A Journey Through PARATOPIC | Monsters of the Week

(dark, moody jazz music playing) (car door slamming) (engine starting) – [Ragnar] I used to drive a lot Various circumstances in my life – a long distance relationship a job a little further away studying in a place far from my hometown – had me regularly sitting in the car for distances of one to several hours straight And I gotta admit that over time I grew to enjoy these long drives quite a bit Whether the roads were free or full of construction sites or traffic jams, I learned to turn these liminal journeys into rejuvenating, almost zen-like experiences My go-to stimulus would be either listening to music or audiobooks And sometimes I’d even keep the radio off and let my mind wander aimlessly without any of the manifold distractions we’re being bombarded with in our daily lives For a perpetually racing ADHD brain, this can be quite the cerebral adventure, let me tell you And over time, I noticed something… fascinating: I could drive from A to B for multiple hours and my mind would become this swirling miasma of tantalizing thoughts and turgid ideas, completely engulfed in thought for the entire trip — and then all of a sudden I’d be at my destination (snap) I was just there, almost like I teleported It felt like… waking up from a long, restless and meandering fever dream Of course I was awake and attentive throughout the entire drive I had successfully maneuvered my car along the road, always staying between the guard rails, gracefully evading other cars and obstacles, and probably following at least 80% of the traffic rules educated guess But if I tried to recall any actual palpable moments, sounds, places from the commute itself, anything specific? – [Ancient Reptilian Brain] There is nothing – [Ragnar] Where do all these impressions go? An immeasurable stream of information had rushed past me over hours of continuous sensual exposure and my brain decided, without my knowledge or… consent, that every single bit of it is…. collateral, dead weight, declared unfit to be stored within the limited capacity of my long term memory and simply… flushes it out of my cerebral cortex into the void – [Herman Toothrot] If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it what color is the tree? – [Guybrush] All colors? – [Herman] Exactly! – [Ragnar] What if this uncountable stream of… liminal data was actually somehow.. intercepted, catalogued and stored by someone, something, some entity – and what if we could get ahold of it? (Paratopic main theme playing) If I were granted a fairy wish to change something in the worldwide video game landscape, I would make it so games overall would be Shorter – [Ingame Character] “Ill catch up!” – [Ragnar] Less obsessed with graphical fidelity and technical flexing And that the people who make them aren’t routinely coerced into exploitative, hypercompetitive crunch labor – [Arthur Morgan] “Are you crazy?!” – [Ragnar] There definitely is a place for long games, but more often than not, excessive playtime is achieved by padding games out with hours upon hours of mediocre to uninspired assembly-line filler-content I’ve always loved games that get their message across with as much respect to the player’s time as possible, utilizing the space they’re taking up to maximum efficiency – games where every moment has something to say – [Davey Wreden] “It says what it wants to say, and then it ends.” – [Ragnar] Paratopic is a prime example for a game whose short playtime is almost ridiculously densely packed My first playthrough took me maybe an hour to get through This was an hour spent mostly wondering what is even going on and what the hell I’m actually doing, or… even who I am to begin with It left me confused, bewildered and frankly even a bit irritated Like many people I spoke to that had played it, I initially put it out of sight, out of mind At first But.. there was something about Paratopic that kept silently gnawing at my grey cells like an incessant colony of termites Like an intrusive thought I can’t shake, I kept thinking about it, again and again, and always in very different contexts – [Gas Station Clerk] (strange distorted speech) This video is not so much meant to be a review of Paratopic, but more of an exploration of its themes and pondering about its… metanarrative, and everything else that I… just need to get out, somehow Now this is the unavoidable moment where I would tell you that this video will contain spoilers for Paratopic — although this game is a bit of a special case You don’t need to have played it to understand this video I’m providing all the context you need to understand the points I’m trying to make

A single playthrough of Paratopic is quite short, as I said, something around an hour of raw playtime, and it doesn’t offer all that much in terms of traditional “pew-pew” gameplay The game features a stark lofi-retro-inspired aesthetic that nails its uncanny, surrealistic atmosphere through thoughtful and consistent visual-, narrative-, sound- and music design But Paratopic is one of those titles that has so, so much more going on than you can grasp during one playthrough It’s a story that you’ll likely finish unsure what it even was that you just witnessed, but that sticks to your mind like a barnacle and keeps occupying your thoughts for long after you put it down And although it feels quite linear, it’s astounding how intricately its short interactive narrative is constructed Every time you replay it, you will find an abundance of things you didn’t notice before At first glance, they might feel like random weirdness or unimportant fluff But once you meet Paratopic on its own terms, you’ll start realizing just how inexhaustibly deep the rabbit hole goes If you want to get your own impression of Paratopic before I start clubbing its authors to death and over-analyzing it for longer than it takes to finish the game itself — and experience it yourself before my ramblings will forever bias what *you* see in its convoluted, otherworldly narrative, then by all means: Stop this video here, get the game, and play through it once, or several times, however you like It’s available on itch.io and Steam, and it was just recently