Games

Knowing Across a Distance: Mediation in 'Killer 7'

A look back at one of the most unique games of the last decade and its intriguing theme of mediation and the effect it can have on reality.

In a book, the first person narrator is always difficult to trust. We read a story as told to us by one of the characters, who may or may not be telling the truth. Things are emphasized that may not actually be important, while other seemingly more important events are ignored. The narrator may even outright lie to the audience, seeking to elevate his or her own importance. (This is one of the fascinating things about The Sound and the Fury, for example. The narrators of the first three parts all carry their own biases into the mix, which makes it difficult to figure out what is going on until the introduction of an omniscient third person narrator in the fourth and final section.). A similar trick can be used in a movie, as the camera may follow one character's version of events only to go back and contradict that very same version of events (such as in Fight Club or really any movie with a twist that involves a trusted friend's betrayal). The narrator of a story mediates between the world of the story and the world of the reader/viewer.

Suda 51's divisive masterpiece Killer 7 chooses to throw additional levels of mediation into its gameplay beyond merely seeing the game world through one character's eyes (or more accurately the seven characters' eyes). Killer 7 utilizes several sub-layers of mediation as the game progresses, including changes in art style during some animated sequences that add to the confusion of what the world of the game really looks like. The reality of the game demands that the player engage it through these additional levels of symbolic mediation in order to not just play the game but to understand what is going on in the narrative.

The gameplay of Killer 7 is unique in its marriage of the mechanics of an on-rails shooter with the sort of open world exploration and puzzle solving of a first person adventure game (Myst being the most obvious example). The rails do not keep the player from being able to see the environment around him, however, because of the first person view. While in the third person view things do remain hidden, a change of viewpoint allows the player to take in the full picture. It is only through the mediation of the characters' eyes -- and not the third person camera -- that the player can gain a full view of what is going on. Similarly the Heaven Smiles cannot be seen as anything more than ghostlike outlines unless the player peers through the eyes of their assassin of choice and scans for the presence of them. Only through this act of scanning can the Smiles be clearly perceived and dealt with. The mediation of the eyes of the player character not only changes how the player sees through that character's eyes, but on the return to third person view, the world has altered to fit the view that the character had -- revealed Smiles stay revealed. In short, the third person camera can be influenced by the first person camera's perspective.

In any other game, this probably wouldn't be that big a deal. It would be just another game mechanic, and we'd hardly worry about any further significance in terms of any thematic underpinnings. But this is Killer 7, a game described as having a "willfully obscure arthouse intent" (Kristan Reed, "Killer 7", Eurogamer, 22 July 2005), and given the other nods to mediation that pop up in the game, it does not seem so odd to view a mechanic as meaningful. Given that the player is often confronted with different symbols of mediation, it seems almost foolish not to take the gameplay itself into consideration. But the gameplay is not the only thing -- a few of the assassins have their own themes of mediation inherent in their characters and some of the stylistic choices concerning their presentation and abilities carry their own meaning as well.

Garcian Smith is the reason that the Smith organization is able to get any work done. He is the go-between for the rest of the personalities and Harman himself (as the central "personality" of the seven) as well as the official spokesperson for the group when accepting assignments. Garcian is also the reason that the Killer 7 can see past the optical camouflage of the Heaven Smiles, a product of what the game manual calls his "gift of telegnosis", which I'm pretty sure isn't a real word (clairvoyance is the less made-up explanation) ["tele-" suggests a distance, while "gnos" is knowing, so "telegnosis" implies the ability of "knowing across a distance" -Ed.]. The scan that the player does is made possible by Garcian's abilities. When later in the game, Garcian discovers his own true identity, it is interesting to note that his power is no longer given to the player. In fact, the player is forced to merely rely on Garcian's aiming abilities to destroy the Heaven Smiles. In essence, Garcian refuses to mediate any more and insists on doing the work himself, for his own benefit.

Garcian is also unique in that not only is he the only character whose death will cause a game over, but he is also the only character who cannot be selected from a main menu -- the only thing that can change Garcian to a different Smith is the external eye of a camera, which is either set off by the player via use of the television set or in some cases is just part of the plot. This is in part due to the nature of Garcian as the "dominant" persona and in part because it makes perfect sense for the mediator of the group to only be removable (or made redundant) by another level of mediation -- in this case, a camera lens serves the purpose. The only other Smith to require this extra level of mediation is Harman, the "leader" of the personalities even if he is no longer necessarily the dominant one. Unlike Garcian, Harman cannot even be accessed via television most of the time, spending the rest of the game either hidden away completely or as a comatose old man in a wheelchair. Only the mediation of either the television or his maid Samantha's use of the television remote can bring out Harman apart from a few moments when he is given to the player for use through a security camera.

The albino Kevin and his sunglasses.

The other characters do not require this extra level of mediation to switch between, although it is only through the mediation of the television that they can increase their abilities. One such ability is Kevin Smith's ability to make himself invisible through the removal of his sunglasses. The albino Smith apparently cannot be seen unless his glasses are on, as otherwise there is nothing to distinguish him from the rest of his surroundings. Much like Garcian mediates between the Smith assassins and their employers, Kevin's sunglasses mediate between him and the rest of the world. Remove that layer of mediation and he disappears, even from sophisticated security technology. Not even the player is able to see him clearly once the glasses are off, and it is only the sound of his footsteps and a wavering outline that hint at his presence.

Killer 7's narrative too expresses its own need for mediation -- much of the actual events are not actually witnessed by the player but are reported through either carrier pidgeons or computer screens, while cutscenes occasionally take place in the game's engines unless a Smith is not in view, in which case the cutscene is presented in a slightly less stylized and more traditional looking animation (the one exception is a shot of someone who might be Harman conducting an assassination in the first animated cutscene of the game). The central conflict between Eastern and Western sensibilities places Garcian in the role of mediator, as the one who makes the final decision as to who will be victorious is ultimately left up to him in the end. Even the "boss" characters (the assassination targets) are sometimes only accessed by traveling through the somewhat bizarre Vinculum Gates, which are there to either help or hinder (it is never very clear) the Smiths as they make their way to their targets. The Gatekeeper serves as another level of mediation, as he is the final thing standing between the player and his goal -- and the areas the player is sent to after passage through the gate tend to look very much like alternate versions of the level in which the gate appeared. It is the world through a different filter.

The art style of Killer 7 too is the world through a different filter, contrasted against the more "realistic" visions presented in the animated sequences. It seems as if the influence of the Smiths' viewpoint extend to the way that the player sees the game.

An example of the softer edges in the animated scenes. Compare to the image of Kaede below.

Where the animated sequences are dimmer and less vivid, the world as seen through the eyes of the Smiths is vivid color and angular, almost modernist in its sharp edges.

Kaede as seen in the game\'s default visual style.

Even the options at a crossroads appear angular, breaking off like splinters of broken glass rather than paths. Juxtaposed against the softer angles of the animated world, it seems as if we are being treated to the world as it is and the world with the mediation of the Smith syndicate. This, combined with the characters, the overall narrative, and even the gameplay, provides a rich exploration of the centrality of mediation to operating in a world (be that a real one or a fictional one) that, even six years later, remains unique in its presentation of such ideas.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.