FUNKY FASCISM OR GROOVY COMMUNISM, BABY?
I completed Disco Elysium a few weeks ago before my final exams started. I wanted to delve into the game’s political messages, since they’re a core to the game’s story and just generally intriguing; be forewarned, this involves MASSIVE SPOILERS, so keep reading if you already completed it or frankly just don’t care — I’m not going to stop you. Anyways, with that out of the way…
Let’s begin with a brief synopsis of the game’s introduction. You play as Harry du Bois; a washed up, alcoholic detective working for the Revachol People’s Militia (hereafter referred to as the RCM), the moralist (Disco’s word for politically “centrist”) United Nations-like stand-in that governs the nation of Revachol and the district of one of its cities called Martinaise, post-communist revolutionary war. You wake up, mercilessly hungover from some all-day all-night bender you must’ve had, one so bad you forgot your name and communed with your “ancient reptilian brain” and limbic system whilst passed out, only to find out you now have retrograde amnesia. You get up off the floor, and realize you’re standing in some hotel room in your cum-stained underwear, and it looks like some wild tornado tore up your room. You get dressed in your janky disco-appropriate attire that’s scattered about, and head downstairs.
There, you meet a an bespectacled Asian man with a markedly professional bearing, and he introduces himself as Lieutenant Kim Kisuragi, a detective with the RCM, and your partner on this “case.” The “case” he’s referring to, is the murder investigation of the hanged man, who appears to have been lynched, in the back yard of the hostel you woke up in and trashed. This sets the stage of what will become the adventure of Disco Elysium’s story.
And with that, you’re thrust into Elysium’s wacky and markedly aesthetic, dreary and vague retro-discoesque world, that in many ways mirrors the political climate of our own. As you go along, you find out that the local dockworker’s union is on strike and has the city harbour locked down; already political themes are getting injected into the game, with issues such as worker’s right’s coming to the forefront. Having retrograde amnesia, you don’t really know who exactly who Harry was prior to the current in-game events. You’re able to decide what kind of person he develops into as the story goes along with a staggering amount of choice. Do you want to be an ultraliberal capitalist consumer disco superstar cop who’s the hottest shit in town? Or a “sorry cop” who frequently apologizes for the difficult questions he’s about to ask a witness, with cryptofascist and ultranationalist tendencies in other situations? Or are you going to be a stalwart communist and frequently try to convince every witness and character you meet of the glory and righteousness of worker’s rights and communism? Regardless of the choice you make, or even your futile attempts to avoid picking sides, ultimately determines whose side you take on the political mess that’s enveloping Martinaise and Revachol — and it’s here you’re presented with the game’s four political hot-takes, all of which it’s highly critical of:
Moralism – The game’s aforementioned centrist viewpoint. You get this by either by not taking a side/not voicing an opinion on political issues you encounter, or by picking dialogue opinions that’re generally feigning care or just vague like “I want to improve peoples’ lives” without defining what that improvement is or how you’ll go about that. And ultimately, you don’t really help in an actual, fitting way when you do this, or indirectly make things worse.
Ultraliberalism – The hyper capitalistic approach, you gain when you act as a good little “slave to the system” where the rich are in power, and say wealthy people earned their money honestly by being hustlers and by just being fuckin’ smart. You’ll get this by picking dialogue options emphasizing somebody’s wealth, or earning money to make a living, and being a uncaring consumer and proponent of the decadent capitalist system.
Fascism – Oh no, the option the developers deemed the most despicable of them all! A blindly proud Revacholian nationalist who thinks his country can do no wrong, and uncompromising subservience to the authority in charge is the way to go. Unsurprisingly, you get this by making choices that promote love of the nation, hating immigrants no matter how much joy and prosperity they bring, and despising women, because naturally if you adhere to fascist rhetoric, you must be a hateful, spiteful, racist little incel and that’s what drew you to the far right of the political spectrum.