released on the Nintendo Switch as well and at the time of release of this video you can get it for around 5-ish US-Dollars And I’m certain that if any of what you’ve seen and heard about it in this video so far hadn’t put you off and/or piqued your interest, you won’t regret that choice in the slightest It’s far more likely that Paratopic will sit with you for a good while Now… where do I even begin to unravel this? Paratopic comes along in such an innocuous, tiny frame, yet is spun more intricately than the world’s largest ball of yarn It’s like an onion, man, it has layers I could begin by recapitulating the story, or what the game decides to show of it (otherworldly electric discharge) Over the course of its playtime, you assume the role of three playable characters from a first person POV: A man who’s coerced into smuggling contraband VHS-tapes across the not-further-specified “border”, an assassin preparing to kill a key-figure in the production and trade of said tapes, and a nature photographer stumbling across the remains of mysterious, abandoned illicit industry deep in the forest These story-arcs are connected, most visibly through the game’s central McGuffin – the tapes whose content we never get to witness directly, and the ominous shadow-company behind the whole affair But if I’m gonna be honest with you — the first time I played it, I hadn’t even put together that I was playing 3 completely different people That might be me being a little bit on the dense side, but that also tells you a lot about how much Paratopic loves to obfuscate its narrative This has a lot to do with where the game places its focus on, and what it deliberately decides to omit Many people would, at this point in time in gaming culture, intuitively describe Paratopic as a Walking Simulator But looking at how this game tells its story, how skillfully it uses video-game atypical stylistic devices, and how meticulously it employs common video game affordances, some of them implemented to perfection only to use them precisely once — to me, this game is far more of a statement *on* Walking Simulators And at the same time on the First Person Game in general; how we, as players consume them In the very first minutes of the game, after a short bit of confusing dialogue, it… quite literally places Chekhov’s Gun right in front of your nose As you’re sitting in a shabby diner that feels like a pixelated sister-outlet of Winkie’s from Mulholland Drive, your first interaction as the assassin character you pick up your revolver, grab each bullet individually, eject the cylinder of your gun, and insert each cartridge one.. by one The game, quite consciously, doesn’t give you any tutorial prompts, teaching you what button to press in order to reload your piece Or alright, it does so, but only if you don’t figure it out on your own for quite a while But … I personally didn’t need one, because I’m one of those many players who have been conditioned by the abundance of firearm-based action games I’ve played in the past, so without even thinking about it, I pushed the button I was drilled to reload guns with ever since games like Half-Life had standardized it: I pressed R and as expected, a bullet slid into the chamber This is veeery innocuous and I didn’t even register it at first, but it goes in line with a theme that permeates especially the assassin storyline

Paratopic heavily insinuates violence that is about to happen and that always hangs in the air But this is not really something we bat an eye over in a first person game, do we? It’s common practice for first person shooters to lead you straight into action and fulfil the promise of violence within the first minutes of the game – an appetizer for the blood-thirsty audience exceptions definitely prove the rule here And that’s fine That’s what you paid for isn’t it? – [Konrad] You’re here because you wanted to feel like something you’re not A hero – [Ragnar] So, expecting shit to go down when you approach Paratopic without knowing anything about it beforehand; this is exactly what the expectation the game sets up But instead of satisfying it (door slams) You get… striking mundanity (slow, atmospheric music playing) (Call of Duty soundtrack playing) Paratopic starts on a typical pacing curve suited for a high-intensity thriller: Four short scenes gradually build up the expectation for immediate action; the smuggler and the assassin getting briefed on their jobs in a diner The game puts a gun right in front of you, and makes you load it in preparation And then you carefully approach the target, loaded pistol in hand, ready to strike The pacing curve exponentially approaches its peak And when you breach the door, ready to unleash hell, Paratopic steps on the brakes, full stop – flatlining the curve from one moment to the next, knowingly denying the audience the payoff it so meticulously set up Instead, all of a sudden, you‘re in a small, shabby apartment house lobby A cigarette butt smolders in an ashtray You look around and call the elevator and… wait for it You wait And wait The analogue display needle creeps along agonizingly slow, indicating the cabin’s languid descent This could almost be described as (ding) boredom When the elevator arrives, the door opens and you step in, the game jarringly jump cuts you up to the apartment floor it almost feels like being teleported out of nowhere A woman talks to you in the smoke-laden hallway; says some men were in your apartment earlier So from previous conversations that means you’re playing as the smuggler.. right now? The game never outright tells you whose shoes you occupy at the moment and revels in obfuscating the necessary context more often than not After a brief talk, you step into your messy, closet-sized apartment and find the suitcase your contacts have left for you Inside, the portentous video cassettes Your neighbor butts in unannounced and nosily asks you to give her one one of the tapes (unintelligible speech) It’s completely up to you if you indulge her (unintelligible speech) If you do give in, you’ll find her sitting in her apartment, staring obsessively into the tube, consuming the contents of the tape in rapture and (organic cracking