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  • Writer's pictureIndy Goodwin

Observer System Redux: Changed for the better?

Updated: Apr 29

I loved Bloober Team's Layers of Fear so when I heard about the original release of >Observer_ I was jazzed. Long time readers of the blog will know that cyberpunk and digital decay are my jam. Alas, when I played it, all I took away from it was the incredible amount of violence toward women and toxic masculinity in the game. My original article can be found here.

Fast forward a few years and they've dropped the punctuation from the title and released a new version. Being an optimistic type, I decided to give it a go when it became available on PS Plus. I hoped the new content promised would balance it out a little. I was wrong.

There are 3 new quests in System Redux - Her Fearful Symmetry, Errant Signal and Runs In The Family. 2 of these are straight up objectification. Her Fearful Symmetry features a tenant who has given the apartment block where the game mainly takes place a female persona and wants to fuck it. Errant Signal is about sex robots that have gained sentience and beg Dan Lazarski for help, to which he basically shrugs and goes "dunno what you want me to do about that" and leaves. I hated that bit, I really wanted to do something, anything to help them. They were so scared.

I know this takes place in a dystopian Krakow after a plague and a war and no one is having any fun, but the balance of gendered violence is even more out of whack than it was the first time. So why the focus on mostly gendered violence?

My theory is it's the shock factor. Male violence is almost normalised in modern society, we're getting a little better in shifting attitudes to that not being ok, but there is much work to be done. Most of the violence towards women in the game is sexualised too. Honestly it feels like lazy writing. They've not gone for anything clever or thought provoking, instead it feels like they've trawled the Daily Mail for their most shocking headlines and used that instead, adding in AI and technological elements for flavour.

I am tired of always being killed off/assaulted/trapped in a digital hell for the horror of it all. The idea that women are vulnerable and that it's extra horrifying when bad things happen to them as a narrative device isn't just doing women a disservice, but men too. It is absolutely as horrifying when men are sexually assualted/murdered/objectified/trapped in a digital hell. I know when we say equality for all this isn't quite what we mean but the media rhetoric we are exposed to on the daily isn't helping men talk about horrible things that happen to them. The toxic masculinity is almost baked into this game. Nothing is going to be able to lift it.

Really it seems kind of unnecessary too, considering how horrifying the idea of Observers in general is. Someone being able to jack directly into your brain, see all your secrets and use that information for their own ends? Doesn't even bear thinking about. I mean I know we're living in a Post Privacy era but that is ridiculous. The gendered violence could be bypassed entirely and it would still be an unnerving game.

Not to mention playing Observer post lockdown gives it a little something extra. People in their homes, hiding from a plague? Where have we seen that before? Granted, we hadn't got to the stage where people were coming round and killing anyone with Covid to stop it spreading but the fear of infection is familiar.

It is worth saying though that Bloober Team's writing has improved since Observer. Layers of Fear 2 was really quite wonderfully scary and also batshit. It was really well crafted too, if you enjoy film as an art you'll like the references here. I'm sad that game didn't get a lot of attention, if you can go check it out. The article I wrote about it is here if you fancy a read but there are spoilers from the beginning. You've been warned.

I guess this is on me for expecting them to have improved that aspect when it's what put me off so much the first go around. I am nothing if not an optimist I guess. The concept has so much promise, especially in the world of Smart Things but I feel like we've gone very analog with the majority of the threats. Women are still being abused and raped and objectified and the men are being Men(tm) and it's all a bit pedestrian. Show me something really fucked up, Bloober Team. I dare you.

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