Just helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this chequer-board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither He moves, and checks, and slays,
And one by one back in the closet lays.
– Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat
I’ve read various analyses of the political content of KILLER7, and, while I don’t disagree much with the points made, I don’t find it a satisfying take on the story. The topical content is heavy-handed, dated, and lacking in resonance. This is some rambling analysis on parts of it that resonated with me.
I initially rented the game and played up through Sunset Part 2 before returning it. I bought it a couple years later, because, while the gameplay itself had its flaws, the game presented a one-of-a-kind experience that I wanted to see through to the end. I mean, if Guy Ritchie and William S. Burroughs got together to make a movie, it might be something like this, if they were lucky. I love the way it forces you to take things in stride – or, as William S. Burroughs would say, “take a broad, general view of things” – just to be able to even play. Its form, with its fucked up structure, rampant symbolism, and dream logic, is what draws me to it.
A MAGICAL VIEW
The novelist William S. Burroughs is famed for his use of the Cut-Up Method, which, in its most basic form, consists of taking a block of text, cutting it into pieces, and rearranging the pieces such that new words and phrases would be formed. You end up with run-on sentences and fragments, and little punctuation where it is needed, but you also end up with a lot of evocative, amusing, and occasionally astounding results. Burroughs applied this principle in other ways as well, including shotgun paintings and tape recordings over which he would record new material at random intervals, rewinding and fast-forwarding to dub new recordings at whim.
The operating principle here is the same one that fuels most divination, from I Ching to Tarot to tasseomancy. This is the ability of the human mind to make sense from chaos. By the same token, we see pictures in the clouds or even in random assortments of dots. Cut-up takes this further than divination, however, because divination techniques come with commentary and advice for interpreting. Cut-up does not pretend to offer a new kind of sense. What it does is face you with something incomprehensible, occupying the rational mind to give you a moment of silence in which the intuitive mind and the dreaming mind are free to create sense. Through this dynamic, the reader of cut-up fiction takes on just as much of a creative role as the author does.
Through a slightly different method, KILLER7 also does this. While it doesn’t cut-up and rearrange things (beyond a bit of chronological mixing that isn’t anything weirder than you’d see in a Tarantino flick), it confronts you with situations and juxtapositions that you can’t make sense of rationally. It requires a different view, one that is closely tied with symbol and dream-logic: a magical view.
I don’t mean that the explanation for everything in the game is, “Oh, it’s magic.” I’m also not talking about what modern psychology dubs “magical thinking” (which is merely a misguided branch of rational thought). I’m talking about a worldview by which the universe is abstract and incomprehensible, causality is synchronous, and the symbol IS the thing. This is the same thought-model necessary to make sense of Buddhism (especially the Apocalyptic Vehicle), most paganism, and any occult philosophy worth the paper it is written on.
WHO IS THE PROTAGONIST?
A good starting point for analyzing dramatic narratives is to identify who the protagonist is, and what he wants. Going from there, you look at what he does to try to get what he wants, and what happens as a result.
Another side note. I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but schools in the U.S. are notoriously bad at teaching this (as well as all other literary theory). The protagonist is not necessarily “the good guy,” and he’s not necessarily “the main character.” A protagonist is a character who wants something, and who drives the plot by proactively trying to accomplish his goals, facing adversity and antagonism along the way. Some stories have multiple protagonists, and some don’t have any at all, merely having characters that we like.
So, who is the protagonist of KILLER7? At first glance, it seems to be Garcian. After all, he’s the guy you play as. But a bit of thought reveals that he’s not it. Through the majority of the plot, Garcian is an instrument, following orders with no will of his own. It is not until the final scene that he is even presented a choice in what he does. Garcian is Harman’s instrument, which is what has led me to conclude that Harman Smith is the protagonist.
