Here we are, July 2011 and finally I am writing the last of my 2010 posts. It is in many ways poor timing as I currently find myself thinking far more about my past than my future. Here feeling slightly isolated and jobless in Birmingham, Japan seems very appealing, so my hope is that that maybe by wrapping up these posts and aiming to the future will help me come to terms with my situation and push on.
Somewhat fittingly I felt kind of trapped when I first played Enslaved. I was just out of a long relationship, but still did not feel free. For all of my protestations that I was fine, part of me still felt tied to my past. So I would drink a little harder, go out a little longer, and generally run further from my memories.
There are reasons these close bonds with my ex-partner. Fuelled by a desire to make her happy, I was constantly thwarted by her melancholy. Over time I came to except the struggle of this, but eventually I found my attempts to please were pulling down my own mood. So I was faced with a decision, stay and fight a losing battle or leave her, and worry about my own mood. Unfortunately is was a choice that would hurt her, and so went against my goals of the previous years.
Then a long came Enslaved, a game loosely based on the classic 16th century Chinese novel ‘Journey to the West’. Enslaved tells of a woman, Trip, and her long journey home after being captured by slavers. Trip is far from helpless, very capable with technology, but finding herself in a destroyed New York as the game begins there is a quick realisation that she will need help on her journey.
Enslaved reclaimed world has a narrative all its own. Many years after whatever caused devastation of this post-apocalyptic America everything has been reclaimed by nature. Trip’s companion is in many ways a reaction to this environment, a nameless nomad who’s brute of a man like power and agile ape like moves have garnered him the nickname of Monkey with those he trades with. These qualities are vital, because as I take control of Monkey every ounce of his power and speed are needed to navigate the decimated world, and battle the slaver robots that populated it.
Much of what makes Enslaved work so well how it manages to bring elements of the classic text in its Sci-Fi setting. Monkey’s emergence from a stone egg in the original text is superbly mirrored in his escape from a status pod as the game opens. Other items are similarly reproduced but one element really embodies own my emotional ties to the game; the slave band.
In the original text it was a golden crown that enslaved Monkey (an cast out animal god) binding him to the hero’s will. In much the same way the slave band allows Trip to control her Monkey, but it is a strange kind of slavery. She is not violent or malicious, and indeed the very idea of servitude in upsets her. It is a necessity in her mind to ensure his help to get her home, but an uncomfortable one that she wishes she didn’t have to resort to.
There is something in this relationship that mirrored my life. Not that I was a slave but I never wanted to make her unhappy. I was never ordered to obey, but displeasure and disappointment was clear. And as surely as Monkey’s slave band inflicted pain up on him when he failed to follow instructions, I suffered mental pains when I saw my action distressed her.
But where my issues slowly drove a wedge between my partner and I, Enslaved sees it bring them closer together. The explicit dependence from Trip is matched by Monkey’s unrealised desire for companionship. Without realising it the bond slowly transcends the technology that traps him. Indeed in one scene that beautifully demonstrates the games graphical prowess, when Trip attempts to free Monkey and he stops her with a subtlety and tenderness of expression rarely seen in games thanks to developer Ninja Theory’s amazing facial capture technology. It is scene that demonstrates perfectly how he needs the bond, but is unwilling to confess his emotional need, preferring to keep the slave band.
I sat playing Enslaved, jealous of just how perfectly the bond between Monkey and Trip developed. There was a beauty to me in just how a love grew between the two characters, when neither had been looking for it. Sat in my room I contrasted this with my own life. Of how I had started at love, until the dependence grew eroding it with the pressure becoming too much for me. Leaving me still wondering if I did it all backwards, and envying Monkey.