End of Days: As-I-Play Bastion (Part Eight)

The warning in this post is that it’s a little long, and it gets pretty seriously heavy at the end. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I make the jump to the last world, where I have to fight through more Ura (who are also after the shard). Rucks says that “The Calamity failed. The Ura are proof of that.” So the fact that people are still alive means that Caelondia failed to be complete dicks, and I’m on the side of the dicks. Great. I still have to finish this game, so I’m just going to continue to be an oppressor, because that’s how institutionalized systemic racism works, kids!

As I continue, Rucks explains: “At the heart of the Calamity was a simple idea. We never wanted to go to war again. Wanted to rule it out.” So the ethos of the preemptive strike. Not only are we the aholes here, we are the worst possible type of aholes. I’m guessing the Caelondians are allegorical stand-ins for Americans. Because let’s face it, Americans are usually the a**holes (and deservedly so).

Now the Kid is moving quickly through different worlds, I’m guessing that I’m actually invading Uran territory in an effort to take the last shard, which I’m also guessing is going to allow me the option of repeating the Calamity… or not. I’m hoping that’s not where this goes. Really hoping.

As I go, Rucks continues narrating the story of the Calamity. He says that the breakthrough came from an Ura, “A brilliant scientist named Venn.” And now it’s starting to sound a little Manhattan Project—a foreign scientist joins a group trying to use atrocity to end all wars… and creates the possibility of nuclear annihilation. Because that worked out so well.

He continues, talking about how Venn realized what he was doing and tried to sabotage the process, except he was caught: “Imagine how Venn felt when they made him pull that trigger.” Oh, we are definitely the a**holes, here.

Rucks then gets a little (more) creepy on me and says, “But remember. The Bastion can fix everything.” I’m betting by “fix,” Rucks, you mean “destroy,” because you’re an a**hole. But I am stuck on this trajectory because you are the one telling the story, and I’m just a character in it. At least for now. As Rucks says, “The Kid has little choice but to pick up where the Calamity left off.”

Except not. Because apparently I have to go rescue Zia first. I do not want to go rescue Zia. I do not want to rescue Zia because I do not want to pander to the stupid damsel-in-distress trope that is apparently a core part of 99.99% of all videogames (okay, not really, I made that statistic up, but it’s gotta be more than 80%). I do not want to rescue Zia because, as Rucks said, she went home. HOME. To her people. Who do not look down on her or want to commit genocide, which is more than I can say for Rucks here. Or myself, probably, since I was one of the guards on the walls, which means I was up to my eyeballs in institutionally sanctioned violence before the Calamity went down. I want to just leave her alone. But that is not a choice I am given, because Rucks is the jerk telling the story.

So I take the skyway to Zulten’s Hollow to kill a bunch more people who are fully justified in wanting me and Rucks dead. Because I’m the a**hole.

Once the Ura are dead, the Kid acquires a Calamity Cannon, the “care package” from Rucks. Apparently the Ura have erected obelisks that stop the Calamity from spreading, so of course I have to destroy them, because, again, a**hole.

So come with me on my angel-of-death genocide trip through the country!

This is making me both bored and vaguely disgusted. Of course the Ura are trying to defend their keep and their homeland. Of course they’re confused about why some a**hole Kid is running rampant through their castle, killing them all for no good reason. I really am not the good guy here, and I know it, and that is absolutely sucking all the fun out of this process. I have played many games where the gameplay is, in essence, going on a killing spree. I have enjoyed those games, but, I’m discovering, largely because the fiction of the game is that I’m in the right. I may be homicidal, but I am homicidal with ethics. Here, I’m not just homicidal, but genocidal, and only because Rucks seems to think it’s a good idea, and I’m (or the Kid, anyway) utterly incapable of denying him.

It bears very disturbing similarities to what’s happening in this election campaign with Donald Trump and his followers, one of whom punched a protestor and is quoted as saying that “Maybe next time we’ll kill him.” It’s not even “I,” it’s “We.” “We” is a terrifying, collectivist proclamation which tells me that not only has Trump’s rhetoric of hate become out-of-control, it’s creating a borderline fascist sentiment in his followers and allowing them to justify not only group-think, but collective bigotry, racism, and Islamophobia in the name of “Making America great again.”

