Total Rendition & Post-truth

At one point, I tried to raise attention for Total Rendition by calling it the “Post-Truth Role-Playing game”. However, someone quickly called me out, saying that Post-Truth is jargon. Sadly, it is. Why am I writing “sadly” here? Because it is a term that can ultimately help to understand our world better. If we can name problems, we can then come up with solutions. So what does Post-Truth actually mean? And why does it matter to Total Rendition?

You may think that the term is very new, especially if you did not hear of it before. Even those familiar with the term may think it was only coined in, let’s say, 2016. And admittedly, I was one of those folks. However, apparently, it is attributable to an essay about Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal published in the Nation in 1992. The term, post-truth politics, apparently dates back to 2010, well before Donald Trump’s campaign trail or Brexit.

To sum “Post-Truth” up, it describes the situations in political debates, where emotional appeals matter more than reasonably well-substantiated facts. In all fairness, this has been going for quite a lot of time. For instance, dishonest reporting about alleged crimes has been with us since the advent of mass-media itself. What makes our contemporary age unique, that is, makes the term Post-Truth politics so fitting for our age, is that while deceit went together with politics pretty much since the beginning, it is perhaps the advent of social media such as Facebook that allows political deceit to proliferate on an unprecedented scale.

Beyond Good & Evil

There is no issue in evoking emotions when describing facts. In fact, that is fairly acceptable and may even help to bring facts across more clearly. It becomes a problem when it gets in the way of showing facts. And obviously, the consequences often are that people end up voting politicians into office who break down the rule of law. These politicians introduce new grounds for convicting and therefore, imprisoning citizens. At the same time, laws that keep governments in check are ignored or even flagrantly violated.

Admittedly, Total Rendition is not the first game revolving around the discontents of post-truth politics. In fact, already as early as 1994, Little Big Adventure handled the subject matter in a very subtle manner. LBA is set on the planet Twinsun, “a relatively new planet in the outskirts of a remote galaxy”. Twinsen, the main character, becomes a marked man due to the dreams he experiences. His nemesis, Dr. Funfrock also spreads propaganda about how the northern hemisphere of the planet Twinsun supposedly became uninhabitable, for instance.

However, in my opinion, no game handles post-truth better than Beyond Good & Evil. It was released in 2003 and, among other things, deals with Post-Truth politics. Quite an impressive feat to be sure, considering Post-Truth politics did not have a name back then. Fittingly, its main character, Jade is a journalist, who stumbles on a vast conspiracy. Subsequently, she sets out to gather evidence and document this truth-twisting conspiracy that is plaguing her planet Hillys. I will not reveal too much of the overall plot, lest I would spoil it. It is perhaps quite ironic that Ubisoft, the company which lent its name to the production of Beyond Good & Evil, nowadays proclaims that games should not have a message.

A Post-truth Role-playing game

Even though it may not be readily apparent, I would actually go as far as stating both Little Big Adventure and Beyond Good & Evil are influences on Total Rendition. A few weeks before I took on to write this devlog entry, I played through both games again. I was struck by the degree these titles resonated with both my personal situation and politics today. This, in spite both titles were also essentially my childhood as well.

Now, obviously, there are also obvious differences between Total Rendition and Beyond Good & Evil. There has to be, as every game has a different set of inspirations and influences. Nevertheless, my strongest motivator for continuing work on Total Rendition is to tackle Post-Truth politics. I hope to accomplish that, in part, by making it clear that all the non-real (or Unreal? hehe!) aspects of it clearly fictional. In this regard, the narrative design aims of Total Rendition and Beyond Good & Evil are similar. Obviously, I’m not sure if I will be able to match with it; we’ll see.

However, Total Rendition is probably less subtle and more darkly realistic. While Beyond Good & Evil is a highly realistic game on an emotional level, many of the events depicted cannot conceivably happen on planet earth, Anno 2020. Hence, Total Rendition is unabashedly set in THIS WORLD, featuring events that could literally happen and literally have already happened. Also, unlike Jade, the main characters of Total Rendition; André Weiland and Tzipora Herzog are much more cynical in their attitudes, their life-experiences representing being on the receiving end of everything that Post-Truth politics tend to reinforce, such as racism, classism, mental health stigma, misogyny.

Catharsis

Some have accused me of being pretentious because of the ideas that belie Total Rendition. Maybe I am. Then again, I am a very big believer in the potential of video games to bring about catharsis. If one doesn’t make the attempt to begin with, there is no point in believing that it couldn’t. I reckon a lot of gamers will not read books about politics, despite many do. And apart from books, theatre, music or film, what better way is there to accomplish Catharsis, apart from video games?

A compelling subject-matter, provided the gameplay can deliver this in an immersive way, make for good games. It is for this reason I consider it highly unlikely that Total Rendition will ever have a multiplayer functionality and that, certainly for now, Total Rendition will focus on its single-player aspects. If Total Rendition is to ever have a multiplayer, it would have to be designed that its narrative themes still get across. That might mean the inclusion of a co-op mode, for instance. However, none of that, would see the light until Total Rendition’s narrative stands it own.

Perhaps such an attitude to video games will consolidate its currently fledgling status as an art form, a means to express oneself. However, this time, it may be more pertinent than ever before.

-Mordechai Gabai