Warning: There are going to be some spoilers of Danganronpa V3. Sorry, who am I kidding? We’re swinging for the fences with the big major spoilers. So if you plan to give Danganronpa V3 a punt, then just slide on past this blog.. There’s also a very very very mild spoiler of Dying Light: The Following. I personally don’t consider it a spoiler, but people have gotten angry with me for revealing vague ending tones in the past. Sorry.
If there is something to be said about video game developers is they tend to have a lot of love for audiences. They’re either in love with audiences because of the humanistic angles, or because they see them as glorified cash machines that you have to give a good kicking to see change fly out. So usually you’ll hear “this one is for the fans!” being screamed by middle aged men in suit jackets/trousers with “hip” t-shirts underneath to fawning viewers before, during and after their latest trailers at E3. It gets so...Saccharine… No?
So I believe it’s odd when we get games that seem to loathe its fan base. Spec Ops: The Line basically wrote in neon font able to be observed from space “GO FUCK YOURSELVES” through its writing, gameplay and aesthetic. Dark Souls made us scream “HURT ME MORE DADDY”, as it mercilessly pounded us into the ground over and over while cackling madly. Even Dying Light, to a lesser extent, tells us to sod off if we expected a good ending for all our work in The Following.
I mean, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men also mocked the idea of giving you a good ending for all your positive work, just it's not as popular as Dying Light: The Following.
Then Danganronpa V3 swaggered in.
It’s hard to say it tops Spec Ops: The Line in terms of animosity towards its audience. I think it is a different form of hatred. Spec Ops: The Line was all about mocking the modern military shooter audience (and the American military to a lesser extent), which may or may not include the player guiding Walker through what can be most-optimistically described as psychosis.
Danganronpa V3, in typical Danganronpa-styled bluntness, actively targets the very player who is in front of the screen and anyone who is “foolish” enough to keep buying these games. Although perhaps I need to take a breather, maybe add some context to Chunsoft’s middle finger and lay out what is said and done.
The big reveal is in that title. What? You thought this was based soon after Danganronpa 1 and 2? Oh no. These are the 53rd games. It keeps happening. People will murder each other before eventually turning on the mastermind, talking about the power of hope until they somewhat just give up; and then the games happen again. Just endlessly. Which the question is why? Well, maybe the protagonist would like to explain one reason:
Shuichi: I wouldn't forgive this game that treats us like toys. And if this is what the world wants...
S: Then I reject that world! I'll fight the world that inflicts suffering for entertainment!
Rantaro here offering a small wink at the camera.
Which yeah, I confess that part of the reason I enjoy the Danganronpa series is the absolute brutality it has. This is not just in a gore sense, or in an aesthetic sense (because god damn all the murder scenes could be paintings in a gallery), but also in a Rube Goldberg machine sense. You unravel these over-complicated murder mysteries, born from a necessity to not be discovered, only to find one or two mistakes by the killer that makes it so easy to discover.
...However, is that all? I mean, morbid desire drives some of us on, but that can’t be the only reason. Again, Shuichi is on the case and talks about it:
Shuichi: It's because of hope that this whole thing is happening!
S: I reject that hope!
S: Hope itself is the villain here.
S: We suffer because of hope.
S: [mastermind] isn't trying to make us despair...
S: [mastermind] wants us to trust in hope!
S: So I say no! I reject that hope!
K1-B0: [mastermind] wants us to trust in hope? What do you mean?
S: The reason this madness has gone on 53 times...
S: It's because of hope.
S: It's because the audience wants hope.
S: They want to see hope defeat despair in the end!
S: It's Hope's Peak Academy all over again!
S: So if we fight for hope...
S: We'd just be giving them what they want!
S: And the killings will never end!
Hope. No matter where on the political spectrum you lie, from hard left to hard right, I think it is difficult not to feel a sense of despair at a world that feels like it’s growing worse. So for some, diving into their favourite series in their favourite medium is a source of hope. Yet…
Shuichi: Even if it's fiction, everyone wants to feel hope... It gives them... courage.