Who is Harman Smith? One thing that seems unavoidably clear is that he is a being of power. After all, in the stuff we’re shown, he lives for well over 150 years. Whether he’s a god, a sorcerer, an anthropomorphic representation of a concept, or whatever is unclear, but also not necessary to understand. But who is he, as a character? Well, the way he’s depicted, he’s pretty inscrutable, but there’s a trick here, in that protagonists can be defined by their antagonists. So, what do we know about Kun Lan, his antagonist?
Kun Lan is also a being of power. His appearance is bizarre and flamboyant, his speech and bearing theatrically exaggerated, and his laughter maniacal. His methods are terror and disorder, revolving around the en masse creation and proliferation of walking, laughing bombs. Contrasting this with Harman, certain aspects of his character come to light. His appearance is neat and stately, his speech and bearing grave, and his laughter usually restrained. His methods are tactical – surgical, even – revolving around the manipulation of established systems and infrastructures, and the careful, focused use of a single assassin.
It’s tempting to try to assign roles of good and evil to protagonists and antagonists, but it’s pretty clear that neither of these are particularly good or evil. Their ethics are far more ambiguous. But one thing that does work in this case is roles of Order and Chaos. Harman represents Order, and Kun represents Chaos. This actually ties into the political content a bit, since Order offers security at the cost of freedom, while Chaos offers freedom at the cost of security. Which is right? Well, that’s the question, innit.
What does Harman Smith Want? Harman Smith wants to prove Kun Lan wrong. This is what their chess games are all about, and the contest between the Killer7 and the Heaven Smile is itself just another chess game. It seems pretty clear that Harman and Kun have been arguing about this for a long time, and will probably be arguing about it for a long time to come (they’re still going at it 100 years later, after all).
One thing I’d like to point out is that not only are Garcian and the Smiles pawns in this chess game, but Japan and the U.S. themselves are pawns. The topical content is present only in an over-arcing conflict about the difficulty (and perhaps futility) of finding a compromise between security and freedom. It isn’t The Point, but merely a cultural hook to point us toward the perennial issue at the heart of it all.
SOME FUN LITTLE DETAILS
Notice that it is in the presence of SECURITY cameras that Garcian is able to unleash the power of the Killer7. Also note that the Killer7’s movements are confined to predetermined paths, while the Heaven Smile are FREE to run all over the map.
THE PREVIOUS MATCH
It seems to me that Emir was a pawn of Kun’s in a previous chess match. He was used to kill Harman’s original band of assassins, and then Harman’s incarnation (thoughtform, sending, fetch, tulpa, whatever you wanna call it). Note that it is just before Harman’s incarnation is shot to death that Kun declares checkmate. (Sure, Kun gets shot up too, but he doesn’t care; he’s Chaos.)
What Kun didn’t anticipate was that Harman would infiltrate the people who trained Emir, mentor Emir himself, and then claim Emir as his own at the end of the game. Harman not only thinks several moves ahead, but he also thinks games ahead. He is Order, and Order requires forethought.
What is the deal with Emir’s third eye? Is it literally there? I don’t think so. It is only apparent on the symbolic, dream-like plane that Harman and Kun operate on. That third eye is a quality of Emir that enables him to intersect with and act on this plane. Specifically, I think that Emir is a schizophrenic [according to Merriam-Webster: “a psychotic disorder characterized by loss of contact with the environment, by noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life, and by disintegration of personality expressed as disorder of feeling, thought (as delusions), perception (as hallucinations), and behavior”]. His training enables him to use what would ordinarily be a debilitating psychosis as a window (or eye) into Kun and Harman’s scale of operations.
Another fun little detail: the Third Eye is a chakra (one of many nodes of energy according to yogic philosophy), specifically the one through which insight, intuition, and premonition enter. Chakra literally means wheel. Wheels and rings aren’t much different. Suppose that Garcian’s Vision Ring that enables him to see the Heaven Smile is Emir’s third eye? Consider that the Vision Ring is necessary to gain access to Emir’s computer.
What is the deal with Harman’s original band of assassins who are killed by Emir? It’s clear that upon the completion of that mission, Harman incorporated the six of them with Emir to form Garcian Smith. Why were they so much weaker then they are as part of Garcian?