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Mirror's Edge: a conflicted game about perfection


As the "games as art" debate rages on, and as one on the side that games can be art, I have taken to attempting to find meaning in some of the games that I have played recently. After some thought, I came to the conclusion that Mirror's Edge, the beautiful-but-frustrating first-person platformer, is a game focused entirely on a single idea: perfection. There is just one tiny problem: the narrative and the gameplay are completely at odds with one another.

Before I go any further I'd like to clarify one point. I am not arguing that Mirror's Edge is perfection, just that the game's main theme is about perfection. While I think the game is fantastic, I am not blind to its flaws.

In case you haven't personally played it or read much about it, Mirror's Edge takes place in a fictional dystopian city where crime is a distant memory and everybody's communication is monitored. If you've read 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, then you already have an idea about the main theme of Mirror's Edge: while ultimate government control can create the illusion of perfection, the actuality is that life in the dystopia is far from ideal.

This manifests itself in Mirror's Edge pretty plainly, as the opening narration by protagonist Faith explains that the city used to be dirty and full of life, after which the player is plunked into a sterile world that, while beautiful solely due to the contrast to many current generation muddy-paletted games, is clearly lacking in soul. Not far into the game, the player sees that the clean, white look is indeed simply a facade, as Faith traverses through dingy back alleys and corridors housing the occasional--but blatant--rat, an unquestionable symbol of uncleanliness.

What this all points to is the theme that perfection is unattainable, and anything that looks perfect on the outside is certainly imperfect when one takes a closer look. That in itself is an entirely reasonable theme, and were the game based entirely on the narrative alone, there would be no issue. Alas, our preferred medium has another component to it: gameplay.

And the gameplay provides an entirely different view on perfection. In order to successfully navigate the city, to come to the next part of the story that reminds the player that perfection is a lie, the player must play perfectly.

Beginning a jump a split-second early leads to death. Slightly mistiming a disarm leads to death. A small difference in angle could spell the difference between landing safely on a crane and falling hundreds of feet to the street below. The gameplay not only punishes mistakes (quite brutally, at that), but it encourages perfection.

Outside of the main story, there are time trials and speed runs, challenging the player to complete entire levels or smaller courses in under a set amount of time. These not only require the player to find the best route, but to execute the route perfectly as well. Additionally, there are various Achievements that require perfection. For example, "Test of Faith" asks that the player completes the entire game without shooting an enemy, forcing reliance on hand-to-hand combat and parkour flight, a task much more difficult than the alternative.

Why are the story's theme and the gameplay's theme so conflicted with one another? Were the two developed independently, by two teams with different views on perfection? Was the discrepancy dismissed for the sake of making a fun game whose message is irrelevant? Or am I just reading too far into it all?
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About Darren Nakamuraone of us since 2:29 AM on 11.06.2006

Darren is a scientist during the day. He has been a Destructoid community member since 2006, joining the front page as a contributor in 2011.

While he enjoys shooters, RPGs, platformers, strategy, and rhythm games, he takes particular interest in independent games. He produced the Zero Cool Podcast for about four years, and he plays board games quite a bit when he can find willing companions.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Darren Nakamura knows several people in the video game industry, most of whom are Destructoid alumni. These include:

Anthony Burch, former writer for Gearbox Software
Ashly Burch, notable voice actor
Nick Chester, publicist for Harmonix Music Systems
Chad Concelmo, writer for Golin Harris
Aaron Linde, writer for Gearbox Software
Jayson Napolitano, publicist for Scarlet Moon Productions
Brad Nicholson, former publicist for Uber Entertainment
Alex Ryan, publicist for Kalypso Media
Jim Sterling, notable voice actor

Darren backs a lot of Kickstarter campaigns! If you want to see what he has backed, you can go here. If he ever reviews a game that he backed, that will be explicitly disclosed in the review.

Darren invested in Psychonauts 2 on Fig.
Xbox LIVE:Dexter345
PSN ID:Dexter345
Steam ID:http://steamcommunity.com/profil
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