Opinion

Disco Elysium – Choice and the Player

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the superstar cop

The following will contain some Disco Elysium spoilers and strong language.

I’m the sort of person who, when presented with an RPG, plays in a very specific way. I build a talkative character who uses persuasion to overcome challenges, but in saying that, I try to play the good guy. The nice guy who solves peoples problems for free and who reloads immediately if a character has a negative reaction to anything I say. The people pleaser. Similar to real life, I’m prone to playing characters as though it were me in that situation. Even when a character is a pre-established person within the universe whose background and life is set in stone, I still play somewhat of a self-insert.

Then came Disco Elysium. As is customary for me, I went in intending to build my detective around talking. Only to discover every option was talkative, even the physical ones impacted thoughts and dialogue. This was exciting because it offered new outlets and new responses. But, all the same, I built myself around the arts, around persuasion, intending to be the nice cop who solves the problems of the world and makes friends.

Then came the opening scene and I discovered what an absolute wreck of a human being the detective was, and I nearly had a literal heart attack trying to reach my tie off a ceiling fan and was informed that ‘The Expression’, a relic of disco and mayhem, refused to shift itself from my face.

In short, regardless of my build, I was this absolute mess. This disgusting thrill-seeking, drugged up alcoholic who was so deep in a self-made Hell, even my player build, even my desire to play as I wanted to, wasn’t going to shift the mistakes of the past and the remnants of personality.

In short, I was this man, the base of my character wasn’t a lifeless doll for me to impose on, the base of my character was a confused mess whose body was pulling him in all kinds of directions. Demanding alcohol and drugs. Demanding I question everything. Demanding I forget my past and build myself again.

This, mind you, is all before I even begin talking to people. The people I talk to only serve to reinforce this, they’ve all met me, I’ve been here before, and I made a right mess of everything I touched, despite now having no knowledge of the world.

Essentially, where there was once Harry, suicidal cop extraordinaire, there is now You. And you have to make up for the mistakes. Or, perhaps, continue making them. Sink further into delinquency, despite your new partner Kim urging you to be a good person, acting as your conscience and your friend, or do you better yourself?

My first instinct, of course, was to better myself. To play things by the book and to not upset anyone, despite the sordid past presented to me. And then, the game, without missing a beat, began to tally my choices as ‘boring cop’. Began tallying my political leanings of trying to not upset anyone as a fence sitter. As, essentially, a nobody with no effect on the world whose choices, despite trying to appease everyone, were in fact making no impact in this world whatsoever.

Compound to that fact, the wild dialogue I was missing out on. The outlandish options of proclaiming I was a superstar. Insisting my name was something else entirely.

And, my revelation of all things, came during in-game day 2 during the autopsy of the body that kicked the plot off. When it came to writing the sex of the deceased, the two kids (one of which was high as a kite, reflecting the sad state of the world), began shouting the answers I should put instead. Instead of writing sex: Male, I gave in to the obscenity and ridiculous state of the world.

I wrote sex: Fucky-Fucky and gave in to playing not who I was used to, not the self insert, and yet, perhaps the most ‘me’ character I’ve played.

I wasn’t allowing myself to be held back anymore by what I thought would please anyone. I let myself become swept up in the over-the-top, hellscape alternate reality and become who I wanted to be, not who I thought I should be.

Instead of the boring cop, the by the book cop who was scared of upsetting anyone, I was a superstar. I was a communist superstar who was dumb as a rock, had a good heart, and would ask everyone for money the first chance I got. I was outrageous, I wasn’t afraid to call out bullshit instead of trying to stay on the characters good side lest I miss something.

I was refusing to sit on the fence, with the writing of the game demanding I take a side and do so with unbridled glee. To experiment and to try things. By day 6 I was getting my groove on with delinquent teens. I was thoroughly letting myself loose in this world and trusting my gut with the first dialogue option that came to head. I was openly and freely telling people I had lost and then found both my badge and gun because I am, as well as a spirited man of the world, a complete idiot.

I wasn’t afraid anymore. I couldn’t afford to be afraid, because then Disco Elysium would hide its true face from me, its best writing and scenarios, and would punish me as the boring cop. I refused to be boring when the world around me was so interesting and, despite being a war-torn slum, full of life and personality.

I had to be as well, I had to keep up. Most importantly, perhaps, I had to honour what was the most interesting RPG I’ve played in years.

I became disco.

Check Disco Elysium out on all platforms here!

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