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  • Hey, Wisecrack!

  • Jared here, and today we're talking about a game that was seemingly made for us.

  • Perhaps the most overtly philosophical game ever - "It seems this Nietzsche was quite

  • the profound thinker.”

  • NieR:Automata.

  • NieR:Automata is game about 3 androids: 2B, as in or not 2B, the moody 9S, and the jaded

  • A2.

  • Along the way, they fight adorable but lethal machines, and eventually each other, on a

  • futuristic earth where the line between right and wrong has taken a vacation and is never

  • coming back.

  • The world of NieR:Automata is crawling with machines named after philosophers whom you

  • must befriend or behead - mostly the latter.

  • But these wisdom-loving death bots aren't always just throwaway characters, they often

  • point toward the complex philosophy at the heart of the game.

  • At its core, NieR:Automata challenges players to consider how we make meaning and truth,

  • who we are as gamers, and why video games matter.

  • Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on the philosophy of NieR:Automata.

  • This video was made in collaboration with an awesome channel called Extra Credits.

  • You can catch a link to them and their video on NieR:Automata at the end of this episode.

  • And if you're visiting us from Extra Credits, welcome and be sure to subscribe!

  • Oh, and watch outmajor spoilers ahead.

  • The story takes place on Earth more than nine thousand years in the future and follows two

  • groups of automata.

  • There's androids designed to hold human consciousness, but who eventually developed

  • independent thought, and machines, who were created by the aliens that invaded earth.

  • Androids and machines fight a genocidal proxy war on behalf of their masters.

  • Though the player mostly controls android characters, choosing sides is not that easy

  • because by the game's halfway point, we learn both humans and aliens have been dead

  • for millennia.

  • "Humans were already extinct when the aliens attacked."

  • Absent their creators, Androids and machines are forced to make meaning for themselves,

  • and, if possible, stop seeing each other as enemies.

  • The fact that both humans and aliens are dead is not only a central plot twist; it encapsulates

  • the game's existential philosophy.

  • In fact, 2B's opening line: "I often think about the god who blessed us with this cryptic

  • puzzle, and wonder if we'll ever have the chance to kill him," might as well have been

  • pulled right from FriedrichPorn-stacheNietzsche, who wrote, “God is dead.

  • God remains dead.

  • And we have killed him.”

  • Now, I know, the phraseGod is Deadgets thrown around a lot by internet edgelords,

  • but what did Nietzche actually mean?

  • Before Nietzsche, many thinkers constructed reality in a similar way: God, Truth, and

  • Reason were all unfallible, unchanging, and universal concepts, which stood above or outside

  • of humankind, like supernatural forces animating the world and moving it toward progress.

  • In this view, humans don't make and control meaning themselves, it's some unreachable

  • deity or universal principle which gives human action meaning.

  • When Nietzche declared god dead, he criticized any system that locates the source of meaning

  • outside human lives, and popularized the idea of nihilism.

  • Nihilism is the belief that there is no great metaphysical force propelling us through the

  • world and making our lives special.

  • Existence can be shitty, and there's no grander meaning to comfort us, no puppet master

  • to save us.

  • Now, I know we can find Nietzsche in a lot of pop culture, but no piece of media embodies

  • it quite like NieR:Automata.

  • Androids and machines think their God-like masters are literally above them, on the moon

  • and in space, but those Gods are actually deadlike, rotting for millennia, dead.

  • As we learn from Adam and Eve, machines killed their alien overlords because they were static

  • and unchangingmuch like the unchanging deities and morals Nietzsche criticized.

  • "Oh, there's no need to fret about them.

  • They were simple, infantile, almost like plants, I guess you'd say."

  • Humans died after the mainframe holding their consciousnesses collapsesguess nobody

  • made backups.

  • If 'the death of god' is really about 'the death of a grand meaning,' then our dead aliens

  • and humans are only one element of the game's greater message about meaning.

  • You kill some of philosophy's biggest heroes, some characters lose sight of a purpose in

  • life, and the game repeatedly builds meaning around certain characters or plots and then

  • kills them off, usually by the player's own hand.

  • Each time this happens, the player has to reevaluate where their new meaning, mission,

  • and direction is going to come from.

  • Even YorHa, the android organization, eventually dies.

  • But YorHa is less like a god and more like a seedy government.

  • They know humanity's dead but hide it from the other androids.

  • Pretty fucked up, right?

  • YorHa perfectly exemplifies the Nietzschian point that, even once god's six feet under,

  • society doesn't just reboot.

  • Political, social, and psychological norms are left over from prior belief systems, and

  • we continue imposing these meanings on one another and ourselves.

  • 2B and 9S, spend much of the A and B playthroughs reassuring one another that machines don't

  • have emotions or personhood — “They don't have any feelings.

  • They're just imitating human speech.”

  • even when all evidence points to the contrary.

  • Child.

  • Child.”

  • No need for human masters to promote this idea, they do it to each other.

  • For Nietzsche, the best response to a meaningless universe and a dead God is to create meaning

  • for ourselves, or what he referred to as self-making.

