NieR: Automata – Sacrifice and the Meaning of Kindness – Extra Credits

Games can evoke empathy in us They can make us desire to be kind

They can help us put ourselves in the shoes of others But, they can also give us an easy way to tell ourselves that we are good people, that we always choose Paragon, that we are light side, folk And always without making us do the work that being a good person actually requires But there is one recent game that truly did ask us to be kind, and in a brilliant way Let's talk about NieR: Automata

♪ [Intro Music: "Penguin Cap" by CarboHydroM] ♪ This episode was made in collaboration with the excellent people over at Wisecrack Learn more about them and check out their thoughts on NieR: Automata at the end of this video This episode is going to have a spoiler in it It won't be a narrative spoiler, but it will be a mechanical one We are going to talk about the last boss fight, and how it plays out

It'll come later in the episode, so feel free to hang out for now I'll give you a warning later – you can bail then, if you want to but just be warned, that if you're the type of person who wants absolutely nothing spoiled, you should probably turn this off and go play NieR: Automata, because it's genuinely great So, let's talk empathy You know that moments in Dark Souls where you see a blood stain somewhere you died once, and you feel a tiny pang for the person who just went through that same thing

That is an unmistakable moment of empathy experienced through a game And I bet more than one of you have acted on it, deciding to leave a message warning other players about the hazard Not for the reward it would give you, but so that people you've never met, and will never meet, won't have to suffer the same way you did That is kind of incredible when you think about it It's part of what makes Dark Souls such a communal experience, even if you play the whole thing by yourself

But most games don't do that nearly as well We have all had a moment where a game asked us to save a planet, rescue a cat, help some downtrodden villagers, something like that, and the game tells us that these are good acts, and that we are good people for doing them We are often even given a goodness stat, so that we know just how good we were for helping out "I'm so good Look at how many good points I have

" The problem though, is that we really weren't Empathetic acts are fundamentally about doing something for someone other than yourself But in so many games where you have your save the puppies moment, that moment is really about you, not about whomever you're helping So many games are so focused on empowering the player that, many times acting good in a game ends up being about that, too Helping somebody isn't really the goal

The reward for helping somebody is the goal Maybe it's some bonus the game gives you, or the praise you receive from characters in the game, maybe it's the game itself praising you for being such a good person and forwarding your heroic story arc And even in the cases where games actually ask something of you to do the good thing, It's often negligible or something you'd want to do anyway It's not actually a sacrifice How many times have you been asked to give some trivial amount of gold to help out a poor and suffering group of people? It's one of those silly game tropes, right? I mean if this village is hurting so much for money, they really should just, like, leave town and beat up twelve Slimes or something, that'll give them all the money they need, I could go do that in five minutes

Helping them is easy and meaningless You're not actually empathizing with a group you're helping, because you never have to consider the cost to yourself The question of: "Should I help these people? Can I afford to help these people?" isn't something the game even makes you think about Half the time, we're really only doing any of these good things, because we figure it's what the game wants us to do And even in the cases where you're asked to fight an additional boss, or tackle some really hard level to do the right thing, it's often framed as a sacrifice, but really, it's the game designers actually giving you more of what you want to do

Now you get to feel good helping people and fight a cool dragon Boy, glad you didn't miss out on that optional dragon boss fight, huh? Oh, right? Yeah, the people Yes Thank goodness their lives have been improved All in a day's work

Video game hero away~~~~ NieR:Automata does something very different And for those of you hoping to avoid spoilers, here is where I'm gonna start dropping them, so I will now give you a moment to step out Are they gone? Okay, All right The final fight in NieR:Automata is hard, maybe impossibly hard You throw yourself at it, you want to beat it so bad, you're so close to the end, but you die

And when you die, you're asked if you really want to suffer through this "Do you really want to continue?" But littered around the screen are messages of encouragement from players all over the globe So you start back up and you try again, and again, you die And again, and again Then the game informs you that another player has offered to help, and one by one, ships swoop in Other players are coming to your aid The music swells from a single melody to a chorus And now, because of them you have a real chance

And as they die, one by one, you see that their names and their data has been lost When you finally make it all the way through, you too get to write a message of encouragement to somebody out there, somebody you will never meet You are given the opportunity to tell them they are not alone Then the game presents you with a choice: You can become one of those ships You can become one of those fighters and help somebody else like so many people helped you

But there's a cost to doing it, and that cost is your save file Agree to help another player, and your save will be deleted You will never meet the person who you help, you will never get any praise for it or even have the satisfaction of knowing when your ship flew in to help somebody In fact, the game stresses that you may end up helping somebody you wouldn't actually like, or who you wouldn't even talk to And it's gonna cost you everything you've worked for in this game

The dozens of hours you've invested, all the items you found, all the levels you gained, all of those side quests and the parts of the story you never saw You won't get a chance to finish them unless you start the game over And at least in my case, I was profoundly aware in this moment that I would never have time to do that This was it This is a real sacrifice

Coming to terms with giving up something you love, giving up the story you created, the hours you put in to build in it Just so, some day, somebody, you'll never meet will have an easier time I chose to do it And I bet a lot of you did, too You did it because you know what those other people will be going through, their frustration is something you can relate to

What's more, you know exactly what other people already gave up to help you And so you press that button and you watch, as line by line– the game deletes all the work you have ever done in NieR:Automata That is a powerful moment, a true empathetic moment One that will hopefully stick with us, and remind us in real life when we see someone cold or hungry, we've been there, too Because unlike in most games, kindness in our world usually asks something of us, something that's hard to give

And it's a worthy thing for a game to remind us that we're not good for simply doing good things when it costs us nothing That's sacrificing something is where true kindness happens But does this sacrifice also mean something else? By forfeiting your game's progress, the save data and all of your achievements, NieR might also be asking: what makes games meaningful? And to understand why you'll have to dig deeper into these words from Pascal If you want to uncover the hidden, or maybe not so hidden meaning of Pascal's words, check out the philosophy of NieR:Automata from our friends over at Wisecrack They dive deep into what might be the most explicitly philosophical game ever made, so check out their video by clicking here, or find the link in the description

And while you're over there, be sure to subscribe to Wisecrack and tell them Extra Credits sents you See you next week