In Bastion, Rucks is my Donald Trump, and I, as the Kid, am powerless in the face of his authoritarian rhetoric. And it’s sickening.

Rucks continues, and I want him to shut up if only so I can fell less horrible about playing. He says, with the same tone he’s been using all along, but which now feels tinged by a maniacal glee, that the Ura are being “beaten by a Kid. They underestimated us all along.” There’s so much White American Exceptionalism here it’s disgusting.

And now the apologism: “Yes, our people caused the Calamity. But here we are, tryin’ to fix it.” We aren’t fixing sh**, Rucks. We’re just repeating it. Again. Killing everyone. Again. Destroying civilization. Again. We aren’t fixing it. We’re breaking it. Again.

“Did the Ura really think we’d just turn around and walk away?” I wish we had. I really, really wish we had. Because that’s what we should have done. Turned around and walked away. But if I, as the player, had done that, you, dear reader, would not be reading this now and would not be finding out that the creators of Bastion were eerily prescient about the trajectory of hate on which our nation’s politics would embark.

And now we’re heading down the assimilationist path: “Suppose old Zulf shoulda got to know us better.” Suppose he got to know us well enough to know we’re a**holes? Oh, wait, he totally did. And that’s why he attacked the Bastion. Which I am totally down with.

But the Kid keeps going, and “way out there…that’s where he finds you. But it ain’t like Prosper Bluff this time.” So he’s talking to Zia. That just made this whole thing so much creepier.

Zia—probably because she has no choice—agrees, the screen tells me, to return to the Bastion. Rucks says, “Zia, you just had to see if everything Zulf wrote to you was true.” Of course she did, you a**hole! I am so done with Rucks. So very, very done. I really hope this game ends with his downfall, and the Kid’s, too. Because they are horrible people. I hope Zia and the critters get to go off and live a happy life by her pond where she sings to them, because living on a militarized island in the sky with two crazy psychotics is not really a happy ending.

When the Kid shows Zia a child’s drawing, Rucks says, “They lost everythin’, but they just keep on fightin’, like that’s gonna bring it all back.” My god, Rucks, you are a monster. Oh, and when the Kid shows her the harp, he asks if she isn’t sure she didn’t drop it on purpose? Victim-blaming much, Rucks? Ugh.

If the Kid shows the drawing to Rucks, he says he doesn’t need to see it—“I’m tryin’ to undo it, remember?” I remember. I remember that you’re a creepy old man who was party to the original destruction and is still killing people out of some weird but hopefully at least misguided desire to “make things right,” although I’m pretty sure my idea of right and yours are very different.

I head back to the skyway, and it tells me that this is the last shard, and once I have it, that’s it. There’s no going back. Good. I can’t stand much more of Rucks.

The Tazal Terminals. “The Calamity hit the Tazal Terminals hardest of all,” Rucks says. “You know why Zulf went back there. That was his home.” Rucks also says that he can’t “hear” the Kid from there. That it must be empty at the Terminals, with Zulf all alone—as the Kid battles his way through more Ura than I’ve had to face thus far, which tells me that not only is Rucks an a**hole, he’s an ignorant one who never bothered to find out anything about the people he decided to exterminate.

So the whole story—start to finish—is Rucks talking to Zia while they wait for the Kid to come back from slaughtering her people. This is the worst. He’s a psychologically abusive, manipulative, and clearly sexist a**hole who is holding her functionally against her will while his goon is out there killing what remains of her people because… I’m not really sure why. Mostly because Caelondia is an elitist bunch of jerks who think that they are better than everyone else (no, we don’t know anybody like that, now, do we?). And so he’s telling her the story of her own victimization as though he is the victim. Ugh. Double ugh. Triple ugh. I-need-a-shower ugh.

Rucks then says, that when the Kid returns, “all of us will be gone. No, we’re not gonna die. It’s more like all of us will just—stop.” Great. I’m down with that. You can stop anytime, Rucks. “Things will all go back to the way they used to be. That’s the power of the Bastion.” Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no. We are not repeating this again. Can I destroy it, instead? I’m with Zulf here. Totally on Team Zulf.

