Be warned, we’re getting into spoiler territory here from the outset. Turn back now if you’ve yet to finish the game.
For you can tie me up if you wish,
but there is nothing more useless than an organ.
When you will have him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions
and restored him to his true freedomTo Have Done with the Judgment of God, Antonin Artaud
LUCAH: Born of a Dream, from gamedev collective melessthanthree, thrusts you head-first into a world beyond any sense of logic or understanding. Everything around you coalesces into an undulating mass of incomprehensible action; the only thing that makes sense anymore is fighting. Some of the first words that greet you in this world: ”You can’t help but feel you’ve been here before. You can’t help but feel they only want to hurt you. But you know you must move forward. You must fight.” And fight you do, pushing back against the ever encroaching Darkness that blankets the land.
This Darkness exists as an extension of the world, to a degree, leading you to press ever-forward, unable to turn back. In it, we move toward a cyclical process in which this place eventually dies, destroyed one way or another, only to return once again to its original state of being. It’s an endless feedback loop; one that seemingly betrays no signs of stopping. You find yourself trapped in this place, fighting through loop after loop, attempting to enact change to no fruition. LUCAH’s world is one destined to fall, only to rise from the ashes again and again, a dark, undying phoenix. Decay holds no permanence here.
However, beneath the obscuring miasma poisoning this world, there is a coalescent through-line within the snippets of memory that bubble to the surface. Hazy moments of recollection, vignettes of psychological states, give way to chunks of intelligible plot. Piecing it together in itself becomes an uphill struggle. It’s non-linear, disconnected strings of emotion over logic, blurry imagery barely made out through the pulsating linework flashing by. The story here is akin to a person moving under a strobe light in pitch black: we only catch snippets of what’s happening and need to infer the moments between. If we take these somewhat disparate parts and pair them with a framework offered through a lens of critical philosophical analysis, we may find ourselves able to come to terms with what exactly is going on here, and what meaning we can glean from it.
“Being right” isn’t the point of this analysis, more so we are attempting to simply make sense of things with the tools we have close at hand.
As you press forward through the nightmare, you tackle ever greater demonic entities, outward reflections of the self. These manifestations haunt and stalk you, desiring nothing more than to wound, to hurt. As you float between locales, one idea begins to present itself with rare clarity. Here, there is no hope. There is no love. There is no joy. There is only the pain of trying and trying again. You come across others, just as broken as you are, rejected or separated from the ones they love. But, you are the Marked One, and your drive is the one that can free us all from this place. Still, the Powers That Be have other plans for you.
Religious imagery wraps its tendrils around you from the outset, desperate to offer an errant, womb-like safety. Characters carry Biblical names: Serah, Michael, Anna, Thomas, just to name a few. Then there’s The Father, who attempts to force a baptism on you which you ultimately reject. Suddenly, The Messiah is born from this struggle and readily strikes you down. Your rebirth gives way to a new path forward, but, wherever you go from here, the specter of religion always hangs heavy overhead, a system that has become the controlling force of this place. It is, wholly, the defining State of your existence. The State you inhabit. Your fight must, by necessity, be one that collapses it.
The “State” that we’re looking at here is The State as espoused by the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari, a notion that whatever it is reigning over a territory is a cohesive, living whole. The territory it controls is not only physical space, but also of place and systems. Its primary concern is to enact control on this territory, organizing it in a way that serves and reinforces itself, that is at once predictable and moves toward a desired direction. Through hierarchy, The State wields the energy of inequality to structure and stratify itself. In LUCAH, religion in and of itself becomes a State in the Dream; it is the controlling force seemingly driving the land, choking out dissent and difference, demanding that all adhere to its status quo.
As we can piece together from varied Memories scattering the land, there is a running theme of choosing to go along with The State if you wish to find comfort here. The Memory of Michael reads, “Acceptance is key. Acceptance is life. Work hard for acceptance and all will be forgiven. The thoughts, the hair, the clothes… Cut it all away and you will be normal. You will be loved. You will be happy.” For The State to function effectively, it can’t abide any form of wrench in its crushing gears. Anything stepping out of its lines becomes an enemy, a possibility that cannot be controlled, an unknown element. But, for those who acquiesce to The State and stratify themselves within it, it doesn’t truly offer any meaningful solace to them. The denizens of the Church in Track 2 endlessly flagellate themselves, sadomasochism as a transcendent punishment for impurity, an ecstasy found from pushing oneself to the limits of the physical. Others residing here are hopeless, allowing dread to overtake their form, wrapping around them like a cold blanket. How can you push back against this futility? How can you escape it? In the end, collapse only leads to re-establishment, the cycle will always continue unabated.
The game offers three endings: Do you give in to the Corruption of The State? Do you attempt to force the Collapse? Or do you try something else entirely?
