Resonance – The Man Hiding in Plain Sight
Resonance is a point-and-click adventure game released a couple of months back by Wadjet Eye Games, the makers of Gemini Rue. It’s a solid play for you point-and-click fans: the puzzles are solid (and occasionally frustrating, which, of course, is part of the experience), and the story is cool, with some nice twists and turns. My one complaint is that only a couple of characters feel truly fleshed out in any way, though that’s neither here nor there for the purposes of this post.
There’s one twist in Resonance I caught onto just before the big reveal and the devastation that occurs afterward. Even though I caught it before it happened, I thought the twist was well executed; actually, the realization of the twist made me appreciate it all the more because the writers had manipulated the story in just the right way to give the twist the proper impact. Then just before I finished the game, I read an articled retweeted by mefloraine that made me appreciate the build to the twist on a different, more interesting level.
I’ll link the article after the jump, because the nature of the anecdote shared in the article hints rather strongly at the thrust of the twist in Resonance. If you have any interest in playing the game and don’t want to be spoiled, then don’t read any further.
OK, that nonsense is out of the way! Here is the article. It’s a striking anecdote about rape culture and what is termed in the article as The Question. Now, before you leave in droves, I’m not writing to talk down at you or lecture you or whatever. Frankly, although I’m quite sympathetic to many feminist ideas, I don’t have the knowledge to expound on them on many levels beyond the basic ideal of, “Yo, guys, let’s not be shitty to women, OK?”
Anyway, the long and short of the article is that a woman’s husband attends a workshop where they live in a dormitory and do workshoppy things. The man meets a much younger woman, and they spend a lot of time working together. Nothing happens; they’re just colleagues. This woman, however, catches the eye of another dude, and this dude spends much of the workshop trying to talk to this woman, to get to know her. The attention wasn’t really appreciated by the woman, and she let the guy know in a million polite ways that he should promptly buzz off. This guy wasn’t having it, though, and he started making insinuations about the first guy — about how he’s married, and why should he be hanging around so much with a much younger woman if that’s the case?
There’s a lot more to the story, but basically everything comes to a head when the husband and the woman go hiking together one evening. Just a pleasant, harmless activity. When they get back, however, it’s after curfew. The husband went to fill his water bottle, and when he arrived at the dorm, he found the other dude cornering the woman and chatting her up. The husband’s arrival distracted the guy enough that the woman was able to flee to her room. The next day, the husband finally confronted the other guy on how he was making the woman and everyone else in the group uncomfortable with his unwanted advances, and that he should cut that shit out. The dude was embarrassed, and the husband felt bad, but he’d just had enough. Politeness did not work anymore.
The wife, however, interjects by wondering why the husband didn’t do more and sooner. The husband countered by saying that the guy’s only crime was that he was shit at flirting and eventually stepped over the line. The counter to that, though, was that the inept flirting made the woman uncomfortable for the entire workshop. She could never relax and have a good time; she was constantly on guard. Didn’t that matter? The husband agreed, though he felt weird because he thought there was something he was missing. The comes The Question (here I paraphrase): Just what in the fuck was this dude doing waiting for this woman in the dark after curfew? The story set off a million alarms in the wife’s head by the halfway point; the husband clued in when The Question was posed.
The ultimate point is that men (often, but not always) don’t totally make the leap from seeing behavior as sketchy rather than awkward because they (often, but not always) don’t have a reason to do so. It’s the way society trains us — it’s just a dude making romantic advances. Even if he’s clumsy, it’s not as if he means any harm, right? But you never know when those clumsy advances can turn into something worse.
And finally back to Resonance! There are four characters in the game, but these are the two who matter: Ed, who is a scientist’s assistant, and Anna, a doctor who is revealed early on to be the niece of the scientist with whom Ed works, Dr. Morales. Morales researched a concept that could be turned into a weapon in the wrong hands. He’s killed early in the game, and Ed, Anna and the others spend much of Resonance hunting down the location of Morales’ research. They find it eventually, and Anna is the key to unlocking it. Anna is alone after asking Ed to leave and give her space to think. She’s given a choice: destroy the research or keep it in the hopes humanity can do good with it. Ed, on the other side of the door, implores Anna to keep the research. He can’t see the choice she is about to make.
So he opens the door and shoots her.
It’s a rough twist because it’s so sudden and because Anna is the most sympathetic character by far. I called Ed’s turn just before it happened — something just seemed off about the whole exercise. There were so many unanswered questions and so many attempts to deflect attention. And some of Ed’s behavior during the game just seemed . . . off, somehow, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I figured he wormed his way in with Anna just so that he could get his hands on Dr. Morales’ research.
But what the above article made me realize — and this is where the writers get really devious — is that it’s possible to call Ed’s turn super early in the game if you’re truly paying attention and thinking in the right way. You first meet Anna during one of the segments introducing the four characters. Ed is on a subway, and Anna gets on along the way. Ed is psyching himself up — he’s seen Anna on the subway before, but he’s never had the courage to speak to her. When Anna sits down, a coin falls out of her pocket; this gives Ed a reason to approach her and strike up a conversation. It’s set up as an awkward, somewhat romantic scene. There’s no reason to suspect any wrongdoing on Ed’s part, and I certainly didn’t pick up on anything major.
Later, when you get all four protagonists together, you start to explore the city. You get a map of the subway system; it’s using this map that you can see what eventually makes the other two in the group suspicious of Ed.
The major areas are marked on the map. Ed takes the subway to the lab, while Anna takes the subway to the hospital. These areas and the routes to them are marked from the moment you get the subway map. Can you see what’s wrong? I’ll give you a moment to figure it out.
And . . . time!
The answer is that Ed’s route to work doesn’t intersect Anna’s route. He has to go out of his way to meet Anna on the subway. That’s what raises all the red flags: Ed mentions early in the game that he met Anna on the subway. But what is he doing out there in the first place? Why is he making such an effort to meet Anna on a subway route so far away from his own? He could be clumsily courting someone he likes . . . but Ed’s behavior tips dangerously far into stalker territory. It’s an easy detail to miss, because it’s obscured by the hunt for Dr. Morales’ research, but it’s always there, waiting, until the writers spring it on the player at the worst moment. Most of Resonance‘s plot is solidly done genre work, but that’s the one twist I’d say is thought out in a genuinely clever way.
Did the writers have rape culture in mind when they drew up this plot point? Maybe not so specifically. I can’t say for sure, because I’m not them, and it doesn’t matter much, anyway. The weirdness of Ed’s behavior is not glossed over, however. When Anna speaks to Ed on the subway, she mentions specifically that she ignored him at first because you meet a lot of “creeps” on the subway. She senses something is off about Ed’s behavior, but Anna is disarmed when Ed returns her coin (it has personal meaning) and when he reacts to her response to his stalker-like behavior in such a charmingly awkward, self-effacing way.
The truly devious part is that Ed’s behavior fooled me because I (and many others) am instinctively sympathetic to a guy awkwardly trying to open up to a woman. I’m not exactly the smoothest, most confident man in the world when it comes to romance. (What, an anime/video game blogger not being great at romance? Pshaw!) My world experience distracted me to what could definitely be seen as sketchy fucking behavior if I had read into the clues with the proper mindset. That’s what’s so great about this twist, whether intentional or not.