How long does “forever” last?
You could spend a lifetime thinking what it even means. More specifically, what it means for you. How long does something have to be for it to be considered an eternity? There might be answers in your own life, periods of your life that consume you and shatter the foolish notion of “time”.
Perhaps we’re asking the wrong question. After all, one “forever” is different for everyone. The eternity you’ve spent in the dentist’s waiting room is nothing compared to the eternity that a friend spent as they sat by their father’s bedside.
The question that should be asked, is how it feels. How different is it to a boy, or to a singer, or to a reader? It is in pursuit of this question that Supergiant games seems to provide answers to via their games.
A game developing studios, Supergiant, has been developing their own games for the last 7 years. They have created Bastion, a shooter, Transistor, a sci-fi RTS, and now Pyre, a sports RPG. All of which seem to present their own answer to “forever”. Going into each of their respective stories deeply would be a post on its own, so I’ll point out the most relevant points of each.
At the end of Bastion’s story, you are given a choice regarding this mysterious device which has been repaired. It’s revealed to turn back time to before the Calamity, which decimated the landscape of Bastion and set the events of the game in motion. If you decide to do so, you are dismayed to find that events play out exactly as before, with no difference in story.
In Transistor, Red, the protagonist, impales herself with the titular Transistor to send her consciousness inside its data banks. Rather than live in a silent Cloudbank, she lives on in a virtual world alluded to as The Country.
Finally, the exiles of Pyre are sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in a purgatorial underworld. Through the course of the game, you are allowed to send members of your party back home. However, you realize that not everyone will make it back and must decide whose lives are more important. A few heart-breaking decisions later and you’re awarded with credits that tell retell your actions. All those that remain, are doomed to grow old and die in the Downside. It begs the question: “How long must their punishment last?”
Disparate as they are, Supergiant’s games all answer the same question: “What does an eternity feel like?” They just do so in different ways.
Imagine trying to put in your flash drive into the USB port. It’ll take a while because you always seem to get it wrong the first time. You flip the flash drive once to find that it’s wrong side so you flip it one more time. Bastion is like that, but that satisfaction of success is never attained. You flip this figurative flash drive again and again, with no end in sight. In Bastion, you as a player can play through the game a second time, which is dismaying as the device you repaired was done so with the hope that events can be avoided.
This is Bastion’s interpretation of Eternal Recurrence. Things happen repeatedly, even when you have the opportunity to fix a catastrophe. The information that you hold is essentially meaningless if events happen beyond your control. Obviously, this is a rather bleak look at eternity but it brings up an important truth.
Repetition is natural over a long period of time.
One last attack and it’s all over, Red has prevailed over Royce. But it feels hollow. Her city is silent while she and her lover are separated forever. This is her eternity, not a world filled with fire and brimstone but one whose song has been cut short.
True, she has won her life back. On the other hand, it’ll be to live in solitude. Her interpretation of never-ending is a world without love. That is an experience not worth living through.
After restoring a few locations of her hometown, she lies next to the corpse of her lover and impales herself with the Transistor. She finds herself within the simulated world of the Transistor, standing in front of the man she loves.
One issue arises, she’s dead. The world she inhabits is comprised of data. Presumably, she’ll spend the rest of her existence in this datascape. Red has triumphed, though it may not seem like it. After all, her after life is a comfortable existence in a simulation. The ending seems like an uplifting Black Mirror episode. In more ways than one, technology has saved her life. Now, it’ll allow her to live out her life.
She’ll get to live out another eternity within the Transistor. It will be one that is vastly different from the real world. To her, being with her lover is an eternity worth experiencing.
And thus, an eternity is a feeling not a length of time
Finally we have Pyre. If the ending can be summed up briefly , it’s the creeping sensation of regret. You wonder how you could have allowed certain friends to leave while others are doomed to live in the Downside, from which there is no escape. This is the ultimate period of time because you are told there is no end in sight.
All you know is that everyone who is left behind ultimately finds a happy ending, in their own ways. But what must it feel like? To be left behind, to have salvation taken away? These are the questions that plagued me as the credits rolled. I wanted a truly happy ending, where everyone could go home. That wasn’t the case. There seemed to be no hope for the prisoners of the Downside.
What’s left for them but to spend the rest of their lives trapped? I came to care for these characters, and this was a fate worse than death. It was one where liberty is not possible.
“One must imagine Sisyphus happy”.
A friend imparted these words upon me when the world seemed clouded with contradictions. It’s a phrase that Albert Camus came up with. It can be interpreted in the case of Pyre as hope in the face of hopelessness. When nothing seems to offer salvation, perhaps one must take joy in what is present.
Indeed this is what the ending of Pyre imparts upon the player. It is, in my opinion, the synthesis of Bastion’s and Transistor’s answers. It takes the bleakness of Bastion’s answer, where there is no end in sight, and combines it with Transistors, where an eternity is a feeling, to create this deeply optimistic outlook. It is a life without liberty, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a chance for happiness.
Even if there is no hope, one must believe, sometimes foolishly, that there is.
Maybe this is after two games of both bleak and optimistic outlooks on what is “forever”, but Pyre seems like the perfect answer to what an eternity feels like. Life can lose its luster after a while, as Bastion demonstrates with its recurrence. However, it can also be beautiful when one is accompanied with love the way Red is within the transistor.
Whatever your eternity is, know that it doesn’t have to be any of these interpretations. We all have our own eternities. Let’s just hope that it is one that isn’t submerged in despair.
Neither yours nor mine.