noises) (relieved exhaling) A large part of the rest of the game is — contrary to previous expectation — surprisingly mundane The smuggling job turns out not to be some sort of gameplay challenge where you have to meticulously plan and execute your routes across the border, no hi-octane evasions of border cops, nor hot pursuit car chases or something You just drive You drive along the empty highway, the suitcase full of tapes riding shotgun Your only go-to stimulus is either listening to music, talk shows – or just keep the radio off and let your mind wander aimlessly (static) without any of the manifold distractions we’re being bombarded with in our daily lives Wait why is there a gun in my passenger’s seat now? I could there was the suitcase with the tapes there just a second ago or was that during an earlier drive segment? I thought I was playing as the smuggler during the car segments Am I the assassin? ww.. what the- Time spent between two places of interest Traversing liminal space (unintelligible speech) Lil’ Chit-chat with the gas-station clerk Talking about energy drinks with lots of berries (static) the moral hubris of rich people claiming superiority over everyone else,

and that famous waffle place that burned down Man they really had good waffles Things ain’t how they used to be Did the fucking snack-machine just eat my dollar? (sigh) Piece of sh- You’re a bird watcher with a camera following an elusive red bird that simply won’t hold still for the perfect picture It leads you deeper and deeper into the hinterlands, where you find trees mysteriously cut off It’s like some kind of Tunguska-incident has occurred here sometime in recent years still driving tattered remnants of old, decaying industry, abandoned refineries decommissioned pipelines ruins that lament a once prosperous era of economic hubris long gone arm-chair philosophy about the moral superiority of Aliens, the greatest shitty tourist traps of the area and of course, the collapse and decay of the region a bit over a decade ago wait is there someone standing next to my car? hiking further into the woods Still tailing the red bird remnants of long-decommissioned industry cargo containers, abandoned why are there surveillance cameras here are they still… active? wait – I’ve seen this symbol before Until this point, far over half of the game’s playtime we spent with things that are strikingly uneventful — especially for a game where you play as a smuggler *and* an assassin There is a constant tension hanging in the air, carried by this uneasy certainty that something’s off It’s almost like the game gaslights you into constantly feeling observed, stalked, as if some eldritch force is watching your every move, but you have no idea why; or often times even who — and WHEN you are And at the same time, you’re lulled into an uneasy sense of… safety through the conscious use of gameplay conventions The game knowingly plays with game feel to pull that off Paratopic is the type of game that a certain kind of Gamer would dismissively dub as “not a real game” — which is usually an accolade that the devs are doing some great stuff if you ask me The way its narrative is structured up until this point, knowingly establishes it as a”walking simulator” A seemingly linear story-progression without the traditional gameplay challenges offered in most other video games in the same technical framework — i.e. first person shooters Paratopic does this to, just like in the beginning, set up expectations in order to subvert them Just like the opening established the expectation of active violence and then tore it away — at this point, when players have been firmly rooted in walking simulator gameplay over multiple scenes of observation-focused, low-intensity gameplay (loud, eldritch noises, hard thud) it pulls the rug from under the player’s feet once more The game eventually cuts straight back to the when the assassin is about to breach the back-room of the diner, zero build-up this time, gun in hand and (loud gunshot) When I encountered this scene for the first time, similar to how I intuitively pressed “R” to load the revolver in the opening segment, I felt almost startled by how reflexively I had snapped right into killer mode, and how I went straight for an execution-style headshot How I, as someone with years of ingrained shooter-experience, didn’t even think nor hesitate for a split-second — but like a trained attack dog went straight for the artery Look at the mess I’ve made This guy, a video technician or something like that — he was apparently doing some kind of work related to those ominous VHS tapes — probably deeply immersed in what he was doing, unarmed and not expecting a thing From one instant to the next he got his brain sprayed all across the room I did this – [Will Graham] This is my design – [Ragnar] Paratopic makes a point in how fast everything is over, how anticlimactic this murder scene, that was built up from the very beginning, feels A literal heartbeat and it’s done But instead of flexing over the instant gratification of virtual murder – the game almost obsesses over… the consequences You pick up a tape from the pile — one of the red ones, the juicy ones — and when you shove it in the VCR

(muffled gunshot) You relive the scene once more NOT the thrill of the build-up, NOT the endorphin rush of the climactic instant of pulling the trigger, NOT the loud, succulent BANG of your Magnum — it cuts straight to the result of your actions A clumsily muffled, cut-off acoustic residue of the gunshot, the lifeless body sagging awkwardly to the floor, the guy’s brain spraying across the room once again It’s like your nose being shoved into the doo-doo you just made on the carpet – [Patrick] LOOK AT IT! I find this scene fascinating for many reasons I found several people talking about this game describe this scene in particular as excessively violent – [Mandalore] The birdwatcher can, well, take pictures of birds and the assassin can make one of the gnarliest headshots since the movie Brick – [Ragnar] The thing is: I felt very similarly about it, but the more I thought about it (loud gunshot) If we take this scene at face value — yes this is quite bloody and gory — but if you hold it right next to the stuff we’re being exposed to in so many violent-by-default action games out there — this scene might actually be considered somewhat tame in comparison And yeah, not all of the scenes shown were actually headshots, but the point is that this scene here in Paratopic is made to be visceral and shocking, no matter where you place your shot Through the way the game continuously played and toyed with the expectations of the player, with how Paratopic stalled this moment for nearly 80% of its playtime — non-violent playtime — until it finally delivered this Sudden Peak Ultraviolence the jarring contrast makes it stand out as something that *feels* so much more visceral and gnarly than it actually is In a Call of Duty, you kill hundreds, if not thousands of people over the course of a mere couple of hours and you won’t even bat an eyelash, no matter how much calculated controversy they conjure up with each time In Paratopic, you fire one shot, take one life and it sticks with you (muffled gunshot) This deliberate set-up of a non-violent audience-expectation over a huge part of the playtime only to contrast it with sudden peak ultraviolence is a trope that I’ve noticed before – not so much in video games though, but in movies There are a handful of films I’ve notices that have used this to great effect Little to no violence over a long stretch of time – no “appetizers” to acclimatize the audience, only insinuation… at max – and then amping it up in one instant to a sudden display of intensely graphic brutality (loud gunshot, glass clirring) It gives violence as a stylistic device purpose and weight, making it feel genuinely shocking and traumatizing Because one thing I had noticed about Paratopic is that when I was thinking about it, when writing about it, when… uh… overanalyzing it (chuckles) – I tended to far more often compare it to films, rather than to other video games It is an interactive, dynamic story that can only be told like this in video game form, yet much of its narrative language and many of the most notable stylistic devices it uses makes me immediately think of renowned film directors rather than video game contemporaries Aside from the use of the aforementioned sudden peak ultraviolence trope – one of the most striking examples is probably the way it employs “jump cuts” It’s not that other games don’t use Jump-cuts, but especially first person games have the tendency to either bridge different scenes – sometimes out of technical necessity – with more or less clever loading screens, or use various different types of more gamey, seamless or smart transitions to ease the narrative from scene to scene But Paratopic goes a completely different route by using these strikingly jarring jump-cuts that so abruptly tear you from one moment to the next without any transition, loading screen, build-up or any other contextual help that you’ll always need a moment to orient yourself right after it, to grasp what the hell is even happening One moment you’re steering your car along the highway and one split second later you’re standing in a gas station It’s like someone snapping a finger in front of your face to wake you up from spacing out (snap) This is… eerily similar to how living with ADHD can feel at times Just saying (snap) How did I get here!? This storytelling style creates the feeling that the scenes of striking mundanity we experience in Paratopic are the character’s moments *between* their actual conscious awareness

What we’re doing feels like the unimportant stuff that the brain decides to flush out of the short term memory Waiting for an elevator Snippets of unimportant chit-chat that our minds compartmentalize (unintelligible, distorted speech) Long stretches of eventless walking And a looot of driving (unintelligible radio-talk) The voice-acting in Paratopic sounds like gibberish – but it’s not complete nonsense, if you listen closely you can hear that it has the phonetic silhouette of actual spoken English (unintelligible radio-talk) But it’s shapeless It sounds like… a conversation that you don’t actually pay attention to People talking on the radio while you’re spacing out during the drive All these things give Paratopic a — I wouldn’t exactly call it “dreamlike” — but a liminal quality As if you’re dropped in someone else’s distorted, incomplete comprehension of their journey through the liminal spaces between the moments of wakeful clarity I’ve often seen this game described as “Lynchian” – so.. resembling the surreal, fever-dream-like atmosphere of David Lynch movies Aside from the more obvious beats – the Diner that feels like a PS1 adaptation of Winkie’s or the looming backdrop of suffocating industrial decay that could be straight out of Eraserhead, the comparisons are mostly drawn for the game’s noticeably “cinematic” feel that evokes similar emotions and feelings of disorientation and confusion as the works of directors like David Lynch; messing with the audience’s concepts of strange and familiar, dreamlike and surreal, while at the same time grounded in comfort and mundanity Lynch has a tendency to focus more on how a scene “feels” over spelling out what really happens for narrative cohesion – [Woodsman] Got a Light? – [Ragnar] I’ve been a fan of David Lynch’s work for most of my life, and yet – as much as I see the parallels, I’ve felt that the using the attribute Lynchian to describe Paratopic’s unique rhythm, pacing, atmosphere and… narrative texture does the game a great disservice It gives off the vibe that it’s merely a wanna-be-Lynch impostor game When it is so much more Because despite being woven from a similar cloth, Paratopic establishes its own unique narrative style and presentation that effortlessly stands on its own two feet If you want to play the compare-game, you can easily see similarities to many other works of revered idiosyncratic auteur-type filmmakers For instance, I felt a similarly strong resemblance to the brooding, minimalist works of Jim Jarmusch when it comes to how Paratopic delivers its story – eschewing traditional narrative structure, lacking clear story progression and focusing heavily on mood and character development An