Alien Isolation has a fascination with the interplay between anxiety, stress, and fear, and the driver of those emotions through much of the game is the singular alien. And while in some sense the alien is scary throughout the game, after a while you learn how to predict its movements, distract it, and otherwise survive it. You learn how to deal. The creature goes from being deeply terrifying just to glimpse to being just one more thing on a checklist to observe before moving between rooms – even if it can still surprise and upset you. You don’t stop being tense, but you do stop thinking about how you’re tense because you develop a system for working around the alien. And that creeping numbness to Alien Isolation’s emotional toll made me reflect on how readily and easily we internalize burdens of anxiety these days. After more than a decade of terror threats, wars, economic collapse, rising economic inequity, and in the face of shorter term issues like GamerGate the world of 2014 is the world of “Oh, so this is how things are changing for the worse from now on. Okay.” I think there’s a resignment to a worsening world today, and the mechanics of Alien Isolation reflect that. The source of your stress can’t be fought or killed or beaten. Unlike her mother, Amanda Ripley doesn’t really save her pet, defeat the alien, and fly off in her escape shuttle. She just barely survives being blown out of an airlock. Because today you don’t really win the battles of what gives you anxiety: you just endure. And I think that may be the saddest thing I took away from the game, but it’s also what hit me the hardest.
The voting numbers in the last elections certainly seem to imply that many people feel that way, 54.9% of eligible voters voted. Why vote if it doesn't matter who you vote for?
Echoing the words from Les Miserables,
Nothing changes, nothing ever will
Every year another brat, another mouth to fill.
Same old story, what's the use of tears?
What's the use of praying if there's nobody who hears?
Turning, turning, turning, turning, turning
Through the years.
Turning, turning, turning through the years
Minutes into hours and the hours into years.
Nothing changes, nothing ever can
Round and round the roundabout and back where you began!
Round and round and back where you began!
This is something that could be discussed for hours. Is this how people really are? Why are people like this? What can be done about it? Can anything be done about it? What does it say about society?
That is art. Not everyone who plays it will see that, just as you can leave a movie and hear people talking about the socioeconomic lessons, the interpersonal relationships, or the amazing cinematography. What makes something art is that in some people it leads them to reflect on themselves, on their society, on their world. This is why I have such hope for the art aspects for video games to eventually be seen by society at large and not dismissed meaningless diversion.
To those in the gamer communities that hate video games as art, seeing it as some kind of 'video games shouldn't be fun' manta I would say that District 9 is a wonderful movie. That can be enjoyed as both a simple narrative of one man over coming obstacles or as a social commentary on how society treats those that are different, or how society treats the poor, or on corporate greed, or on torture... Art can be powerful for those who want to see something as art. Art can be ignored as simple entertainment by those who don't want to worry about big picture issues. This is not an either or situation. Both can coexist in a wonderful utopia... but where would we be without our trolls.