Every Day a Tribunal // Everyday a Shot

What's new in Disco Elysium - The Final Cut | Green Man Gaming
Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi and Lieutenant Harry DuBois

Matthew 7:1-3: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

  1. It’s a Hot One

It’s at least 86 degrees in my apartment according to my thermostat. For some reason the AC isn’t working. Machines are funny things, they work until they don’t. It’s reductive to call human beings machines, but we too, work until we don’t.

And so I sit here with a sweaty stemless wine glass of cheap whiskey and diet cream soda blasting the soundtrack to the video game Disco Elysium. The thing about using diet sodas as mixer is the drink mostly tastes like whiskey.

Folks far wiser than I have expounded at length about Disco Elysium, the game where an alcoholic, drug addict cop attempts to solve a murder in a world that looks strangely like our own, but isn’t. What I want to talk about today is a Tribunal.

The arc of Disco Elysium is murder mystery…until it isn’t. In the final act of the game Disco Elysium reveals itself as not being about murder at all and instead being about politics and how individual actors within political systems relate to politics, history, culture, and all the other nice fancy words people sling around casually in undergraduate theory class.

The final act of the game sees the two protagonists (heroes?) Lieutenant Double-yefreitor Harrier DuBois (Harry) and Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi (the only good cop?) intervene between the Martinaise Débardeurs’ Union and Krenel, a private military company. Krenel is looking for who killed one of their operatives. The Dockworkers Union has very publicly claimed credit, but at this point the player has serious suspicions the Dockworkers did not do it.

  1. Tribunal

What follows is a long scene, replete with choices where the player (in the form of Harry) intervenes in the dispute and ultimately fights with the Dockworkers against Krenel, who are happy to see the poor people of Martinaise burn.

In my playthrough Harry was able to gun down some of the Krenel operatives and was ultimately saved by Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi after taking a bullet.

What I can’t escape is the use of the word “Tribunal.” The minute the player learns about Krenel, you learn that they plan to hold a Tribunal. No one, including the player, thinks this will be an official process.

During the Tribunal you realize that the murder mystery never mattered. Even if you found out who the killer was it would not matter to Krenel, judgment will come no matter what. Instead, I think the game is asking a far more complex, though more easily worded question:

What is judgment? What is good?

In my playthrough, at the end of the Tribunal scene Kim Kitsuragi produces his gun and kills the final member of Krenel. A few hours earlier he had missed an easy shot with the gun. A local kid made fun of his eyesight.

Kim makes the shot.

When Harry wakes up after he himself is shot Kim is smoking. On other days in the game he smokes at night, right before you bid him goodnight he says he only smokes one cigarette a day. Now, he’s smoking in the daytime.

“I killed her” – Kim

“I thought you only smoked one a day.” – Harry

“This is the one.”

3. Heat

The other day I saw a tweet that said in the heat people’s mental health goes out the window. I can’t get it out of my head.

I think heat is more than just the temperature we feel.

I started this piece with a quote from the Bible, which is something people do when they want to sound dramatic or poetic or insightful. I chose it because it’s a line that sticks in my head. In my head I say it with a darkly southern accent. Judge not. Lest ye be judged.

I’m struggling to articulate what Disco Elysium means to me just like I’ve struggled my whole life to show any emotion. My entire childhood and teenage years I was either physically bullied or mentally bullied. I was told I was nothing, I was told that I’d never fit in. That I wasn’t normal, that no matter what I did or how well I acted in society there would always be some giveaway, some fault, some mistake that would reveal that my entire persona was a castle of lies.

My whole life I’ve been judged. And the way I coped was to judge back.

The politics of Disco Elysium are fascinating and deserve something more than an introspective essay. But to me, the Tribunal, Harry’s rise out of addiction, Kim Kitsuragi’s friendship, Krenel’s absolute indifference to the people of Martinaise is about being judged. It’s about judging. It’s about the chaos that ensues when the gulf between our desire to connect with other human beings brushes up against all the things that get in the way – language, history, context, emotion, and anything else.

I still don’t know what I think about what comes next, for me, the people I love, the world, but I know that there is a strange beauty and awe in our world and a whole mess of absurdity. And I know that everyday we hold our own tribunals of ourselves, where the voice(s) inside of us give their opinions of our actions and we are found wanting. We should do like Harry and Kim and the Dockworkers Union and fight back, in any way we can.

When the Tribunal comes for you, don’t miss. You always knew how to see, you just didn’t realize it.