The Mask of the Deviant: Understanding Our Role in Killer 7
Williams considers the often strange roles that masks serve in Suda51's games and how they implicate us as players of video games.
The size of the world has changed. It's changed to the size where you can control it with your hands just like a PDA. The world will keep getting smaller.
-- Kun Lan, Killer 7
Everyone in Suda51's avant garde game Killer 7 wears a mask be it in the form of the seven identities that make up the mask of the assassin “family” in Harman Smith's head or the mask of the Killer 7's faithful manservant, Iwazaru, to even your own as the player of the game.
The idea that you, the player of the game, might also be associated with someone wearing a mask may be less obvious until one begins examining Suda51's interests in masks in the game as well as the parallel situation that he creates between the player of Killer 7 and the characters occupying the world of Killer 7.
When Harman first confronts his nemesis, Kun Lan, near the beginning of the game, there are a number of moments that suggest that the way that the world of Killer 7 is structured is intended to remind us of our own situation as players of games. The quotation that begins this essay is just such an example. Kun Lan observes that reality has become smaller and more controllable via the vehicle of technologies that allow us to structure and organize life (like PDAs) and lives (like video games). Kun Lan further observes that this power belongs to a generation bred to understand their world in this way when he says that a “new generation of children will bring order to this age.” Harman, despite existing in a world quite like the digital realm, one where with the twist of the dial on his television he can assume the life of someone that he is not, recognizes that such power belongs not to Kun Lan and himself anymore. Because unlike such children who get to play at controlling and manipulating the world, as he notes about his generation, “we don't have time for fun anymore.”
When first introducing the Heaven Smile organization to the player, Iwazaru explains that these “enemies are invisible. In fact, they don't even exist.” Iwazaru's explanation recognizes the invisibility of terror in contemporary politics as “terror” because it is a description of an enemy that is broad enough to not allow us to not pin our fears on an enemy with a specific face. It also further re-enforces the idea that the events in the game parallel reality, not just political reality but also the reality of actually playing a video game. Enemies in video games, like invisible abstractions of a terrorist in a socio-political sense, do not literally exist. The video game world becomes a microcosm of this idea because it is a small world that can be controlled by children through objects not much bigger than a PDA. Indeed, the very real non-existence of enemies in games is what makes games pleasurable to play. Because these worlds are illusions, little solipsistic universes where there are no consequences for really terrible behaviors like becoming a killer, we can take unmitigated pleasure in obliterating monsters that represent terror and evil. We also take pleasure in assuming the masks, both in the game and figuratively as an avatar, that allow us to do so; the masks allow us our “time for fun.”
In other words, we, as video game players, are always trying to “save the world” from similarly invisible enemies -- they don’t exist in any tangible sense so that it excuses our nasty behavior while at the same time negating any real value for saving a world from nothing. Thus as gamers, we become solipsistic killers. As Garcian observes about a young woman that is obsessed with games, “The girl's an avid gamer, her world of games and the real world coexist as one.”
Largely, I have never understood the purpose of the necessity of the freakish image of Iwazaru in his S&M gear in the game. Frankly, he creeped me out because I find the whole S&M thing to be very weird. My wife observed to me generally about such “uniforms” that the taboo qualities of the sexual acts associated with sado-masochism are made permissible because of the mask. She argued that the reason one might wear such a mask is in order to become someone else performing a behavior that would otherwise seem too much a violation of the “normal” standards of morality. Such a metaphor seemed entirely appropriate to me in understanding Killer 7's solipsistic universe in relation to the unhindered experience of video games generally. The masks of personas and other forms of avatars in gaming allow us to play out a host of taboo behaviors (in this case, not sexual but violent ones). Intriguingly though, all such acts remain safe because the role that one plays is seemingly not one's own because it is hidden behind the “mask” of an other “self”. The violence remains morally neutral because of the empty and invisible quality of the things that you hurt.
In other words, if Iwazaru creeped me out because of the mask that he wears to distance himself from his sexually deviant behavior, Suda51 seems to want to point out that the player also wears a mask when committing their own in-game atrocities. Suda51 seems to want to suggest that behind the mask may lie the face of a deviant, me.