It’s looking increasingly like dystopia from where I’m standing, so I will honour this mood by marking my theme for day 3: dystopia.
Today, I’m sticking with yesterday’s book, film, and computer game combo, and I’ll bring you an amalgam of scenarios of how things can – and, historically, have – gone wrong.
Book: Yevgeny Zamyatin, We
This Russian novel appeared in Russia for the first time in 1988, when the Powers that Be were becoming eager to disavow communism. Yet Zamyatin actually wrote the book in 1920-1921, as the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was rising steadily to become what would later be known as the Soviet Union.
In fact, the first time this novel saw the light of day was in an English translation in 1924 New York, courtesy of translator Gregory Zilboorg, who also happened to be a psychoanalyst.
We tells the story of D-503, citizen of the One State, a “country of countries” that flourishes under the benevolent rule of the Benefactor. D-503 is a zealous contributor to his society’s main cause, integration of everyone and everything into a homogeneous, anonymous whole. He wants to “integrate completely the colossal equation of the universe”. He is also completely undisturbed by the fact that he, as all other citizens, lives in a perfectly transparent glass apartment that allows him to be constantly watched by the Bureau of Guardians.
Soon, however, this apparently incorruptible man’s mind gives in to the influence of two women: a free-thinker who fights to subvert the One State, and a submissive one, who nevertheless has a single burning desire that the One State will not grant her.
You can read the novel for free on archive.org.
This German expressionist film from 1927 (director: the legendary Fritz Lang, screenwriter: the divine Thea von Harbou) is one of my all-time favourites. The Metropolis it depicts is not one city, but two. The first, the one on the surface, is a vision of paradise, a perfect futuristic play garden. But this city is built on a second, submerged one, inhabited by perpetual workers who constantly fuel and oil and turn the cogs of the underground machine that keeps the play garden running.
To bring the two cities together, the actions of a saintly Mary and a corrupted Magdalen are required: the first is humble worker Maria, and the second, the soulless Maschinenmensch, both played by the breath-taking Brigitte Helm.
You can watch Metropolis for free on YouTube (for now, at least).
Game: Papers, please
This game was designed by developer Lucas Pope and initially released in 2013. In it, you play a checkpoint officer at the border between the fomerly warring fictitious totalitarian states of Arstotzka and Kolechia.
Each day, the rules you must comply with multiply substantially, making it difficult to do your job perfectly within the allocated time. But for each mistake you make, you get penalised, which means that you will soon run out of money for rent, heating, food, and medication for your large family.
Papers, please, which is rendered entirely and succesfully in old school 8-bit graphics, is hands-down the most grim game I have ever played. It is also extremely and satisfyingly challenging – I still haven’t managed to get farther than day 7 in “story” mode. But what I love about it is that it really gives you a sense of the soul-destroying, dehumanising grind of daily life in a totalitarian setting.