MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
In my earlier post on Transistor I discussed the Camerata, the four people who act as the game’s antagonists. It seems that Transistor is yet another game in which I side with the villains because I don’t understand the protagonists.
Transistor’s two protagonists are a 27-year-old female superstar singer named Red and her male love interest, whose consciousness became trapped inside the Transistor after the device was forcibly impaled through his physical body. This man doesn’t have a name, so I am going to call him “Sword Boyfriend.”
It’s not clear what exactly happened to Sword Boyfriend. The player learns that the “trace data” of a human being can be uploaded into the Transistor if that person is physically stabbed with the blade. However, since there seems to be trace data of people who haven’t been penetrated by the Transistor stored in the sword, I don’t understand why anyone has to be killed at all.
For example, even though Sword Boyfriend sacrificed himself to save Red from an attack by the Camerata, the Transistor contains Red’s trace data. Red has lost her voice for some reason that’s never explained, although Sword Boyfriend says that it was taken from her by the Camerata. Since Red doesn’t speak and only communicates by typing, I’m assuming this is literal. Perhaps her voice serves as her trace data; but, because she’s attacked on her way out of a concert at which she had just performed, and because she was physically shielded from the attack by Sword Boyfriend, I don’t understand when or how her voice could have been taken from her.
What this means is that we have is an impossibly skinny woman running around in a yellow minidress and heels who can’t speak for no discernable reason. Within the first hour and a half of the game she actually goes to her apartment to eat a flatbread and chill out for a bit, but she still doesn’t change into an outfit more suitable for violent combat in the disintegrating remains of her cybercity. So let’s call her Manic Pixie Murder Girl.
Why has Manic Pixie Murder Girl lost her voice?
Since she can type, she’s not a silent protagonist, thus eliminating her silence as a reference to that trope. If she could communicate on a more consistent basis and better interact with the world around her, she’d come off as less of a victim and more in control of her situation… and I guess we can’t have that? So she hums (holding the L1 button will quiet the background music so the player can hear her hum), because her singing makes her seem more tragic and fragile and beautiful and… I just can’t, sorry.
What I’m trying to say is that, in a cultural climate in which there are very few female player characters, rendering a female protagonist as delicate and voiceless is somewhat…
Sword Boyfriend isn’t much better.
At the end of the game, Red stabs herself with the Transistor so that her consciousness can live in its virtual world together with Sword Boyfriend. Several images of Red and Sword Boyfriend hanging out together are shown as the end credits roll, but the player is never able to see Sword Boyfriend’s face. We don’t know the shape of his eyes or the curve of his nose, and we’re never told his name. We also don’t find out how he knew Red or why (or whether) he seemingly refused to register his data with the Cloudbank network. The important things that the player wants to know about him (especially a player attracted to men) remain a mystery.
In other words, whereas the female protagonist is completely open to the gaze of the player while not being able to speak, the male protagonist is able to create and manage his identity with his own words.
I’m just going to say it – this is sexist.
Sexism aside, it’s also boring. There were so many plot holes and gaps in characterization regarding Red and Sword Boyfriend that it was difficult to care about them as much as I cared about the Camerata, who were fascinating to me.
Who the Camerata were, and what their relationship to each other was, and what they were trying to do – all of these things become increasingly clear as the story unfolds. Since the player is able to uncover all manner of information about them (even as the two protagonists remain a mystery), it’s easy to form an affective attachment.
In fact, I sympathize with Royce Bracket, the game’s primary antagonist, in a way that I don’t sympathize with Red and Sword Boyfriend. Royce wanted to satisfy his personal curiosity concerning the origins and functions of Cloudbank while making the city a better and more meaningful place to live for all of its citizens. He is something of a Faust figure who is undone by his quest for knowledge; but, when compared to the solipsism of Red and Sword Boyfriend, his sins don’t seem all that dire. While Royce was actively trying to save Cloudbank from The Process, Red and Sword Boyfriend were just out for revenge. After she kills Royce, instead of sticking around to help the city and its citizens, Red decides to kill herself.
One might argue that Cloudbank was hedonistic and deserved its fate, but think about it – how would you feel if your home were being destroyed and the one person capable of helping you decided that she just didn’t care?
Transistor was a lot of fun, but it left me with so many questions.
( Header image from the Transistor Wiki )