Assassin as one of the pivotal characters is already peak Jarmusch — but instead of turning it into an action romp that focuses on the glorified, borderline pornographic mise-en-scnène of The Murdering — Jarmusch’s character portraits are, just like Paratopic, almost obsessed with everything but the immediate action, the moments of peak intensity And that’s not just for Assassins – Jarmusch has a penchant to deviate focus on the mundane, the common, everyday things we often don’t pay much attention to The impressions our short-term-memory usually flushes into the aether Jarmusch frames them in a way that emphasises their unique beauty And Paratopic has a similar obsession with the things other films and games don’t pay attention to when telling a story I’ve heard people criticize the game for featuring 3 multiple-minute long segments exclusively having the player ride along the highway, with no traditional gameplay challenges Just driving Which, in light of the short length of the game, accounts to probably 10% or even more of the whole playtime But these segments have a profound point in the narrative of the game Paratopic – as its title already suggests – portraits the mundane, the boring, the liminal space between the moments of peak-intensity and focus Yeah, all this made me think of Jarmusch’s films when playing Paratopic for the first time, but it’s also very different at the same time You can equally find nods to Cronenberg for sure (distorted noises) (suspenseful music playing)

(gunshots) Kubrick? – damn, just listen to this (Clockwork Orange Theme / Funeral March for Queen Mary playing) (Carlos AM from Paratopic OST playing) – Tarkovsky? Oh boy, yes! Paratopic is literally a short story about the concept of “The Zone” (we’ll get to that) It is because this game is incredibly strong and consistent in its theming Every nut and bolt… means something — or rather.. the whole setting is built so consistently that it *feels* like everything is there for a reason You’re never gonna know, and you don’t have to (gibberish distorted speech) And Paratopic, unlike all the filmmaker-comparisons we’ve drawn, conjures its unique atmosphere in an interactive medium (unintelligible speech) It references, and expresses a deep fondness for the art it draws inspiration from, but never outright imitates To go full circle, perhaps the strongest parallel I can draw to Lynch is that Paratopic is a game that, the more I replay it in order to “finally make sense” of the things that I don’t yet fully grasp, the more uncertain I end up being about it With each iteration it feels like I’m getting less sure of what it actually means – or wants to say I distinctly remember when I watched Mulholland Drive for the first time with a friend, we discussed it for over an hour afterwards We tried to make sense of its confusing, labyrinthine plot and ended up so perplexed that we decided to watch it a second time right away And… well, we just ended up being even more flabbergasted, felt like we understood even less and had even more unanswered questions lingering than after the first viewing It was I admit, a rather frustrating experience at the time The reason for that is that our minds were rigid, hyperfocused on finding “the one true” explanation — and that either didn’t really exist, or it was just never meant to be deciphered unambiguously to begin with It’s much better if you just vibe with it and don’t try to make sense of everything It’s a mood Paratopic works exactly like that If you want to tear its story apart with a crowbar and make sense of everything, seamlessly, you end up with the pieces scattered all over In order to enjoy it, you have to meet it on its own terms and find your own meaning (distorted, reverberating sound) In recent years, I’ve developed a strange relationship with retro aesthetics in media Because it’s become almost unavoidable ever since the Rise of Synthwave Back in the days of Drive and Hotline Miami striking retro-visuals and -acoustics in a game evoked an immediate holy shit wow effect So much so that it has grown into its own recognized subgenre Media that makes use of nostalgia as a vector for emotional response in the audience still, more often than not, achieves this initial rapture-effect with me – this immediate sensation of longing for an undefined past, through a more or less specific combination of omitted fidelity and style, appealing to a vague, hazy recollection of “the good old days” There are some cases though where a game does more than just superficially wow the audience with retro-aesthetics and that’s when their use is more than just a convenient paint-over tool, but an essential part of its message Paratopic is a perfect example for this — because not only does it vaguely resemble a PSX-style early-3D game era aesthetic, with its unfiltered pixelated textures, reduced color palette and highly stylized low-poly models — its aesthetics also strongly underline its themes The omission of fidelity in this game works hand in hand with its metanarrative Crystal clear high-resolution rendering and millions and billions of polygons would actually work directly against what it has to say – [Fry] It’s got better resolution than the real world! – [Leela] (sighs) – [Ragnar] There is the most obvious example, the game’s central McGuffin: The VHS tapes – [Neighbor] (distorted speech) – [Ragnar] Heavily desired contraband data containers of unknown content

