Post-Election Catharsis in ‘Dishonored 2’

“The ultimate goal for any Dishonored game is to reclaim your honor, but in Dishonored 2’s case, it’s to regain control over an empire.”

Written by M. Joshua Cauller / Published on November 14, 2016

Elect who you want into power: the good old boy or the woman who has been in office before. There’s no consensus here—its your choice. Dishonored 2 kicks-off after you cast your vote for either Corvo (from the previous Dishonored) or the dethroned empress, Emily.  

Once you cast your vote, you’re thrust into it: power to decide who lives and who gets disemboweled, power to upgrade your newfound magicks into whatever superpowers you prefer, and (perhaps most importantly:) power to shape the world’s outcome.

I don’t know about you, but “power to shape a world’s outcome” seems mighty attractive to me after casting my vote in a political system where my voice doesn’t feel like it matters.

"I don’t know about you, but I needed an escape this week."
Election seasons always have this elevated tension; like a lightning rod that channels all of our hopes and dreams into exaggeratedly simple choices that almost never reflect the outcome we actually want. For this reason, Dishonored 2’s election week release seems like a godsend. The game never outright states, “Your every choice has an outcome and a consequence—and if you don’t like how the chips fall, there’s always quicksaves and re-loadable checkpoints,” but that reality is what I needed this weekend. This is doubly so for the carpet-bombed previous-safe-spaces of social media.

I don’t know about you, but I needed an escape this week.

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I can’t help from seeing the political climate of the game as some kind of allegory for the tensions in our real world. The escapist power fantasy that is Dishonored 2 is just what Doctor Bethesda ordered. I’ve never been this thankful for the timing of a game’s release.

The multitude of choices at your disposal in Dishonored 2 can’t be overstated. The game’s second mission, Edge of the World, dropped me into a sun-soaked harbor with a brand new bag of magic tricks. With civilians and guards everywhere, I set out toward my target destination with at least six optional routes (from what I found). In the main path there’s this big “wall of light” that insta-kills me the moment I walk through. I could kill the guards, rip the whale-oil out of the power box, or reverse the polarity of the circuitry box so that when the guards walk through they disintegrate themselves. I chose another path around the wall of light altogether, passing through the blood-fly-infested (and quarantined) apartment around the corner.

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This multi-path choice isn’t a one-time thing. Every scenario sticks to this rule of multiple choice. If one option doesn’t work, try another. This staple in game design won me over in the first Dishonored, and it persists as a player-choice-validation in the sequel.

Your long-form choices have much more immediate results: on my initial run through the first mission, I killed every guard standing in my way—each killing animation more gruesome than the one that preceded it. The next mission, a small shopping alley was set ablaze in riot fires and blood-fly infestations. When I replayed both areas a second time, choosing to be mercifcul rather than deadly: that same shopping alley was clean, neat, and unscathed. My level of violence created a domino effect in the world’s sense of order; destabilizing it or preserving peace.

As Emily, my new magical choices let me tentacle-teleport all over the place, providing vertical and horizontal advantages over every vista. My fancy new smoke monster ability let me transform into a barely-visible Sandman, whispering “hush little baby” every time I forcibly lull yet another guard to sleep. I also got this “Mesmerize” ability that lets me hypnotize anybody with a good twenty-second distraction that makes fools forget I’m walking up to them to choke them with a sleeper hold.

The ultimate goal for any Dishonored game is to reclaim your honor, but in Dishonored 2’s case, it’s to regain control over an empire.

Every mission and action takes strides towards that goal of dominion. Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t state that this was a questionable ambition for somebody who loves Christ and his Cross; and perhaps it’s fundamentally at-odds. But this week (and maybe for many more weeks), this escapist political power fantasy sates the very appetite the electoral season stirred up in me.

About the Author:

M. Joshua Cauller makes unique player-centered indie game trailers when he's not exploring games' redemptive qualities. He can sometimes be found away from his computer (if you're patient). You can follow him on Twitter @mjoshua or check out his trailer production work at http://mjoshua.com

  • http://stanfaryna.wordpress.com Stan Faryna

    I was fascinated by your gameplay. The tentacle teleport – I liked that.

    I wasn’t surprised by the delightfully demonic powers and deeds. That’s part of what makes a lot of games, interesting. Should we be playing them? I ask myself that a lot as I play various games. And dominion? As a world ranked player on a game or more – I dominate. And I say that as I hang my head.

  • http://mjoshua.com M. Joshua Cauller

    “Should we” could be a valuable question to ask, but that doesn’t help me get to the core of my heart, motivations, and help me in my prayer life in any particular ways. For me it’s better to start by asking, “why do I like this?” In Dishonored’s case, I love the way that the game gives me three ways to any solution, creating a design-based optimism that supersedes the dark aesthetic. And I personally love that the game lets me preserve the lives of my foes — and serves these mechanics as a slightly more difficult path. It might be a minor detail, as choking somebody into passing out is definitely assault and fundamentally not-nice. But there’s also a progressive ethic of playing ghostly and never harming a foe — the hardest way to play.

    If, however, I liked Dishonored because it let me revel in darkness, and pursue gruesome outcomes — just because I have a taste for that sort of thing, however? I think that could be a problem too. There’s something similar to be said for a conquest mindset, but that’s an even deeper rabbit hole.