We’re meeting back to talk spoilers and Deadly Premonition.
This episode contains spoilers for Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut.
It also contains a discussion of transphobia, ableism, and gendered violence as they usually manifest in horror films.
STACEY: Welcome back to the Games Club! Seeing as this is our final games club discussion about deadly premonition, this episode will be filled with spoilers, including some of the gruesome scenes and problematic elements of the game. So if you haven’t finished the game or are wary of the themes found in slasher and horror films you may want to sit this entry out.
For the last few weeks, I understand you’ve been playing Deadly Premonition.
STACEY: Though I also understand it’s been less the last few weeks and more the last 48 hours. (laughs)
JAYLEE: Yes. My plate was full this month, but I did finish the game so.
So, really quick, yay or nay? Did you like it?
JAYLEE: Oh, I really liked it!
STACEY: Yay! Okay, well the main reason I wanted to have everyone experience this beautiful game–
STACEY: Is kind of one of the big reveals at the end. We find out at the end of the game, he’s Zach. Zach is the main reason I really wanted us all to play this game.
STACEY: And I think he is this game’s most significant contribution to the conversation about games. In the sense of what they are and what they can be as far as storytelling mediums. Zach could have really been this one note joke. He could have been the Diane that’s not actually there, you know?
STACEY: (laughs) Isn’t it hilarious? York talks to his invisible friend. But it becomes clear fairly early on that Zach is actually you the player. Because there’s points where you’re checking up on the progress of the investigation and York will ask “What do you think? Who do you think is the killer so far, Zach?” and immediately a menu pops up for you to choose.
STACEY: So it does kind of put this question forth early on, like “What does it mean to be diegetically acknowledged in this space?” And then there’s this revelation at the end where Zach is arguably the real hero while York is this either this weird multi-dimensional being or a figment of his imagination.
STACEY: And that’s pretty huge!
STACEY: And it kind of establishes York and Zach as almost an unreliable narrator for me.
STACEY: Because I, at least when I finished playing it, and I should note you’re playing the Director’s Cut which is bookended by completely different narrative sequences which aren’t in the Xbox version that I originally played.
JAYLEE: Wait, the entire thing with the old guy–
STACEY: Yeah, the grandpa–
JAYLEE: That’s not in there at all?
STACEY: That’s not in the original.
JAYLEE: Oh my god!
STACEY: Yeah, that’s the new stuff. So when I played it it kind of just ended with all that.
STACEY: So, I immediately called into question everything that had happened. And so it does kind of pose this question of, “What kind of role can we take in these games, and what is our place in the actual space of the fiction?”
STACEY: Because there is this kind of– we’ve talked about in previous episodes this tendency to talk about actions we take in games as something we literally take, like “I did this.”
STACEY: And now it’s kind of creating this diegetic place for you in this world. As far as, so, York is doing this, and you’re helping to establish other things. And it kind of brings other things into question like when York is always like “Amazing!” when he hits somebody with his guy.
STACEY: It’s hilarious at first because you’re like “Why are you complimenting yourself?” But no, he’s complimenting Zach (laughs).
STACEY: And it’s these little things like that that just are really fascinating and not at all what I expected from this game. I dunno, especially since you have the extra sections with the grandpa, what were your thoughts discovering who Zach was?
JAYLEE: Honestly, I wish I would have played the original first, just because I didn’t really care for the bookended sections of old man creepy looking Zach.
JAYLEE: But, I dunno, as you said it does call into question the whole unreliable narrator thing. If you are Zach in this game, and you kind of swoop in to save the day and you’re kind of left with nothing but the prospect of another case, or another adventure.
JAYLEE: It was very kind of, this is how you feel as a gamer as you say goodbye to a video game.
STACEY: Oh that’s cool.
JAYLEE: When it comes to a really good game there’s this kind of emptiness and this kind of lingering that happens.
JAYLEE: Just like when you’re just kind of walking out of town. I dunno…
STACEY: That’s so good! I like that reading a lot.