  • In Nier:Automata, we encounter different machines named after philosophers engaged in this kind

  • of self-makingeach with their own responses to the meaning or meaninglessness of life.

  • There are quite a few existentialist machines to be found: Jean-Paul, as in Sartre, Simone

  • as in de Beauvoir, Pascal as in Pascal, and Kierkegaard as in Kierkegaard.

  • Each philosopher machine offers us a glimpse into one way of pursuing meaning.

  • Take Jean Paul, the avatar of Jean-Paul Sartre.

  • In the game, JP is basically a dark parody of his real life self.

  • Just like Sartre loathed institutional recognition, Jean-Paul is kind of an asshole who ignores

  • his devoted followers except for the pretty ones and eventually fucks off to the wilderness

  • to find meaning.

  • Nobody really misses him.

  • But before leaving, Jean-Paul highlights the game's themes when he throws around one

  • or two famous Sartre-isms, like the existentialist slogan, “existence precedes essence.”

  • Essentially, rather than some innate nature determining who we are before we're born,

  • each individual first exists in the world and then develops meaning and purpose.

  • It's all about radical freedom to become who we are through our actions and choices.

  • In the game, we see this everywhere, as machines transcend their intended purpose and find

  • new meaning.

  • Even the pods prove that their nature comes from existence, not a predetermined essence,

  • as they develop self consciousness.

  • “I must look very silly.”

  • In fact, most of the characters in the game are, as Sartre once suggested, condemned to

  • be free.

  • That's right: condemned.

  • Because without a higher power or innate nature controlling our actions, we bear ultimate

  • responsibility for our decisions, even as morality becomes super ambiguous.

  • And that's a tough place to be.

  • Just look at machines like this sad Engles boss who, like many of the game's characters,

  • is crushed beneath the weight of figuring out what's right, and he knows he bears

  • full responsibility for those decisions.

  • The Simone boss, named after Simone de Beauvoir, a French feminist philosopher, holds a mirror

  • to another aspect of meaning-making.

  • de Beauvoir famously suggested, “One is not born a woman, but becomes a woman.”

  • As the Simone boss realizes, one way we create meaning in our lives is by constructing certain

  • gender norms like beauty and femininity.

  • She literally becomes a woman by constructing herself and cannibalizing other machines to

  • improve her beauty.

  • Both de Beauvoir and her demented avatar teach us to watch out, lest we become monsters in

  • our attempt to make meaning through gender norms.

  • Simone's existential quest for connection through beauty is highlighted in her obsession

  • with Jean-Paul, which has historical roots, since de Beauvoir and Sartre were life-long

  • lovers.

  • The character of Pascal packs one of the biggest Nietzschian punches.

  • Though he's the avatar of Blaise Pascal, a mathematician, philosopher, and regular

  • renaissance man, he couldn't be more different than his real life counterpart.

  • As the pacifist leader of a machine village, Pascal puts a lot of faith in the ultimate

  • goodness of machines and androids.

  • But the real Pascal was a bit of a downer.

  • Unlike his idealistic avatar, real Pascal thought humanity was prideful, arrogant, and

  • unredeemable.

  • Without god, our lives are filled with anxiety and despair.

  • In fact, we have only one redeeming trait: "The greatness of human beings consists in

  • their ability to know their wretchedness."

  • But game Pascal comes around to the IRL Pascal's viewpoint.

  • In maybe the game's darkest twist,the peaceful villagers suddenly start eating each other

  • and when, even after setting aside his pacifism to defend the children — “I must protect

  • the children!” — they commit suicide anyway.

  • Game Pascal finally understands the wretchedness of himself and the machine.

  • When he despairs and asks you to kill him or delete his memory, the player has to face

  • their own wretchedness too and make a tough choice.

  • Some characters in the NieR universe try to make meaning through new religions.

  • Take Christian existentialist, Soren Kierkegaard, who makes an ironic appearance as the worshiped

  • leader of a small cult.

  • Kierkegaard believed the ultimate expression of one's freedom is to commit to certain

  • meaning and make it true by manifesting it in one's life, which he calls taking a leap

  • of faith.

  • Unfortunately, when some of Kierkegaard's followers take literal leaps of faith, it

  • doesn't turn out so well for them.

  • There are so many other philoso-bosses we could talk about: Karl Grün, Kant, Engles

  • and Marx, Ernst Bloch, Hegel, even the brothers Friedrich and August Schlegel.

  • Ro-shi, Ko-Shi, Boko-Shi, and So-Shi, are the Japanese pronunciations of Chinese philosophers

  • Laozhi, Confucius, Mozi, and Zhuangzi.

  • Zhuangzi was a Daoist philosopher who was into existentialism way before it was cool.

  • He claimed existence is full of cycles of light and dark, life and death, joy and sadness.

  • Only by accepting these cycles, including all unpleasant stuff, can we find contentment

  • in life.

  • NieR:Automata, taking a cue from Zhuangzi, bakes these cycles right into the gameplay.

  • As an extension of the game's existential themes, the mechanics emphasize the role of

  • cycles and repetition in creating meaning.

  • Cycles are everywhere: androids