Diversity Aboveground: An Undertale of Life

The world of Undertale

SPOILER WARNING:

This column will discuss all possible endings and game play.

Just two months ago, the game, Undertale, was released to eager anticipation after nearly three years of development. The RPG lived up to the hype, claiming a 93% satisfaction rate among its users on Steam and garnering three nominations at The Game Awards 2015. Why? How is this game, produced independently and funded through a Kickstarter, so much better than the others? What makes it so important?

Undertale resembles an 8 bit game; looking like it would have been at home on the Atari 2600 or the original NES. Everything, but the cut scenes, is the top down view, similar to the early Zelda games. This is where the similarities end. Undertale may have been inspired by those early gaming systems but its story and characters are a product of these past few years.

Frisk in flowers

Frisk

On the surface, humans appear to live without want; the privileged elite. Below them, the monsters aren’t so lucky. Some struggle to make ends meet. Others want a better life for their family where they can prosper. Others harbor resentment and hatred towards the humans. It was losing a war to the humans that led to their banishment underground.

Undertale’s protagonist is Frisk. Apart from the clothing, nothing is concrete about Frisk. They are left with no discernible gender, age or ethnicity in order to be the “Everyman”. Frisk can be whatever the player projects on them. The game doesn’t ask the gender of the player or which gender they would like to make Frisk. Instead, pronouns like “they”, or “guys” that the Northerners use instead of y’all, are used throughout the game; a truly gender neutral character.

Frisk falls into the underground. Not only do they have to face the races that their people have oppressed but Frisk is surrounded by those who hate all humans without ever knowing any. This game is about the choices made in life shown through a fantastical, sarcastic lens. Undertale has three possible routes for Frisk to take as they attempt to escape from the monsters and back into their human home.

The first option for Frisk to take is the True Pacifist route. Frisk doesn’t kill anyone. Instead, they talk to their bully. Sometimes, they might hug or sing to their opponent. Their non-violence shows the monsters how not all humans are violent and makes some of the monsters want to be more moral as well. One boss write afterwards, “Hey. Thanks for your help back there. You guys… Your support means a lot to me. But… As difficult as it is to say this… You guys alone cant make my problems magically go away. I want to be a better person. I don’t want to be afraid anymore. And for that to happen I have to be able to face my own mistakes. I’m going to start doing that now. I want to be clear. This isn’t anyone else’s problem but mine.” Frisk learns the importance of trying to understand those who want to kill them so there can be a different outcome.

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A friendly spider sat down beside her...

Sometimes, as in real life, people slip and can’t resist a spot of violence now and then. For those who falter along their pacifist journey, there is the middle route aka the Neutral Route. Neutral is not the best name for it because it’s not being neutral. A player actively decided not to complete the True Pacifist Route. Like our choices in life, the choices in the game haunt the player for the rest of the game’s existence, even on subsequent play-throughs. Characters remember Frisk’s acts of kindness or whether Frisk refused to help them. If Frisk was honorable, then characters will help the best way they know how, but bad decisions by Frisk will result in hurt feelings, characters that will carry that grievance the rest of their life or a very angry spider that will fight you because you didn’t buy her donut! Yes, no one can escape the PTA bake sale.

The third option for Frisk’s journey is the Genocide route. This is when Frisk has learned that monsters assume humans are bad and want to kill all humans so Frisk decides to kill all the monsters first. In order to succeed, there can be no mercy. Frisk must kill everyone they come across.

Frisk enters the underworld by falling through the grave of the “fallen child”. The player names the fallen child but when asked what the fallen child should be named, the creator, Toby Fox, responded, “Your name.” Why should the player empathize with this dead child as well as Frisk? This fallen child was the original pursuer of the Genocide Route except they hated both monsters and humans. They delighted in bullying others and controlling them. In fact, the fallen child, also known as Chara, seems to be a psychopath ruled by an id. It’s the possibility that lies within all of us; to kill or separate everyone who’s different from us.

Papyrus

“I feel that it’s important to make every monster feel like an individual. If you think about it basically all monsters in RPGs are the same … They attack you, you heal, you attack them, they die. There’s no meaning to that,” said creator Toby Fox in a 2013 article. “Yes, the choice to kill or not kill will continue to be significant. If you kill certain people, then you can’t be friends with them. Is there any benefit to being friends to people? Is it possible to play the game without having anyone die? Hahaha… I can’t tell you…”

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To further show how difficult a life of hate can be, the Genocide route is almost impossible. It requires the player to kill over 100 characters including bosses and you have to kill a certain number of characters before killing the boss or you will still only count as Neutral. You can’t half-ass genocide. However, since every encounter with a character forces the player to realize that there are options other than killing; they have to accept those choices and still choose murder. Still, which is harder for a player: killing everyone they encounter without thinking about turning back or playing a Pacifist route without killing that goes against every other game they’ve ever played?

Undertale should also be noteworthy because Toby Fox didn’t just create the original story and idea behind it. He also coded every single line, wrote all the music and did about everything except for some art design by Temmie Chang. Kickstarters have the ability to take power away from the corporations and let more unusual, less marketable ideas flourish.

The rocks could be Frisk's ally.

*Those with Epilepsy or sensitivities to flashing lights should not play the Genocide route especially the final boss.

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Tessa Thompson

One of this weekend’s new films, Creed, features a character with progressive hearing loss. ¬†Bianca (Tessa Thompson) wears hearing aids and practices her American Sign Language skills on the screen. The original casting for the film required “Must be fluent in American sign language” for various roles.

“People with disabilities are hugely underrepresented and not talked about enough in culture, particularly film culture,” Thompson said in an interview earlier this month.¬†“We tend to think about it through our own lens as someone who is not disabled, we think of it as something so terrible, because we can’t fathom it for ourselves.”

However, Thompson not having first-hand experience with hearing impairment has raised criticism of Audism with the deaf community. Audism is the discrimination of those with hearing impairments from those without. Discrimination could be as simple as American Airlines not providing Closed Captioning for their in-flight films or someone being passed over for a job because they require an ASL interpretor. Just last month, Doctor Who cast a British actress, Sophie Stone, who’s been deaf since birth for a two-parter which raises the question of why companies continue to cast those without physical or mental difficulties for those roles rather than those who live with that situation every day.

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So, you’ve seen Jessica Jones, right?

Next week, NBC is airing a new version of The Wiz.

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