Communism – In a war-torn nation nearly destroyed in a communist revolution, people in-game seem quite unfazed if you spew virulent Red rhetoric at them. This one is all about the worker’s rights, not being tread on by the woefully corrupted system, and by basically saying “the Revolutionaries were right all along,” which is an approach the developers mercilessly poke fun at. You’ll end up a communist sympathizer if you voice options such as worker’s rights and just being supportive of left-wing talk.
Obviously, it’s difficult to boil things as complex and sometimes fluid as political ideologies in a neat, palatable manner, but the developers in ZA/UM (the studio) honed in on these four views in particular. In the game, you gain thoughts for your “thought cabinet” cabinet to ruminate upon, and come to a conclusion about should you so wish — giving additional effects on dialogue and skills. You gain these thoughts from events happening during your investigation, or saying something tied into the above views enough times, a part of your brain will “contact you” about whether or not you wish to subscribe to this ideology or not, trying to persuade you to do so. For example, after conversing with a notoriously racist character called Measurehead and him spewing his racialist views at me, the part of Harry’s brain concerned with endurance and physical well-being contacted me, starting an internal dialogue about how fascism seems like it could be pretty cool to buy into, survival of the fittest and all that. Humorously, it started referring to me as “bröther” with an umlaut instead of “brother” for some Nazi-styled flair.
The Not-so-Quick and Dirty Political Analysis You Came Here For
Now one thing to keep in mind regarding all of this, the developers of Disco Elysium at ZA/UM Studios have made it painfully clear on what their own political views are, in real life, as well as even not-so-subtly hinting at it in the game. If my memory serves correct, they said somewhere that they are “democratic socialists” from the country of Estonia. They picked out the four ideologies of the game to give their own hot take on each of them, which in other words, pointing out all their perceived flaws in them and saying that they’re all retarded. It may or may not come as a surprise to you, dearest of readers, that they don’t really attempt to pick out any flaws in their own beliefs and arguments. That’s just because democratic socialism is a flawless system and Marx and Engels were completely right all along! R-right?
It is curious how they also pick on communists, but then again, there’s absolutely nothing stopping leftists from hating other leftists as there is nothing stopping right-wing folks hating other right wingers. If I had to guess, too, with the developers being Estonian and coming from a nation that the Soviet Union had ineptly governed, it makes sense they have a strong distaste for the more authoritarian flavored version of their system that had fucked over the lives of so many of their fellows. The game very much portrays left-wing issues in a sympathetic light; some characters in the game itself, such as Titus Hardie, the bullheaded and stubborn leader of the “Hardie Boys,” a militant faction of the Union that polices Martinaise, is a self proclaimed democratic socialist. The flaws in his character, are not related whatsoever to his political ideology. They’re just character flaws in him as a fictional person.
Another character who acts as a sort of personification of political ideologies is in fact your partner, Lieutenant Kisuragi. He himself is a good person, of noble aims, but too is detached from many other characters you meet in the game. He acts as the stand-in for moralism, upholding the values of the Moral Intern (the not!UN) faithfully, helping vaguely and mysteriously or not much at all by keeping their fucked system in place. He himself as I wrote ain’t a bad guy, just “misguided.” He’s polite and cool-tempered, very smart and well-read, and extremely professional, always calmly putting up with his partner Harry’s ridiculous antics. As stated earlier, he’s also Asian, but something I left out, because you can find this out later in the game as it goes along, you also find out Lieutenant Kisuragi is gay. Which can be an interesting quirk in you relationship with him should you choose to play as a homophobic fascist.
It definitely seems to me that Lieutenant Kisuragi is one of the attempts by the developers to dig under the skin of more right-leaning players of the game — particularly the ones on the far-right who’d object to being paired up with a “pissfaggot chink” as a investigative partner. The developers, as it shows in their writing, definitely like to try picking on sensitive topics, and given how fascism is portrayed in the game, they were probably chuckling to themselves when they came up with an idea that’d show those “Nazi-fucks” how stupid and dumb they are, whilst also riling them up so they post angry crybaby things on the internet. Perhaps this post is an indicator of that?
