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Puzzling Plots: Making Sense Of Convoluted Games

by Ben Reeves on Jan 31, 2011 at 11:00 AM

It’s a good thing that video games are interactive, because their narratives are often confusing affairs that wouldn’t fly in a less dynamic medium. Even some of the most high profile titles can occasionally leave you scratching your head and wondering what just happened. Join us as we try to make sense out of some of the most flustering fiction in video game history.

This is far from a complete list, but here are some gaming plot devices that left me wondering what was really going on.

Halo’s Gravemind Gaffe
I feel like I was tracking with Halo’s narrative until near the end of the second game when a giant venus flytrap with squid arms snatches up Master Chief, tells him that they have to work together, and then magically teleports him away. Gravemind had such a deep, gravelly voice that it wasn’t really a surprise when he betrayed Master Chief after destroying the Ark. However, I always thought it was strange that he started rattling off poetry before revealing his true nature.

What Bungie was trying to tell us:
Gravemind is an Inferi Sententia, which means “Thinking Dead.” This giant dead hive mind is the final stage in the life cycle of the Flood. He acts like a kind of queen bee who has complete control over all flood forms. Additionally, it appears that each Gravemind retains the memories and knowledge of previous Graveminds, making them nearly omniscient.

A Gravemind is “born” when the Flood begins pilling dead bodies and other floodlings on top of one another. These bodies slowly begin to merge, and once they reach a critical mass, they become self-aware. This sentient mass of a thousand dead bodies can then telepathically control the flood, instructing them on clever attack strategies, which mostly consist of running straight at their enemy and eating people’s faces (good thing someone is controlling that chaos).

During Halo 3, the Prophet of Truth tries to activate the Ark, a Forerunner installation capable of activating every Halo ring in the universe, thereby destroying all known life. Gravemind decides this is a bad idea and teams up with Master Chief to kill Truth. Of course, after Gravemind betrays Master Chief, the Chief activates a replacement Halo ring that kills the flood anyway, so maybe Gravemind should have just killed Master Chief when he had the chance and smashed the Ark’s computer with one of his giant squid tentacles…but who are we to argue with near omniscience?

Metal Gear Solid’s Patriot Puzzle
This one is a real doozy. At the end of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Raiden climbs up to the top of Arsenal Gear to confront Solidus Snake only to discover that the whole affair has been a simulation designed by the Patriots to mold Raiden into a super soldier in the vein of Solid Snake. Then Colonel Campbell flips out, admits that he’s really a computer, and starts a pretentious conversation about the nature of machines. At this point I checked out, went to make a sandwich, and came back to find he was still talking. Eventually the game ended, but I never fully understood what happened.

What Kojima Productions was trying to tell us:
Take a deep breath. Okay, here we go: Ocelot is really a pawn of the Patriots. The Patriots are the secret society that basically runs the world. Oh, and they’re also a bunch of artificial intelligence programs. Ocelot believes that S3 stands for Solid Snake Simulation, a program designed to be similar to the Shadow Moses incident because the Patriots want to see if those elements help fashion super soldiers. In actuality, S3 stands for Selection for Societal Sanity, a test to see if the Patriots -- still a group of AI, I think -- can control the world’s flow of information and thereby manipulate world events and the decisions of individuals. Although who knows if the Patriots were also lying about this the whole time; S3 could stand for Shamefully Stupid Story, for all we know.

After Arsenal Gear crashes into Manhattan, an AI (possibly JD, The Patriots’ head AI), contacts Raiden through his codec and explains that Ocelot is ignorant of the Patriots’ real goal. It explains that the Patriots are really trying to see if they can control the Internet and that the data collected during the Big Shell event will be used to help improve the Patriots’ AI. But is crashing a floating fortress filled with walking tanks into Manhattan and killing thousands of innocent people really the best way to see if the world’s flow of information can be manipulated? If The Patriots wanted to brainwash people, couldn’t they just create a reality TV show starring people from the Jersey shore?