that play a pivotal role in each character’s story arc They’re an artifact that evokes feelings of nostalgia in the audience, but also the subject of everyone’s obsession, capable of corrupting a person’s very essence from inside out The VHS tape is a medium that we associate with a very specific type of aesthetic and time Once the most widespread analogue video storage format, people who have lived through the age of the Video Home System cassette are intuitively familiar with its distinctive profile of low fidelity and distortion And despite these attributes being objective shortcomings of the medium, it haunts our perception of media from beyond the grave, since we’ve grown to associate its distinct aesthetic footprint as…. nostalgic – [Gordon Cole] We are like the dreamer who dreams But who is the dreamer? And it’s satisfyingly full circle that the retro-aesthetic in Paratopic is precisely used to portrait liminality, the impressions and experiences from the moments that our brains routinely flush into the void because they’re not pertinent – [Lester] How do you log that non-pertinent? – [Presbo] No drug-talk? – [Ragnar] The way nostalgia functions is identical to how we choose to remember – or not remember things It’s no coincidence that we spend so much time in this game in a car 3 of the 17 scenes you play through are pretty much eventless driving along an empty highway You initially assume that you’re playing as the smuggler, with the suitcase on the passenger’s seat – but when you look away for a while, the object miraculously switches into the gun or.. an empty seat The time spent on roads and roadside stops is a liminal space that each of the characters share with each other – and that each of the characters traverse with the same attention to detail: virtually none So in a sense their patchy recollection of their time spent on the road is virtually identical And so it doesn’t matter who we are in each of the scenes When you recall a scene from your childhood, your mind reconstructs a fragmented, distorted – and most importantly – incomplete version of the “real” moment from your past; and it fills in the blanks with whatever it has available (static whirring) Noise, emptiness, fragments of other memories and newer, more frequently computed thought patterns to assemble a picture that *feels* complete It’s strikingly low fidelity, but to our very own internal language and thought frequency it feels complete enough that we don’t question its validity Like an old cassette laden with magnetic noise, distortion and other digital pollution artifacts accumulated over years of attrition And isn’t that precisely why this fuzzy, idolized past keeps haunting us, induced by the deliberate use of low-fidelity audio-visual effects? We’re making things look bad on purpose because it makes us feel… something Retro games imitate the real technical limitations of the time, made on modern engines for modern computers, designed to emulate the *feeling* those relics from our past evoked in us The collective unconscious of a generation has been cultivated by the media we consumed It shaped us, and influenced and altered our perceptions, forever conditioning our thoughts and emotional responses (gizmo imitates car engine noises) I don’t have to have grown up in a rural, US middle class neighborhood in the 80s in order for Stranger Things to make me feel like it’s a depiction of *my* childhood as well in some form We’ve been conditioned to feel nostalgic for fabricated memories that aren’t our own – [Deckard] Those aren’t your memories; they’re somebody else’s Okay… bad joke I made a bad joke, you’re not a replicant Go home, okay? (somber electronic music playing) And isn’t this theme of whitewashing one’s memories through the soft-focus-lens of nostalgia perfectly in line with the game’s setting? Paratopic’s architectural backdrop is painted with the greys, browns and rust-reds that embody the post-industrial sacrifice-zones of huge swathes of a forgotten America

that’s been left to rot during the past decades of economic recession It’s a refreshingly unspent setting for a video game: Melancholy Rust Belt Blues Paratopic’s all-but-in-name I94 leads us past the de-industrialized ruins of a once-thriving, hubristic economy that was abandoned for cheaper alternatives in more profitably exploitably exploitable regions across the globe Hollowed out factories, decommissioned refineries, broken-down pipelines, and sheer neverending scenery drawn from a canvas of structural vulnerability are the very essence of the idea of The Zone (NIN – The Wretched playing) Huge areas of dilapidation are the silent witnesses to the sophomoric prosperity of days gone It’s a dark mirror held up to the people struggling through economic despair today, reminding us just how much better previous generations had it – generations whose sense of altruism withered by the excess of yesteryear, who had theirs, and who now look down on us with unsympathetic contempt for not achieving the same with the significantly inferior hand we’ve been dealt It was a completely different playing field back in the boomer days, wasn’t it? Far more stacked in the common man’s favor to a degree that’s highly unlikely to ever return And to be clear, this is not just due to mere whims of fate, but the result of cold and calculated political decisions made during the Reagan-Thatcher-era of deregulation-mania It’s those policies and the frenzy of outsourcing labor to foreign countries that foreseeably transformed the booming Midwest into an economic – and architectural rust-bowl As far west as Milwaukee and as far east as Buffalo, the zone stretches across the map like geographic eczema Yet at the same time — while unemployment, homelessness and an irredeemable lack of perspective and opportunity is the fabric of those forgotten zones — not just exclusive to the US — gleefully reflected back at those who didn’t, or couldn’t abandon the sinking ship in the decades of continuous economic collapse — those proverbial chalk outlines on the pavement have accrued their own peculiar flavor of nostalgia The rough and gritty charm of post-industrial urban regions has, over time, evolved into a banner of a romanticized cultural identity It’s a dichotomy: the bittersweet reminiscence of the golden days, a dollop of denial of economic realities and a seething resentment of the decaying architectural residue our ancestors have left us with turned into an object of idolized cultural pride Just like video cassettes preserve filtered and heavily distorted information that, when reflected back at us, evoke thoughts, memories and emotions, those dilapidated wastelands tell a distorted and abridged tale of bygone times The scenery is the medium, nostalgia the playback device Paratopic’s world is everything but inviting It’s a decayed, abandoned husk where just looking at things makes you feel sickly — and yet… it emits an uncanny allure The fascinating ambiguity