For the “Bad Ending,” you fill yourself with the corruption that permeates this world. You immerse yourself in it and, in doing so, become an agent of it. You turn your gaze inward and see the True Self that you’ve been harboring all along. The Player chooses their name (canonically Lucah) at the start of the tale, and, in this ending, Natalie externalizes Lucah as the Final Boss to sever the connection between these identities once and for all. You’re forced to stand against your ideal self and reject them through fatal means. This rejection, though, leads to nothing. When you kill Lucah, they play an animation that is the same as when you were killed by The Messiah in Track 2: a red spear pierces them, their corpse dangling from it, forever broken. Inside yourself, you find a void, a hole of nothingness that only grows. The parallel to the way The Messiah kills you and the hollowness imply that you have become an agent of The State, yet another arm of it. By placing yourself within it, you find only the same dread consuming the other inhabitants of the Dream.
The cycle turns and begins anew.
You fight again, this time for the “Neutral Ending.” In this, you face off against your recurring nemesis, Christian. He fights you several times over the course of the game, demanding the death that he believes will be his escape from this place. You give him what he demands as a perceived mercy and face off against The Messiah, the assumed center of The State. Hoping to accelerate the Collapse by defeating them, you plan to fly from the Dream as it all falls apart. But, in a cruel twist, the death of the Messiah only gives you a fleeting glimpse of freedom, the reality beyond the veil. The power vacuum left behind swiftly fills, replacing the barrier, shunting you back to where this all began.
The cycle turns and begins anew.
Finally, you fight toward the “True Ending.” You clash with Christian and cast him down again. Instead of finishing him off, however, you embrace him. You give him a faint glimmer of love that he cannot attain within this world and find yourself whisked elsewhere. Lucah is confronted with The Marked Watcher, a puppetmaster of sorts, the one holding the answers to all of this. They reveal their true form to you: Maria. However, this identity quickly crumbles, the name on their health bar turning into nothing but question marks as the fight progresses. After their defeat, you are granted a revelation, memories of theirs from a time before this one. Two people, Naomi and Anna, inhabit a Dream together. Their relationship is one of beauty, but dulls with the passage of time. The flowers they once traipsed wither, and a gulf grows between them. Naomi wants to leave, and to attempt this, they reject the Angelic Enlightenment they appear to possess. She and Anna both bear wings, which Naomi strips herself of, feather by feather. She severs her tie to Anna and looks for a way out.
But, in doing so, she too becomes engulfed by The State and is morphed into its True Center. Before she dissipates, her identity becomes muddled, unable to discern whether or not she is Naomi or Anna. You find yourself back with Christian as the Dream tears itself to pieces around you. The two of you kiss, a confession of love is shared, and you finally find the freedom that all of this fighting has been in service of by escaping the feedback loop.
To have found that freedom though, you needed to de-organize yourself.
Through The State’s organization efforts, Organs themselves are grown within all things that occupy its territory. Via its Organs, an object is tethered to The State, incapable of surviving without them. A thing is dependent upon its Organs, it is given meaning by them, but ultimately it is through this State-cultivated meaning that the object is constrained. The Body With Organs, as Deleuze and Guattari would describe it, is never truly free. You are given meaning by these things, by The State, and with that you will always serve as an arm of it, one way or another. However, by striving to shed oneself of Organs, you are able to approach the Body Without Organs, but without them a body cannot survive. It is a horizon to strive for and to edge up close to. This realm of existence allows you to operate outside of The State, to become an actor without a controlling force pressing down upon you.
In the Bad Ending, you attempt to find your escape through your Organs, believing that by embracing and giving in to the State-binds you are able to find a way out from the inside. But The State is an incomprehensible mass, shuddering with complexities that can only appear chthonic to an outsider; an impenetrability that none can truly hope to take advantage of. In the Neutral Ending, you reject any change within yourself and attempt to force escape through the removal of external factors, but The State will always be stronger. It refreshes itself faster than you can remove its components, a deathless Hydra of systems and agents.
But, within the True Ending, you embrace yourself much like you embrace Christian. You come to terms with who you truly are and realize that The State has been poisoning you to overlook this. As Christian states, “We’re not what they told us we were. We’re not who they want us to be… We are us, and that’s ok. I couldn’t accept it before, and it tore our hearts apart. But now, I can accept it. I can accept me.”
It is only through a reconciliation of how our existence intersects with, and is controlled by, our surroundings that we can find a means with which to understand our nightmares. And it is only through a willingness to confront this directly that we can truly escape them. No amount of external validation, labels, or capitulation can give us the meaning or comfort we so desire. Death is certainly not the way out, it only fosters further pain and trauma. If we look inwards and vivisect the components forced onto us by others, dissecting the way we ought to be from the way we want to be, and find the path that is truly one’s own, only then can we find a way out. Accepting yourself is the first step to escaping the nightmares. Actualizing our inner demons and taking them apart, piece by piece, allows us the means with which we can find hope.
Salvation can only come from within.
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.
Jessica is a coder, artist and producer with a speciality in creating haunted, liminal spaces. Most recently, she released Paratopic with Arbitrary Metric.