Honestly, not really.
As someone who’s a big fan of Oswald Mosley’s works, I actually thoroughly enjoyed Kisuragi’s character, and in fact, I’d say he’s one of the coolest characters in the game. Too, I could care less he’s gay or Asian, I mean for fuck’s sake, I have a good friend of mine who’s a queer and I live in an East Asian country. They sure showed me how dumb I am!
Having a gay coworker is just but one part of the game’s social issues it tries to tackle, albeit in a playful tongue-in-cheek manner and in regards to liberal or conservative social issues. There’s also that super racist dude I mentioned earlier, Measurehead. He’s also interesting because he’s a giant muscular black man, and a black supremacist. Really getting under my skin now, ZA/UM! I reckon they did this to show white ethnonationalist types how dumb they look to others, by portraying someone very similar to them, and physically greater than them, in an almost comedic manner to elicit that same feeling.
And too, I think Measurehead is super funny and one of my favourite characters too. And probably for all the wrong reasons according to the developers! In fact, the sort of rhetoric they used in Measurehead’s dialogue was meant to parody that of far right-wing internet pundit types that we see today, with words like “degenerate” or “immoral.” Perhaps this was a way to make him quasi agreeable, but also stupid to far right types at the thought of a black supremacist. Perhaps this was to show them the error of their ways, but it will likely come off as funny to members of the far right because they understand that statistically and historically, black supremacy is ridiculous in a way that white supremacy is not.
The game seems to portray far right types as the very degenerates ruining society that they claim to hate; if you take the idea “Revacholian Nationhood” you get damages to stats like morale because you look and sound like an idiot when you say overly nationalistic phrases, which you naturally will as a rabid nationalist, and no one takes you seriously, but also boosts to physical stats when you imbibe alcohol, because you have no brains and think everything can be solved only with violence or hooligan behaviour.
As said before, the developers didn’t have only a bone to pick with fascists, but too tankie communists, and capitalists. The “communist” representative in the game is namely Evrart Claire, a notoriously corrupt, morbidly obese individual whose dialogue is purposely written to feel oily and nefarious to illustrate how crappy of a person he is. He piggybacks off the labour of the workers, makes inconvenient people disappear, and figuratively has his fingers in everyone’s pie (and perhaps literally, as implied by his weight), and just is fucking shady as shit. He seems to be a representation of the big pigs that really benefit when tankie-tier communism takes hold; the fat cats who swindle their way to the top through strategic political manoeuvring, nepotism, and backroom dealings of questionable and dubious legality, who could give less of a shit of the actual working man.
The face of the ultraliberal element of the game is as equally contemptible as one would expect at this point. The company that owns the shipyard the Union is blockading, the Wild Pines’ representative Joyce Messier, is portrayed as polite and full of etiquette. Too polite. What she is, is the very face of the high society that steps all over the little guy for their own pleasure and because it makes them beaucoup bucks. She’s largely cooperative to the investigation, and seems to mean well, but you get the idea she’s hiding something. Like the mercenary kill-team Wild Pines sent to Martinaise to liquidate the Union protesters so they could reopen the dock, resume operations, and make money, that the deceased and hanged man was also a part of. Which she is doing, because she was on the board that made that executive decision. It’s almost laughable moustache-twirling villainesque in how it’s presented. All under the guise of a seemingly caring and concerned actor in the events taking place.
With that said, it’s clear the game doesn’t take itself super duper seriously. Hell, the main character himself has all dials cranked to eleven on a scale that only goes up to ten because that’s just how he operates as an individual. Still, with all of its laughable silliness, deeper political meaning is there. It just depends on how deep down the rabbit hole you wanna look to find it. On a surface level, the game just looks like it’s shamelessly poking fun at things and commenting a little about the political climate of the world we live in in its funky parody of our world, but like all things political, there’s a deeper intrinsic meaning, and like with all media of political nature, there’s inherent bias as well. However, none of it stopped me from enjoying this game in spite of how hard these pinko commie pissfaggots tried to troll me.