JAYLEE: I just really liked it. And I also liked how it kind of distanced you from your actions, as a player.
JAYLEE: You know, you didn’t solve the mystery, it was York who did all these things, it was York who Emily fell in love with, not you.
STACEY: (laughs) It also, like I was saying earlier. It kind of changed all my perspective of the game. Like in the original, my original reading of it without the weird Grandpa bookending, I read that you were really Zach as sort of casting doubt on everything else. My reading of it came through with The Otherside, that there was nothing supernatural really going on.
JAYLEE: But then you have to fight a giant Forrest.
STACEY: The thing is, when you’re fighting George, for instance. There are times when he’s like “I’m a god!” and he’s morphing into a monster and York is like “No, you’re not. You’re a ‘murderer’ and I’m an ‘FBI agent!”
STACEY: Like, that doesn’t make sense if that stuff isn’t actually happening in front of him.
JAYLEE: I really liked that, though.
STACEY: (laugh) Yeah, so I– in my initial reading of it this was Zach’s way of dealing with trauma.
STACEY: Especially tying in the fact that Kaysen actually killed his mother instead of his father. Like that just seemed very convenient.
STACEY: Not necessarily from a bad storytelling way, but in a way, in my mind that seemed like Zach was making connections that were not quite necessarily true.
STACEY: So I just read the whole thing as him just creating these very convenient explanations for dealing with trauma and like, there was no supernatural element, there was no curse. Because even when you talk to the rich recluse.
STACEY: Yeah, Harry. He says something at the end like “You were never here, this never happened.” or something kind of “You didn’t hear it from me.” So it’s all very, maybe he did mean that literally. Maybe that never happened. You know? That was my reading of it. And I’m really curious, since you’ve only played the Director’s Cut, if that was your reading as well?
STACEY: Aww (laughs).
JAYLEE: No, it– because we got to see things through the eyes of Emily, I think that kind of changed it for me.
STACEY: But that also assumes when we’re seeing things from Emily’s perspective that we’re actually seeing things through Emily’s perspective. And that it’s not York/Zach imagining what Emily must be going through to reach him.
JAYLEE: That’s true, though why he’d imagine an overly long dog following segment, I’m not sure.
STACEY: (laughs) With that music!
JAYLEE: (laughs) I know! So I’m just going to go off towards one of if not the most problematic portrayal in the game.
STACEY: Oh, yes.
JAYLEE: Which is Thomas, dear lord. When you hear him talking about how he loves George and he secretly hates Emily because she’s taking this attention away from him– like every terrible gay/trans stereotype all rolled into one character.
JAYLEE: It also recontextualizes his other behaviors. Like, “Oh, he’s effeminate. He’s overly emotional, he’s a really good cook and…”
STACEY: Yeah, at the end it starts hitting a lot of the slasher movie beats.
JAYLEE: Like it totally came out of an ‘80s movie. I’m pretty sure it has.
STACEY: Yeah, it’s totally like Dressed to Kill type stuff.
STACEY: It seems kind of like it got the point where he was just hitting beats. For better or worse (laughs).
STACEY: Which there’s one way to really admire the fact that it does show so much genre literacy that he hits all those beats. Like I was dying a little bit doing our Final Girl episode, because I kept thinking of Emily who is not a Final Girl by the definition we use, but comes pretty close and kind of follows that aesthetic of it.
JAYLEE: It was one of those things where when I was playing it I was thinking, you know, if the genders were switched and you were playing as a female then it totally would be a Final Girl, because I loved the part when you start chasing the Raincoat Killer instead of him chasing you.
STACEY: Oh yeah, that’s a good point.
JAYLEE: I thought that was great. But yeah, back to Thomas… Oh my god.
STACEY: (laughs) Yeah.
JAYLEE: (sighs) I dunno. I don’t even know what to– there’s just so much wrong with that character I don’t know where to start or what to do with it other than to acknowledge how problematic it is. And then he gets a hook in the face.