that makes the idea of The Zone so tantalizing: A place that radiates hopelessness, apathy and soul-crushing despair – yet you feel strangely drawn to it at the same time (trolley braking noisily) (Сталкер Soundtrack – Поезд playing) The Progenitor of the concept of The Zone is the 1972 Strugatzki-novel Roadside Picnic, which revolved around areas across the globe where inexplicable phenomena and bizarre anomalies that defy our understanding of nature and science occur in the aftermath of a cataclysmic event known as “The Visitation” Scientists and thinkers worldwide compete to come up with the most sound explanation for the paranormal nature of these zones One of the leading hypotheses is that a highly advanced intergalactic spacefaring civilization simply used our planet to discard waste-material during their trek across the galaxy We were, for them, nothing but a convenient litter bin to discard by-products of a technology lightyears ahead of human comprehension Like junk that was mindlessly tossed by a group of hikers during a… roadside Roadside Picnic With humans being like little insects stumbling over it,

but completely lacking the means and intelligence to even remotely comprehend what they’re finding Andrei Tarkovsky adapted the book 7 years later into his seminal movie “Stalker”, which is a somewhatliberal interpretation of the source material For one in that it is much more vague about the nature and the origin of The Zone that the three deuteragonists of the film venture into with the goal of fulfilling their innermost desires Especially the film, with its long, brooding and melancholic shots of a post-civilization landscape reclaimed by the Ur-forces of nature, was, in hindsight, often considered to have been uncannily prescient – since many people felt that it predicted the scenario of the forsaken zone around Chernobyl’s reactor after the nuclear disaster in the Ukraine in 1986 A living example of a region of true post-apocalypse, right here on earth, brought about by the collapse of human ingenuity It is hard to look at shots and footage from the zone around the reactor even today and not think about Stalker’s haunting imagery But the question should really not be “How could they predict Chernobyl??”, because all it needed was a keen-eyed look at the world in its current state The superpowers of the world had been continuously racing for global dominance on every front, colonizing, exploiting and depleting every available resource with complete indifference towards the obvious and often-admonished long-term consequences A cancerous expansion-mania devoured the world in pursuit of power and supremacy over the “opponent”, fueled by a hubristic faith in the infallibility of human ingenuity and scientific rationality “Scientism” became the dominant denomination of the post-war era If we produce the smartest minds, uncover all the right data, get all the right equations in place and plug all the right values in our spreadsheets, we can achieve everything, become anything, conquer the world and the stars and nothing will stand in our way In 1979, it was only a matter of time until a Chernobyl would emerge for real somewhere in the world for everyone to behold Led by delusions of grandeur the powers that be continuously tapped into ever greater forces so fickle, so fundamentally untamable that it’s a borderline miracle the world is still in one piece even today Because everyone would rather see the world in ruins than see the other win The emergence of such Zones of Post-Civilization was an entirely predictable foresight And this lust to subjugate the world had infected everyone – it was not tied to either soviet-style socialism or western-style capitalist expansionism Paratopic takes place in exactly such a zone – a remnant, no, a ruin of post-industrialist hubris, one where things beyond our understanding can happen at any moment – equally spawned by the by-products of a truly indifferent faction as depicted in Roadside Picnic But unlike in the Strugatzki-novel this Zone hasn’t drawn worldwide attention to itself Paratopic’s Zone is forgotten and abandoned Every aspect of it purposefully discarded in plain sight – including the people who still inhabit it Not by some *extra*terrestrial colonizing force as local folklore insinuates, but by the exact powers that initially erected the industrial hulks that are now rotting and decaying on the roadsides The once sprawling cities that now fall apart because their value for expansionism has long desiccated No… it was done by the unquenchable greed of a very *ter*restrial colonizing force It has infested and corroded the land, and like ambulant dandelions, no matter how many heads you chop off, the roots are still underground, waiting to spring up again But this is about more than just the corporate greed of industrial capitalism indifferently discarding a hollowed out husk to rot – the zone portrayed in Paratopic is, in many ways, a depiction of the Western-imperialist flip side of Sovier-Era wastelands foretold in Roadside Picnic and Stalker This game takes place in one of the many zones that really, truly exist, today in our world And in this game, you unveil a tiny sliver of it by “Borrowing” into the dreamlike, liminal, half-lucid minds of our clueless cadre of contemporary witnesses *This* is where the unexplained, the things that defy our understanding of science and rationalism,

