Games

Namelessness, Thy Name Is Monkey

Names connect us to our roots and to our communities, and in the case of Enslaved's Monkey, namelessness expresses the loneliness of lacking a name.

The story of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is one told in fairly minimalistic terms. While offering a wealth of cut scenes, events within the game tend to be briefly presented before returning to the action of play, conversations tend to be short, and even the dialogue within those conversations tends towards brief, clipped phrases.

In that sense, the characters themselves in the story, the three heroes, Trip (though her full name is Tripitaka), Monkey and Pigsy, as well as the story's villain, Pyramid, all have fairly short, minimally descriptive qualities. While two of these names are derived from the nicknames of characters from Enslaved's source material, the sixteenth century Chinese novel Journey to the West, both Monkey and Pigsy's names seem initially merely a way to define their obvious physical similarities to the animals that they bear the names of and possibly to suggest the generally accepted “personalities” of those animals.

Pigsy, for instance, resembles a pig. His body is thick and fat and also laced with cybernetic enhancements resembling features like a snout and hoofs. Along with his pin-up girl tattoos and leering attitude towards the only available female in the story, Trip, he basically seems like what one might rightly term in human culture a kind of “pig”.

However, while Monkey, too, seems to possess strong physical resemblance to his simian appellation, curiously when he is introduced to the player through Trip's request that she and he “exchange names”, Monkey is revealed as actually having no name at all. He simply states, “I don't have a name”.

Nameless characters are nearly as rare in fiction, perhaps, as nameless people in real life. Barring “extras” in a movie or novel (or passersby on the street in real life whose name we never care to or need to learn), nameless major characters present an awkward problem for both author and reader, as one needs some way to identify a character in a story. There still are notable nameless characters in fiction, though, such as Clint Eastwood's character, The Man With No Name, from Sergio Leone's classic Western A Fistful of Dollars.

The function of the namelessness of The Man With No Name, though, points ironically at the emblematic quality of introducing a character with seemingly no emblem of identity. Despite seeming to fail to represent an individual's identity, namelessness actually might reveal some very specific things about a character and who he is. Normally speaking, names are less arbitrary than they might seem. Surnames in particular tend to tie individuals to families (as can first names as well). Additionally, names often historically connect individuals broadly to certain places or to specific regions as well as occupations -- among other things. In that sense, names often connect individuals to a historical background as well as more recently formed familial and other types of communal bonds by often describing where an individual comes from or where their family has come from. A nameless character then effectually signals a lack of history, a disconnection from family, and further, a disconnection from community. This, after all, is exactly the role played by The Man With No Name in A Fistful of Dollars, as an outsider who enters a community that contains two warring gangs. With no name and no connection to a group, The Man With No Name is perfectly suited for his role of playing both sides against one another for what is ultimately his own ends. After all, what does a complete loner need with loyalty or a sense of the common good? His namelessness suggests a pure individualism that most others' names lack.

Indeed, not only does a lack of a name suggest a lack of rootedness in any traditional and biological relationships, it also really does suggest that an individual truly lacks human contact altogether. Anyone who spends anytime with other human beings, regardless of their lack of knowledge of their own past or history, still finds a need to be acknowledged, identified, and simply called for. If one lacks a name, it implies that one lacks the need to communicate at all.

In Enslaved, Trip expresses doubt at Monkey's claim that he has no name. She protests, “You must [have a name]. Everyone's got one” and then finally asks, “What did your parents call you?” Monkey's brief explanation of his namelessness suggests all of the qualities that namelessness implies. He responds, “They were killed in a mech attack when I was a kid. I grew up in the wilds . . . alone . . .” Monkey admits of having no family for a name to refer to as well as no one else to identify him or call for him.

When Monkey finally offers up something for Trip to refer to him by, the nickname Monkey (which as he says is what some of “the communities that I trade with” called him), this “name” for a man with no name suggests much more than a mere resemblance to an animal -- it reveals an almost perfect correlation with his subhuman namesake. Monkey himself is a creature of the wild that has been named by other humans for the sake of convenience. Apparently such broad categorical naming has gone on since the time of Adam, but that doesn't suggest much about personal identity. Yes, this man physically looks like a monkey with a broad forehead, unkempt hair, enlarged eyes, hunched back, and elongated arms, but additionally he is a man that has rarely had any real need for human communication for most of his life. The qualities that tend to differentiate human from animal, the capacity for complex communication and, perhaps, the ability to make moral judgments, are not qualities that are particularly useful for an isolated human being. Why talk when there is no one to speak to? Why consider ethics when there is no one to hurt? In this sense, the nameless man in Enslaved really has been reduced to an animal. He has no need for the characteristics that make him human if he is truly alone. To reiterate, this suggests that his pseudonym is really about the same thing more or less as lacking a personal name. Monkey is moreso a category to describe his state, rather than any kind of personal indentifier.

As far as markers of identification go, Monkey's body is also painfully hushed and vague about who he is and where he comes from. Adorned with minimal clothing, most of what we can see is literally what he is, flesh. Mostly what we are made aware of is his muscularity and the activation of his muscle. He can swing, grapple, fight, and his powerful body signifies this, but what monkey can't do these things? His few other adornments speak vaguely of a past. He is decorated with some kind of tribal tattooing. However, much like those sporting “tribal” tattoos these days, without knowing the tribe that the markings associate an individual with, the only signal here to read is that this man is “primitive” or associates himself with the concept of the primitive. Finally, his body is etched in scars, which speaks, again vaguely, of a past. He has gone through “something” . . . something hard and wounding, but still just “something”. Without a story to tell us about them, they remain vague signifiers of hardness and experience, nothing more, nothing less.

While Eastwood's Man With No Name becomes a perfect representation of what can cause communal discord, pure individualism leading to pure indifference born of a lack of connection to any group identity (which namelessness itself implies), the namelessness of the Monkey character serves an almost antithetical role in the story of Enslaved. As the game's title implies, Enslaved concerns human relationships; there can be no slave without a master. The state of slavery requires community, even if it is the uglier side of such communities, as it concerns the power dynamics that come into play once human beings do gather. However, since Monkey, the nameless individual, has become enslaved to Trip and over the course of the game, he begins to find value in serving this woman. In other words, he becomes emblematic instead of a need to cast off individualism altogether. Being alone, a problem that Monkey seems to have been unaware of having, is resolved by taking part in games of power by bonding both submissively and authoritatively to another. (As Monkey himself also insists on some of his own authority early on in he and Trip's relationship because he understands survival better than Trip does. For example when he says to Trip that “When I ask you to do something, you have to do it”. For more thoughts on the mutually submissive relationship between Monkey and Trip, see ”The Politics of Submission: The Romance of Enslaved, PopMatters.com, 12 January 2011). In this sense, Enslaved uses namelessness as a way of ultimately expressing the need for communication and community itself. The difficulty in knowing that which is alien because it lacks a name becomes a call for group identification and the potential for planting new roots that alienation would normally deny the outsider.

Ironically, Trip's name (the only name that we know fully) may contain within it seemingly contradictory meanings. The shortening of Tripitaka's full name, Trip, seems somewhat appropriate as she is the reasons for Monkey's journey (his “trip”), but at the same time, she is a stumbling block to Monkey's real desire to return to solitude (she has “tripped” him up, as it were). However, bad puns aside, it is both Monkey's stumbling and the resulting journey (both provided by Trip) that becomes a way of locating a place to be, a journey to be on, and the potential to become something less and something more than whatever his nameless existence was before, finding someone else to call his own and someone else to call him something at all.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
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Publication date: 2017-09
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