Saturday, January 15, 2022

Nier Automata and the existential search for meaning


So, I just finished Nier Automata. What a game! I'm not much for hack and slash gameplay, but Nier really got me converted. All of a sudden, I was 11 years old again, dodging attacks and countering, giving the screen full attention and allowing the thumbs to carry the entirety of my consciousness- or something like that!

Not only was the gameplay the kind of thing FFXV should have been and maybe was attempting, the story, the music, the graphical setting and the world itself were deeply compelling and engaging.

Unlike FFXV which, in many respects, (in the original form without Episode Ardyn and Dawn of the Future alternative re-telling) serves as a very faithful echo of philosophical and moral concepts supportive of Christianity, Nier's underlying philosophy is far more ambiguous.

But don't get me wrong, usually, in these instances, ambiguity denotes, perhaps, moral relativism or an atheological presentation of the divine, but here, perhaps Nier simply raises questions, it raises questions without necessarily even attempting, or being able to attempt a thorough answer.

The question is THE BIG ONE- does life have a purpose? Is life the kind of thing that has a meaning? Can you put a meaning on life if it lacks one?

Neir plays out this question within the context of androids who are in an endless war against machines, their hard wired telos is to destroy the machines and enable humanity to return to earth. Androids are hard-wired with this mission, and, conversely, machines are hard-wired (by their alien creators) to seek to destroy androids, and ultimately, humans.

But the war has gone on for millennia. Machines have evolved, some have broken free from 'the grid' and in evolving they have developed in new and surprising ways. Androids also, in the stalemate with the machines, have, through their consciousness (which the game has us believe that they most definitely possess) sought to find more meaning to life than an interminable war, some seek peace, some seek love, some seek substance abuse, some comradeship. Among the machines religions develop, kingdoms, cults, peace movements and also, of course, nihilistic destruction motivations.

So, what's interesting about all this?

Most definitely the game picks up from Nietzsche's death of god starting point. I'm not going to quote the passage, but essentially N is telling us that Christianity brought about a will to truth but the will to truth of Christianity actually, according to N, showed Christianity to be false and brought about secular enlightment democracies. According to N, the citizens of these secular democracies do not believe Christianity yet they haven't taken in the consequences of this, the dreadful, frightening, root-uplifting consequences of the death of god. The death of god means, suffering has no meaning, objective so called morality is just interpretation and power, life itself has no meaning. N says that the death of god, when it really comes home, will, unless something is done about it, lead to nihilistic despair.

N says among his audience there will be strong individuals capable of putting meaning on life and living by their own value system, and he writes for their benefit, to become great and to overcome the chains of Christian morality etc. etc.

so N gets many many things wrong, I'm doing a PhD on this guy at the moment, and I assure you, he gets more wrong than right. But he does diagnose something that Nier also recognises, that life, in actual fact demands meaning. For N, the worst kind of life is not the Christian but the life of 'the last man' a figure he says is without ideals, without recognition of beauty, concerned only with comfort, in many ways more animal than genuinely human.

The strong individual finds and chooses meaning for his life. Neir shows all the various attempts of this on behalf of machines and androids. The game, one after the next, shows that none of these attempts really satisfy the thirst for meaning, and that, ultimately, even when they do, the player knows that they are based on a lie.

So, given this outlook, why is the Catholic priest pleased with the game?

I guess for one, it makes the gamer reflect on his life, on the fact that life demands a meaning and even if you go out of your way to live absorbed in comfort and without ideals, even this is a deliberate and unhealthy negation from the fundamental quest for meaning.

Second, I enjoyed the canonical ending- on a twist on the jrpg trope, whilst you get a chance to kill 'god' god is the credits- those who invented the game and made the android world that was so hopelessly without true and lasting meaning. This was clever and reminded the player that the world of the androids and machine was a fiction and that the creators of that fiction were, in a sense, cruel and culpable.

third, I felt the game and the lack of definitive meaning that it offers actually exposes the ultimate truth that all created and invented meanings and false, it invites the player to see that in his or her own life. Fine, but that actually allows the player, perhaps, to investigate, whether, unlike in his world there is a meaning intrinsic to himself that is both intrinsic AND TRUE.

In the case of the androids, their inbuilt mission was actually kind of false, it was a meaning for the sake of meaning, they were inbuilt with the mission to restore earth to humans, even though, in fact humans were extinct millennia ago, the inbuilt desire was just a created ruse to try and fulfil the existential crisis of meaning. 

But maybe in our case and in our world that might not be the case, the difference, of course, is REVELATION. 

If a human had come to the androids and told them, thank you for fighting for us, we appreciate you, and we will reward you, what a different game and world it would have been.

That's our situation, Almighty God, Our Creator and Telos, Whose service our nature is ordered to, has in fact revealed Himself and has founded the Catholic Church as means to our salvation.

We are not androids or machines searching to place meaning on our lives, some invented meaning to fulfil an existential angst, we have REVEALTION.

N's big error was his starting error, that revelation had been disproved by early historical criticism. Ultimately the whole of N's philosophical rabbit hole began with this, had he known, as we do now, that the Gospels were not 3rd century inventions, he would not have embarked on the quest to create meaning for life. He would have known that the Life appeared among us, and that His grace offers us the transforming power of divinisation.

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