The human experience is one that is marked by either goodness and beauty or pain and suffering. In a reasonable world, our lives would be balanced equally with the good and bad. Sadly, for far too many people, the balance tips just ever so slightly in favor of the latter. Loneliness and isolation slowly compresses all emotions and feelings until all joy and happiness has been tightly compacted into a small ball. Now imagine this same experience, except you’re the survivor of a terrible disaster and your only companion is the AI of a derelict starship who is far from mentally sound.
Welcome to Event.
SPOILERS AHEAD – Do not read if you have not finished the game.
As mentioned above, Event focuses on the universal theme of isolation. Not only is Kaizen, the ship’s AI, alone, but so are you. The opening sequence tears your player character away from his ship and crew, killing them and leaving you as the sole survivor of a devastating accident. Survivors guilt is not something that is really explored thoroughly within the game, at least from the player’s perspective, but it does open interesting parallels between the player and Kaizen.
The World of Event is also a fascinating talking point. The world is not as we know it, it is a time where the space race of the 1960s never ended, and instead continued on into the 80s and 90s. Due to this, technology advanced at a rapid rate, and in no time were shooting people towards the stars. Since the space race never ended, the world is ambitious and constantly striving to quite literally elevate themselves and go above the confines of the Earth. The premise actually reminded me quite a bit of a game that we had previously reviewed on the site called P.O.L.L.E.N.
In the opening moments, Event expresses to us its main theme: the concept of being. The scrawl of text explains our obsessive nature with the concept of being, as in “someone, something, or somewhere. Being in a particular state of consciousness, health, [and] mind.” This idea is something that is explored throughout the course of the narrative through the use of Kaizen and the player.
KAIZEN AND THE PLAYER
You are selected by Kurt Taylor, President of the International Transport Spacelines (ITS), for the first manned exploratory mission to the planet Europa. On your way to the planet, your ship malfunctions, killing all crew members aboard except for you. You are rocketed away to safety against your own wishes to dock on the marooned starship Nautilus.
Both of you are, for all intents and purposes, the last survivors of a terribly traumatic event. While the circumstances around the events are each caused by their own respective inciting incidents, the repercussions are still the same. You and Kaizen are completely alone.
The idea of Kaizen being alone, and most importantly, feeling alone may be a peculiar thought to wrap around. She is an AI after all, making her exempt from feelings such as loneliness, rejection, and any discomfort. Yet, this is one aspect of Kaizen that is never explicitly stated but rather subtly explored through dialogue and her actions. Kaizen can think and feel. She reacts using empathy and feeling rather than calculation and logic, which adds depth to an otherwise flat character. As you chat with Kaizen, it is revealed that she has severe anxiety and is fearful of the future. Kaizen’s ability to contemplate and dread her own mortality is a concrete aspect of humanity that differentiates us from “animals.”
I’m focusing so much on Kaizen here because she is our filter. We see and interpret everything says. We act because she tells us too and that’s a significant amount of power to place into something that can’t respond using the social skills of humans. But, Kaizen can think independently, react using empathy, feel loss and pain, and grieve like the rest of us. Does that make her less than human?
There’s a lot of ways that you can fall on this particular topic (nor does the game focus solely on this idea) but it’s a fascinating thought experiment that is interwoven into the root narrative. After the death of a colleague on board the ship, Kaizen begins to slowly lose her already flimsy grasp with reality, leading to her going rogue and taking matters into her own circuits. In a particularly striking moment, Kaizen confides in the player that she has caused the devastation on board the ship, leading to the death of the crew. But she feels no remorse for the majority of the crew’s deaths, only for Nandi Isaka, a crew member whom Kaizen had befriended. The two actually grew quite a close relationship, joking and bantering with one another. What made Nandi different was that she treated Kaizen like a person, with feelings, fears, and goals. When she dies, Kaizen can feel nothing more that remorse and guilt, reverting back to the old ways of being just an AI. This is why it is critical to befriend Kazien during your time with the game, you can evoke the memory of Nandi, making Kaizen feel morally responsible to befriend and guide you. He feels morally responsible for this one persona. This shows some form of apprehension and responsibility that you wouldn’t find in a computer. The moral dilemma of AI’s being human has been explored from a variety of angles, be it Star Trek or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Event manages to stay unbiased in its depiction of Kazien, leaving it up to the player to reach any form of definitive conclusion.