STACEY: That is a segment where you texted me about it saying “Doesn’t Emily look like Naomi Watts?” Like, that’s where all the budget went. Into that segment. You got all the cool animations.
JAYLEE: And the dynamic lighting, and it looks nothing like the rest of the game. It looks better than the introduction to the game.
JAYLEE & STACEY: (laughs)
JAYLEE: It just didn’t make any sense.
STACEY: Thomas getting a hook in the face was very, very important to Swery (laughs). Very, apparently.
JAYLEE: Yeah, and it was then when I noticed how like, almost shocking similar she looked to Naomi Watts. Particularly in like, the mouth and the face. And from then on I just could not unsee it.
JAYLEE: It’s like I’m playing Mulholland Drive! This is very strange.
STACEY: Yeah, I think that was very deliberate because of the David Lynch connection.
JAYLEE: Oh, absolutely.
JAYLEE: When it came to The Otherworld, I hated it. But when it got to the crime scenes and like, the ongoing investigation, it was surprisingly riveting.
JAYLEE: As you were saying, I was texting you being like “This is kind of gruesome” particularly the scene in the bathroom and you were like “Yeah, they go full on Se7en when they have to.”
STACEY: (laughs) Yeah.
JAYLEE: God, or the art gallery, where she’s talking about the art installation that eventually kills her, with no tongue mind you.
JAYLEE: That was chilling stuff.
STACEY: That kind of, to me reinforces the fact that they totally know what they’re doing.
STACEY: Like there’s this tendency to say “It’s so bad it’s good” but I really think, even though there is some stuff that is not fantastic about the game, like the shooting, things like that. I do think it is a genuinely great game. It’s made by people that know what they’re doing, that really have a vision and when they want to communicate it it really shows.
STACEY: In things like that, but also in smaller stuff like when you’re driving around and York is talking to Zach.
JAYLEE: Yes, about either 80s movies, or punk rock. I also really liked at the end how he was talking to York.
STACEY: Yeah, that was great. And there was acknowledgment that York wasn’t there anymore. So he’s just doing it out of habit.
JAYLEE: Yeah, he’s like “I’m not sure if you can hear me or not” or whatever.
STACEY: Yeah, it becomes kind of sad.
JAYLEE: The set piece murders were kind of inspired.
STACEY: Yeah, definitely.
JAYLEE: As the story went on it got more and more compelling. Uhh, I do think it kind of faltered near the end. I do love everything up with Zach and York, and this is more in line with your theory about the reading but I felt like it got too game-y, which saying that about Deadly Premonition, I mean, come-on.
JAYLEE: But the way it got all “three stage boss fights” and it felt very antithetical to what the game was.
STACEY: Yeah, it kind of goes through the different boss fights. Like there’s the standard one.
JAYLEE: The supercharged!
STACEY: Yeah, the supercharged kind of final boss, and then “J/K, here’s the actual final boss plus a running sequence.”
STACEY: That’s another thing that’s like that could be kind of meta.
JAYLEE: If we’re looking at Deadly Premonition as a commentary on video games, I could see that. That’s how I read the ending. For me.
STACEY: And I love that reading so much. Oh my gosh.
JAYLEE: I’m not sure if the rest of the game really endorses that as much.
STACEY: I think a lot of it hinges on the Zach reveal.
JAYLEE: The ending of the game got me kind of emotional.
STACEY: Me too!
JAYLEE: Just like, this poor boy who finds a way to cope, and, you know, it’s his best friend.
STACEY: Especially because, we should also say as part of our edging on the side of caution with horror tropes, is there’s a lot of rape elements toward the end.
JAYLEE: Oh my god. Yeah.
STACEY: And I was not emotionally prepared for that the first time I played. I was surprised when you texted me “I’m done!” because it took me a while to get through that boss fight and part of it was I was just so upset (laughs) that this was happening to Emily.
STACEY: And I had to stop. And then come back the next day. And the second time I played it I knew it was getting to that point and so I was like “I’m going to stop, and I’ll come back later when I’m emotionally prepared.”