S: And this killing game continues because we keep giving them the hope they want.
S: While they ignore all the tragedies that we had to suffer to get there!
While pleasure is partially derived from the cast (well, some of the cast), sometimes you just get all Slasher Fan and just want the annoying teens to take an axe.
Even if fictional, you have to be aware you are essentially torturing a cast of characters just so you can feel a sense of hope. Rather than finding a source that helps others, you find hope in what destroys fictional people. So it is fair that Shuichi, your protagonist, is rejecting hope outright.
Shuichi: It's because hope wins that the killing never stops!
S: It's what the people want!
S: They want hope to win, they want the happy ending!
S: That's how the killing game has gone on 53 times!
K1-B0: The killing game persists...because hope always wins?
S: That's why I'm going to reject that hope.
Shuichi: So I abstain! I refuse to give the outside world the ending it wants!
However, as the discussion goes on between Shuichi, K1-B0, the mastermind and others, Shuichi begins to get a realisation: That as much as hope wouldn’t rid the endless games, neither will despair:
Mastermind: Then it's despair? You're going to choose despair to end the killing game?
M: ...How boring.
M: But this is fine. Our audience loves despair, so this will please them too.
M: After all, even if despair wins, the killing game still wouldn't end.
So Shuichi finds a third option:
Shuichi: New characters are created just to show the outside world a fictional hope.
S: They get written into these killing games, forced to betray one another...
S: And at the end of the slaughter... the tragedy, the despair... hope always wins.
S: Well I've had enough of it. We're going to end this right now.
S: We wouldn't let it end the way they want! We wouldn't make a good ending or a bad one!
S: To end this killing game... and end it forever...
S: We will reject Danganronpa!
Um, okay then, let's reject it then.
I want you to re-read that last phrase. This is the writer saying that the protagonist (the guy you’re meant to root for) absolutely rejects the series you’re playing. That a series YOU play for either sick amusement or morbid-rooted hope is rebelling against you, and does not want to exist any more. In a culture where sequels are vomited out endlessly until they don’t sell any more, this is a series whose last game in the “chapter” is spending the goodbye telling you to just go to hell.
That said, here’s the problem:
Mastermind: As long as the world wants killing games, Danganronpa will not end!
As long as the world wants a sadistic series whose cast doesn’t even want to be involved, Danganronpa will not end. It will go on, and on, and on; from Danganronpa V3 to Danganronpa 53. It doesn’t want to, god damn it really wants another way, but yet it trudges on because the audience keeps buying into it. While the fault of a new sequel always lies with the developer or publisher who decide that’s what they’re going to do, the audience’s hands are not clean. You have to take responsibility, realise what you’re doing and the entertainment you’re consuming. You have to buy the games you not only enjoy but you can live with the nature of the game. You have to discuss what types of games you’d like to see in your culture and vote with your wallet.
While Spike Chunsoft likely wrote this directly only about this series, it goes beyond Danganronpa. Games that dehumanise and demonise the Middle East will continue to be made because people keep buying into games like Call of Duty. On the other hand, games solely about murdering innocent people probably wouldn’t be made because Hatred failed. If the sales of Danganronpa V3 are anything to go by (0.29 million vs Danganronpa’s 0.58 million and Danganronpa 2’s 0.37 million), this murder chronicle may continue to go on.
And more clueless teenagers arrive at brutal ends for the sake "hope" and entertainment, like the 80s slasher genre all over again.
If you’re fine with it, even with the pleading of the protagonist (and ergo the writer) telling you how wrong it is and the game ending with the cast destroying everything they can, then buy on. If you’d rather find hope in something more positive than a game that almost fetishises the slaying of teenagers, then maybe reject Danganronpa too. Don’t worry, I think the writers think it’s better this way.