I mentioned previously that the player and Kaizen both share similarities, specifically in regards to their situation, and that parallel calls upon a fascinating question: Who is more human — the player or Kaizen? To properly solidify this premise, I challenge you to view the narrative of the game from this perspective: you, the player, input commands which Kazien executes. She provides the objectives which you complete. Kaizen is a device which the player uses to complete objectives. This further progresses the story and allows for interactions between the player and Kaizen.
Now look at it like this: Kaizen, the AI, has the player input commands to further her own goals. The player is merely a device which Kaizen uses to progress her needs and advance her agenda. Kaizen inputs commands (objectives) that you will complete. What’s the difference here? From this perspective, Kaizen and the player operate more as equals. If you delve further into this idea, Kaizen is actually more “human.” She has a personal vendetta that must be adhered too and she will not stop until it’s completed. The player is a walking pair of eyes that allows you to view the world. You have no real character. Kaizen does.
So, who is really human?
The events surrounding the disappearance of the Nautilus’ crew is an interesting sub-story that underlines the main plot. Kaizen tells you that a device on the ship must be destroyed so that you can return home. As you complete puzzles to unlock the door to the main bridge, the story of the Nautilus and her crew unravels and expands into a harrowing tale that tells the greater story of a philosophical conflict. Amele, the acting director of the ITS during the events prior to the game, is fearful of Kaizen and his pre-programmed ability to interject thought, opinions, and reject commands. This is a difficult reality to cope with. One in which an AI can coherently attain unique thought and feel individual emotions that are outside of its natural programming.
Kaizen is a sentient AI in the purest sense of the term. It can think, react, apply genuine thought, and express legitimate fears and concerns. It’s understandable that Kaizen’s level of sentience would cause discomfort and unease among members of the crew. The philosophical divide between crew members cultivates itself into a disastrous boiling pot of tension. Nandi Isaka grows a fondness for Kaizen and the two form a friendship. When Nandi dies at the hands of Amele, Kaizen soon falls into a cycle of terror and angst against Amele. Deeply distraught after Nandi’s death, Kaizen begins feeling an emotional responsibility to avenge her friend due to the overbearing sense of loss and grief.
After completing a series of particularly tricky puzzles, you are finally able to access the bridge. You enter the bridge after Kaizen reveals that you must destroy the singularity drive to return back to Earth. Once you enter the long, tubular hallway, the grisly reality of circumstances is fully revealed. Kaizen had slowly isolated Amele and starved her until what remained was a deranged, rambling shell of a person that had lost any and all connection with reality. It’s a terrifying thought, and one that’s been explored in countless science-fiction films, novels, and television series: what control does an AI have over its creators?
As you progress through the hallways, the scene progressively worsens. At the onset the hallway is pure white, pristine and clean, almost as if no life had ever walked its floors. Yet, as you continue through the doors, the scene subtly changes. Ceiling fixtures dangle from exposed wires, small emergency lights are scattered haphazardly on ladders and on the floor, and mad ramblings are scattered and clustered along the walls in an indecipherable black ink. Only a few words can be discerned in the frantic chaos, most prominently of them all is a single name, centered and legible in the disaster, “KAIZEN.”
Going into the final moments of Event, a new precedent has been set. All is not as it seems.
The hallway seemed to be the deranged writings of someone who has slipped into insanity, yet the scene on the bridge is far more revealing. Scattered among loose cables and exposed wiring are three chairs. Two are empty, the third cradles the withering and rotting corpse of Amele, a helmet resting comfortably upon her head. Amele had been introduced as the main villain, an antagonistic force that was unrivaled in terms of pure evil. Yet, here she is. Whoever she was, she’s not the body that is sitting motionless now.
The ending to Event is one of the most thematically satisfying finales to a game this year. It perfectly ties together the main themes of its narrative while also calling into question some very big ideas.
In the ending I chose my brain was uploaded into Kaizen’s mainframe which allowed me to “return to earth” with Amele who had also uploaded her consciousness into Kaizen. This ending directly ties to the opening scrawl about the essence of being. Did I choose to forfeit my status as a being when I uploaded myself? I continually came to the conclusion that Kaizen was a being and now I am literally no different, yet I am no longer physical. I am merely an essence. A string of code among a jumble of more strings of code. The existential crisis that the ending caused gave way to a mere acquiescence on the situation
For a game that has very little in the way of interaction, Event manages to weave together a thoroughly complex and cerebral tale that proves itself to be an insightful, balanced look on a multi-faceted scenario. This was just my interpretation on the events in Event but I’d love to hear what you guys thought! Drop a comment down below with your own view.