinions and that’s OK. Often, we do not have control over what is true and what isn’t, only control of our behavior. Nothing is gained from being right and judging others for having a different truth.
“KPD, I’m Officer Lazarski. I have some questions for you if you have time,” I say into the door’s audio receiver. A blurry image of a man’s face appears on the small screen distorted by static. The conversation begins to rapidly devolve when he tells me I sold my soul when I got my cybernetic augmentations. He and his family, he claims, are “immaculates” and will definitely be going to heaven since they are free of “corruption.” I pause for a moment, voice that I disagree, opt to end the conversation civilly and move on. I feel a little better about that interaction. It would be easy to defend myself, feel self-righteous and condemn the man for what is simply his view. It’s not him that I have a problem with. Yeah, the guy was actively a jerk, but I also don’t care. He’s expressing his opinion, not lunging at me with a knife.
This attitude can apply to many other positions and be difficult to see. Many of us may have been through abusive relationships, or had difficult families growing up. These are also just our own views and feelings and we should stand up for them because they are our experiences. We are obligated to stand up for our views, but to do so without that desire to be right. We could be wrong about something, or our perspectives may change, and that’s OK. Our dignity is not built upon being right. We should measure our worth by being someone who stands up for what we believe while having a mind open to new perspectives.
Brett Massé is currently playing “Observer” by Bloober Team