The Narrative Poetry of Rez

By Rich Shivener in Unraveling Yarns
Monday, September 26, 2011 at 5:00 pm
Rez is poetic - and awesome.
Like Child of Eden, Tetsuya Mizuguchi's music video game Rez is worthy of several critical musings. In "Playing on the Plane of Immanence," Serjoscha Wiemer cites that music video games, including Rez, "constitute a simultaneous play of action and reaction, a joint motion of image, sound and body: the temporality of the image follows movement on a fundamental level, that is, movement and image assert themselves in the feedback-situation and tend to merge in a liminal space of perception."

Rez, a rail shooter, has an abstract narrative concerning a hacker infiltrating a super network cluttered with viruses and the like. From my view, it's a collection of symphonic poems complemented by transient visuals. That is, the hacker's story is explained through the trance music and her progress through the depths of the super network. Little text or voice is provided. For the most part, the player is expected to construct the narrative by connecting the music and accompanying visuals. This union speaks to theories of symphonic poems. As Jee-Weon Cha writes in an overview of those theories, "Unlike the text in a song, the literary impulse embedded in the form of a program [extramusical language?] cannot be literally heard, but can only be imagined by the listener who has already read it and is willing to unite it with music." Further: "To listen to a symphonic poem without the act of relating the program to the music--the prescription filled by the autonomy aesthetic--to reduce it to something else and to destroy its identity as a composite artwork."   

My focus is not on Rez as a symphonic poem, but rather, the text in Area 5, the final level. In a way, it's a mini-narrative, one that informs the aforementioned collection of symphonic poems. I want to unravel this yarn with your thoughts.

In Area 5, the following lines are revealed as the hacker's moves through levels:

Ages ago, life was born in the primitive sea.
Young life forms constantly evolved in order to survive.
Some prospered, some did not, all sorts of life ebbed and
flowed like the tide.
In the quiet rhythm of the mother sea, life grew.
Always seeking to survive and flourish.
Soon life began to advance towards land, opening new habitats.
A great prosperity came, as life conquered even the highest mountains.
Mass extinctions came wave after wave,
but empty niches always quickly refilled,
to once again prosper, grow, and reproduce.
Someday the next great emigration will occur,
as we leave this existence looking for another.
The journey will begin anew.
I hold within me, the memories of all that has passed.
Who am I...

In a review, we can consider the above a narrative poem, namely a lyric poem. I read this and find multiple narrative paths in the lyrics. I see the evolution of life on earth, an evolution that eventually gave way to technologies -- cloud computing and the supernetwork -- that "conquered even the highest mountains." The omniscient narrator -- perhaps Eden -- might be suggesting that "mass extinctions" include earthy lifeforms followed by AI within the aforementioned supernetwork, where caches are cleared and then reborn, dancing with virus. Perhaps "the next great emigration" refers to human lifeforms departing from their original self and immersing fully in the digital dreamscape, a form of higher ground. Overall, this narrator's free verse delivery has both spiritual and Internet age underpinnings. It's genius.

It gave me pause, actually. Did it give you pause?

Unraveling Yarns is a weekly column that explores video games as narrative delivery devices. James Hawkins and Rich Shivener rotate week-to-week to discuss their opinions on some of gaming's most challenging and nuanced stories from all generations. Follow James on Twitter @JamesHawk1ns. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichShiv. 
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