Rucks then goes on to explain that he designed the Bastion—no kidding—and that there isn’t anything, really, to stop the Calamity happening all over again. The implication is that somehow the Kid remembers what happened, and that because the Kid remembers (he wasn’t on the Bastion when it reset), the Kid might be able to prevent it. Or maybe the Kid is going to suffer from severe PTSD. Or maybe he turns into the next psychotic Rucks.

Rucks then says there’s another possible use of the Bastion—we could detonate the cores and take off, “never goin’ back. Ever. Again.” I’m down with that. Because we’re horrible people who deserve to be banished for all eternity. Does that mean we have to take Zia? Because that’s awful for her.

Well, now. This is interesting. I fight through a bunch more Ura, then pick up a battering ram from the ram-deity, which is like the world’s most annoying super-weapon. I have to fight some elite warriors and a pile of normal ones away from the shard, and start to head “back.” Then I see a group of Ura attacking something, kill them when they turn on me, and find an unconscious Zulf lying on the ground. The game then asks me what I want to do: leave him, or take him with me. The text in the game suggests that if I leave him, he will die. If I take him, I have to give up the battering ram (which I hate anyway, but it’s the only weapon I have).

I’m going to take him.

So this is very interesting. As I walk—slowly, because Zulf is apparently very heavy, we get shot continuously by the Ura, but I have no weapons, so we just have to take the hits. There’s a melancholy dirge in the background about going “home, sweet, home.” I no longer have a HUD (Head’s Up Display) with a healthbar. I just have to keep walking, until either I die or the game takes over and sends us to a cutscene.

Actually, they stop shooting. Except one, until her fellow Ura shoot her. They watch me walk toward the skyway, and Rucks narrates, “Kid’s probably dealt with Zulf by now.” Yes, Rucks, I have. I have struck a deal with the devil, and the devil was you. And now I’m bringing back the man you wronged and you will have to deal with him.

We transition back to the Bastion, and Rucks says, “Hey, Kid. Get up, Kid.” The Kid struggles. Tries. Makes sound for the first time—his voice, not Rucks’s. “Get up, now. That ain’t funny.” This time, he can rise. “That’s better. Now set that shard in the monument there, and then we’ll talk.” No, Rucks, I don’t think so.

Or maybe I have to. Zulf is here, still unconscious. Rucks says he can’t believe I brought him back. Believe it, a**hole.

I put in the shard, because there is literally nothing else I can do.

The Monument is completed, and the Kid goes underground, where Rucks and Zia will talk to him. Rucks clearly wants me to go back, to undo time and reset. Zia says that “Any moment I’d want to live again happened after the Calamity, not before.” She actually speaks now, too. She seems to me to be a little… Stockholm Syndrome-y, wanting to stay with Rucks, but she also says her people thought she was a traitor. Like Zulf. I want to talk to him, see what he has to say about this—whether I should go back, or keep things as they are.

Not because I’m having trouble—I’m not. I know what I’m going to do. I want to talk to him because I want to see what he says as the person who has lost the most. Would he want it all taken back, if there was a chance of having it all happen again?

What will I do? Well, I’m of the opinion that there is no going back. We live in linear time, and once a moment has passed, it is past. We don’t have the option of undoing what we have done, either good or bad. Instead, we have to accept our responsibilities—both personal and cultural—and try to find a way to move forward. We can regret, but we cannot undo, no matter how much we or our victims want it.

So forward it is. Because there is only forward, if we will accept the path and learn both forgiveness and humility. There is no “Making America great again” because that greatness—whether of America or Caelondia—has always been a myth. We cannot go back, but there should be no grief in that, only joy at the myriad possibilities that lay before us. The adventure of what is yet to come is still something we have the power to shape, and we could make the future—not the past—great. But we can only do so by letting go of the myth of our past, the myth that America was ever a place where the Dream belonged to anyone other than the few. We can make the Dream a reality, but not by looking back and not be denying it to those who are different from us.

So what is my take on Bastion?

I did not enjoy it much. But I am very, very, very glad I played it.

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