the paranormal, takes place: down in the subconscious the moments between the wakeful clarity where all our biases and preconceptions thwart us from seeing things how they really are In many ways these areas of post-expansionism are our postmodern equivalent to the magic realms of old legends, places where logic is not the end-all be-all, and where magic still very much a reality They’re not unclaimed by man, but rather reclaimed by nature; a by-product of this scientistic megalomania of our ancestors The proverbial sins of the fathers Mindlessly discarded like… litter during a picnic on the side of the road The Zone is a place where the tranquillizing scientific oversaturation of our modern civilization has been shattered back into its atoms, put in its place by ancient, unconquered Ur-forces far beyond our comprehension A place where “man is still humble” The perpetually shapeshifting, ephemeral nature of The Zone equates to decayed industrial wastelands and places that nature has reclaimed in its divine mercilessness This brutal contrast between creation and entropy these places embody, emits an aura that is in itself phantomic, and removed from the man-made, icarian reality of the “glorious” past Because even though these Zone-ish landscapes are irreparably destroyed, they nevertheless retain a tantalizing kind of mystery that appeals precisely because of their inscrutability It feels like anything, good or bad, could be waiting for you once you scratch the surface A place where the magical, the supernatural, and the weird, are untouched by the gravity of our logic-driven, rational civilization And that is ultimately why everyone is so maniacally obsessed with those tapes, and why they’re highly controlled contraband in the world of Paratopic: because they provide a tiny glimpse into a forgotten reality that’s unhinged from the bias of our hard and rigid, hyper-normalized civilization It’s a primordial yearning for mystery and fulfillment that’s rooted deep within the human heart; the very reason we’re so enchanted by the surreal magic of scanlines and magnetic aberrations of a VHS cassette (static getting louder) (TV off sound) Hey wow this was… this sure was a journey, wasn’t it I mean yeah that’s why I called it “A Journey Through Paratopic”, makes sense One thing that makes this, um, subseries of videos so special to me is they really take me, the creator, on a journey as well while writing them I’ve done this for 2 games before, The Void and Rule of Rose, and the special rule about my approach with them is that I write each chapter individually, or sometimes 1 or 2 chapters, and edit them before I move on to the next one So while I may have a rough idea, I don’t really know where it’s going, and where I’ll end up with the final chapter when I’m working on the first ones It makes for a very different tone and feel in direction, not just in that they tend to get quite long, obviously but also in that they talk more about a game than talk over it; like how I would sit down with a friend and talk about a game and we’d end up in places we have no idea when we start the conversation Taking a game as a jumping off point but just letting the current carry me wherever it takes me I’m very fond of this process and I personally always end up enjoying these “Journey Through” videos a lot once I’m finished with them, but they also feel so strange and vastly different than most of the thing I make that I’m always quite nervous when it comes to releasing one of them So in that sense, thank you so much for watching an entire hour of this…. meditation on Paratopic that for some reason again ended up, once again, in an ad-hoc dissection of Stalker It’s kind-of becoming a thing now I feel I’d really love to do this format more often, given the interest is there – and I’ve got one lined up that I’m already working on: which is a game that I’ve been meaning to cover for a very long time because it’s utterly brilliant; and that’s – while we’re at it – also very much a contender for The Zone narratives in video games: The Polish Indie Horror masterpiece “Darkwood” I don’t yet know if it’ll be the next video or some time after that, because yeah, the “Journey Through” writing process is lengthy and takes a lot of time So you’ll just have to stay tuned for now! 🙂 Now, a few videos ago I shared with you guys a little bit of an overview where the channel is actually standing at the moment and what goals I’m working towards

And why I had, at the time, for instance, decided to take on sponsorships, which, you can see, is certainly not a guaranteed recurring thing This video didn’t have a sponsor and the last one didn’t Not that there aren’t any offers, there’s always plenty but getting brands that I’m actually comfortable with and willing to endorse with a good conscience is a whole other thing I really don’t want to abuse the trust of my audience in this regard The point is Sponsorships… helped especially when it comes to being able to properly pay the people I work with when making these videos I wouldn’t feel nearly as good about the final result of this video for instance if it weren’t for the great work of my copy-editor Matt – who spent a lot of time polishing the shit I came up with As it stands at this point, the crowdfunding support on Patreon is the main and most important financial foundation of this channel Sponsorships are rather unreliable and more to be considered a bonus when it works out, but nothing I’d build a house on, and YouTube’s ad-revenue… well Jesus, you probably noticed how in the recent year, you’d get constantly bombarded with double-ads all the time, how the ad-density on YouTube has drastically increased? One might think that this would mean that creators also get vastly better paid, but (sigh) of course that hasn’t happened in the slightest The ads have quadrupled, yet the creator’s cuts have – have not seen a significant increase at all Anyway, I’m digressing: My point is, Patreon is still, and will remain, de facto the most important source of income for this channel, and also like for me to pay rent and food and software and electricity and all Like, y’know, the foundation We’ve recently reached a very important milestone, which is… absolutely wonderful, I’m really thankful for everyone’s support! And currently I’m aiming to reach probably the most important milestone where it would enable me to work far more together with other people Which is exactly the one path I’d want to take in order to produce *more* content on this channel, without sacrificing any quality Actually probably even quite the opposite We’re Nearly 70% there, so if you want to join and to help out as well, and in general support the stability of my work with this channel, then please hop over to Patreon and pitch in as well It’s very much appreciated in these unstable times And for this video, I’d like to give out a special thank you to these top-tier supporters: (www.patreon.com/RagnarRoxShow/) Until next time, ta ta!