Final Fantasy X Sinful Sin
Some antagonists are memorable because they are so devious that you love to hate them. Others are memorable because they are giant sky whales. Sin is the latter. During my time with Final Fantasy X, I remember that Sin floated across Spira casually destroying cities. I also remember that the only way to defeat the beast was to summon a powerful Aeon that required a painful sacrifice. Of course, once I actually confronted Sin, I found out that it was actually my father. Strange. I don’t even remember how I beat Sin.

What Square was trying to tell us:
The residents of Spira believe that Sin came into being as punishment for their hedonistic ancestors’ overreliance on technology. Spira’s religious leaders teach that if the people of Spira atone for their crimes, Sin will vanish. The truth is that Sin was created during an ancient war between the countries of Bevelle and Zanarkand.

When it became apparent that Zanarkand was going to lose the war, its citizens gathered together and transformed into a giant summoning conduit that created a spectral version of the city that could be preserved forever. The spiritual leader, Yu Yevon, sent this dream Zanarkand to float across the sea and then created Sin in order to protect dream Zanarkand by destroying any city that grew too large or technologically advanced.

Sin could be defeated, however, if a powerful Aeon was summoned, but this summon requires a love sacrifice. When a summoner casts this spell, their loved one turns into an Aeon with the power to defeat Sin, but afterwards this Aeon slowly morphs into a new version of Sin. While this summoning solution creates a temporary peace, Sin is bound to eventually return.

This brings us to Final Fantasy X. The main character, Tidus, was a resident of Dream Zanarkand, and he had a father named Jecht. It turns out that Jecht was the last person to get turned into a final Aeon, defeat Sin, and ultimately become Sin. However, Jecht was still conscious within Sin’s body, so he entered Dream Zanarkand to pull his son, Tidus, out into the real world. Tidus decides that instead of killing Sin, they should destroy the spirit of Yu Yevon inside the beast, which would nullify the original spell that created Sin and dispel dream Zanarkand. This means that Tidus vanishes, but the world is free from Sin forever.

It’s all so simple, I’m surprised I missed it the first time around.

Dead Space’s Marker Mystery
I wasn’t too concerned about the plot of Dead Space the first time I played it. I was too busy nervously looking over my shoulder whenever I felt a gust of wind and taking shots of NyQuil so I could sleep. After examining the game in preparation for the sequel, however, I realized that not all of the pieces line up in my head. I know that during a routine mining operation, the planet-cracking vessel USG Ishimura discovers a giant obelisk covered in alien symbols, and almost immediately people start turning into alien zombies called Necromorphs. I assumed that the marker was placed there by some alien race and that it contained some kind of spore that started mutating people into evil human centipedes. I also assumed that this was some kind of warning, a way to procreate, or a cosmic alien prank. I was wrong on almost all counts.

What Visceral Games was trying to tell us:
The Red Marker was actually placed on the USG Ishimura’s mining site by the Earth’s government. It was also created by the Earth’s government. In fact, the Red Marker is just a copy of another marker, the Black Marker, which was originally discovered on Earth. Two Hundred years prior to the events of Dead Space, the original Black Marker was found in the asteroid impact crater off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. This marker was quickly hidden to discourage belief in aliens. The government doesn’t want us to understand tax law; why would they want us to believe in aliens?

Before the Black Marker is whisked into the witness protection plan, researchers begin studying it and trying to replicate it. Using the Black Marker as a template, the government builds the Red Marker. It’s red because the element Bismuth was used to replace certain elements present in the duplication. But here’s where things get really wacky. The hallucinations people experience when they come in contact with the markers aren’t actually produced by the artifacts themselves. Instead, some believe these hallucinations are some kind of natural defense mechanism that activates within a person when they come in contact with a marker.

The researchers also discover that the genetic code written on the marker is the code for the Necromorph contagion. They also accidentally infect themselves, which results in the government hiding the Red Marker in a distant part of space. One odd bit of trivia is that the Black Marker also emits a field or "Dead Space" that causes the Necromorph DNA to go dormant, so maybe the Black Marker is some kind of containment device after all. This should really be a warning to aliens everywhere – if you are going to come up with a device that prevents a virus from spreading, don’t write the ingredients on the label, because humanity will find some way to infect itself.