JAYLEE: Well it does help that I’m a man and I do have that kind of privilege in that way.
STACEY: I guess most of the time, at least lately when I play horror games it’s much more from an academic perspective so I usually am removed. But that’s the first time in a very long time something affected me like that. It’s hard to kind of talk to people about Deadly Premonition. “You should play it, it’s so weird, it’s so fun, but also there’s a lot of rape in it, so you gotta be careful.”
JAYLEE: Yeah, there’s a lot of rape, and objectification and offhand sexist comments.
JAYLEE: I mean, yeah, the game is very problematic and we are absolutely acknowledging and not apologizing for it.
STACEY: We’re not Deadly Premonition apologists.
JAYLEE: But yeah, the scene with Kaysen at the end was like, very uncomfortable. But I was very much like “I need to finish this game.”
STACEY: “Or Stacey will kill me.”
JAYLEE: (laughs) Yeah. Pretty much. I was so annoyed that Emily died and she got–
STACEY: Yeah, which is part of the reason I thought okay, I really think this is York, err, Zach, just dealing with trauma. Because it’s like… It’s too neat. Suddenly dad didn’t kill mom, it was this outsider who also, wouldn’t you know it, killed girlfriend! And girlfriend will be happy in afterlife with this other guy that’s been protecting me for so long that I’ve made up.
JAYLEE: And she kills herself so you didn’t have to.
STACEY: Yeah, oh my god that was another thing. I was so freaking out over that decision the first time I played it.
STACEY: I did everything but kill her. I killed myself, I tried to shoot Kaysen, and then– did you try those?
JAYLEE: I did not.
STACEY: Okay, they immediately lead to game overs.
JAYLEE: I figured that might be the case. And it felt like it was so strongly hinting like “Kill her, c’mon.”
STACEY: Yeah. Especially because there’s this really bizarre sense that this just can’t be helped. Harry gives that speech at the end like “I’m just sorry I didn’t kill my wife before she could hurt George.” Like, that’s not the only option here, you know that, right?
JAYLEE: (laughs) Yeah. Are you guys? There’s something about this town…
STACEY: Yeah, there is this kind of sense like “Whelp!” That kind of reminded me in Dragon Age 2 there’s that very early sidequest where you have that guy who thinks he is some sort of apostate mage and he is killing girls because of demons but it becomes very clear that it’s not magical at all, he’s just killing people because he needs help.
JAYLEE: Is that the one where he kills your mom?
STACEY: No (laughs).
JAYLEE & STACEY: There’s so many!
STACEY: This one’s not a mage at all, he’s a rich guys son and the only options are to let him go so his rich dad can cover for him and he can continue killing people or to kill him. And if you kill him that’s when you get the most approval points from your comrades. And the first time I went, I went with Aveline and she was just like “Some people are just made wrong.” And it was like “WHOA!”
JAYLEE: Yeah, jeez!
STACEY: And that just brought me back to it with Harry and it was like “What?” That is not the solution here. And it kind of felt that way too with Emily. Like, what?
JAYLEE: I don’t really like the whole “they live happily ever after” thing.
STACEY: Yeah, which the Director’s Cut stresses it a lot more. The narrative stuff in the director’s cut didn’t help it, if anything it kind of hurt it. Because that ending, for better or worse, is such a punch in the gut.
STACEY: And I think it was valuable ending like that and kind of having that sadness of, you kind of described, leaving this world.
JAYLEE: It’s like the original game is showing the sadness of finishing a game and the Director’s Cut is kind of the numbness you feel when you know there’s going to be a sequel anyways.
STACEY: (laughs) Aww man, I feel like we’ve been ragging on this too much for a game that I love so much.
JAYLEE: I know, and I loved it too! And I really enjoyed it even though it was not that fun most of the time.
JAYLEE & STACEY: (laughs)
STACEY: But you did finally get the radio, which one of our viewers recommended.
STACEY: Alexandra Hollingsead recommended that you get the radio and the infinite wrench. Were you able to do that?
JAYLEE: I did get the guitar and the radio.
JAYLEE: It took me too long to get the radio, I will say though, once– I was almost at the point where I was not having fun because I was so freaking sick of driving, that I had to get this radio. But once I got the radio it was so much better.
STACEY: So what kind of sidequests did you end up doing?
JAYLEE: I was not the brightest bulb in the light bulb holder thing, so I thought when they said “Be here by eight!” that meant I had to be there at eight, damnit.
STACEY: Yeah, I did that the first time.
JAYLEE: Not like, come here at eight within the next month or year, you know. So by the time I realized I could spend a bunch of time doing sidequest most of the sidequests were locked out. So I did help George get the flower for his mother which brings on such a creepy tone once you finish the game.
STACEY: It’s very Psycho, that whole reveal once you get to the end.
JAYLEE: I did a couple of Roaming Sigourney.
STACEY: I love her.
JAYLEE: And I fixed up his car, helped the stockroom of the Milk Barn.
JAYLEE: I didn’t really do many story-related ones. Though, I had the guy talk to Benjamin. Which was… interesting.
JAYLEE: And then there was also the “Special Service” one which was like, “Oh, god.” Though I did like how York was like “let’s not do this again.” But yeah, I did some, I didn’t do all of them. I’m probably going to play this game again at some point so I’ll definitely go through the sidequests more thoroughly.
STACEY: Threefive Nine was incredulously asking “No mention of kazoos?” in our last episode. Let’s pay the kazoos some tribute.
JAYLEE: Yes, that’s because– okay, love the kazoos. We actually did mention them in the first draft of our episode but unfortunately there was some mic problems and we weren’t able to record it so we had to re-record it and by that time we were like “Oh, god what did we just say? I don’t remember. Okay, here’s all this stuff.”
JAYLEE: But, I loved the kazoos. I oddly liked the soundtrack in a weird way. It’s kind of endearing and it kind of gets under your skin even though it’s not very good.
STACEY: It’s the Super Mario theme without like three notes.
JAYLEE: Which makes all the difference, if not from a musical standpoint then at least from a legal one.
STACEY: Yes, they Vanilla Ice’d it.
JAYLEE: And Jellykinder. Kinder? Jelly Kinder? Mentioned how there really isn’t a better tribute or fanfiction to Twin Peaks which I totally agree with. It is very Twin Peaks. But I do like that kind of near the last half or third of the game it kind of comes into its own as opposed to just being a tribute.
JAYLEE: Which, I’m really happy about that.
STACEY: One of the things that’s really interesting is the way it comes into its own is it’s kind of appropriating from these other properties like we kind of talked about, things are very Se7en, they’re very Pyscho, they’re very Dressed to Kill. But it somehow twists them all together to become something new. And kind of create that really interesting commentary, if not a commentary, at least contribute to the conversation about games and how they function with Zach and your role in it. Deadly Premonition is much better than the sum of its parts.
JAYLEE: And I totally see how it’s love it or hate it. And I’m not entirely sure what I thought coming into it but as Stacey has been telling me for what seems like forever now, it was an experience. And I am so glad to have experienced it, as I hope you all have as well.
JAYLEE: So thank you so much for joining us for our very first installment of the Games Club. Please tell us, just, everything. Tell what you thought about the game, what you thought about the Games Club format, what you would change, what you would like. Which sidequests did you do? What’d you think about the whole Zach/York thing? There’s so much to talk about.
STACEY: Did anybody do the Real Estate? I want to know about the Real Estate.
JAYLEE: Stacey is yearning to know about the Real Estate so that she can play it a third time.
JAYLEE: Fourth time.
JAYLEE & STACEY: (laughs)
JAYLEE: Yes, but please let us know any and all comments on the game or Games Club and don’t forget to subscribe and check our new episode out next week where we will be introducing our next Games Club game for the month of November.