Let’s dip back to Paradise Killer for a minute. We talked previously about how it works as a detective story, how it deals with truth and closure within the constraints of a video game. This week, I want to talk about how it deals with lying. Paradise Killer is a murder mystery, a game where you construct a case as to the identity of the murderer or murderers. The idea of storytelling is obviously very important – you build your story, your narrative of what happened, and other people will try and sell you their stories along the way. ‘Story’ is often misunderstood here to mean a lie or a fiction, something untrue – but in the strictest sense, it’s just a way of organising information. I was in the parlour, and I heard a crash, and so I ran through to the living room. That’s information – it’s an efficient way to transfer knowledge or experience. It’s an efficient way to convey meaning.
So when you play Paradise Killer, you sift through all these different stories – some of them true, and some false. You listen to what people tell you, and you cross-reference things, and you look to catch people out when they contradict themselves or each other – you build your own story as a master narrative, as a collage tapestry made out of the stories told to you by others. And what’s really interesting here is how people react when you catch them in a lie. Often in detective stories these moments of revelation give you insight into how a person really feels – as their story changes, you get this deeper understanding into a person’s character and personality. The mask slips, the narrative is abandoned, and the true identity rears its head. There are so many examples here – for instance, in Legally Blonde, when Chutney is caught in a lie, she blurts out “I didn’t mean to shoot him! I thought it was you walking through the door!” The truth erupts out of her, revealing a crime of passion, and someone who was obviously tormented by what they’d done – someone looking to justify their mistake and lash out at the person she was actually trying to hurt. Alternately, in Brooklyn Nine Nine, Jake tricks a confession out of a dentist by accusing him of a series of lucky escapes – the dentist then confesses as a show of arrogance, as proof that he was actually very smart and calculated about the murder, and not lucky at all. Again, what’s revealed is the character of the dentist – how he needs to be seen as smart, needs to be respected by everyone.
In Paradise Killer, then, it’s interesting to note that when people are caught in a lie, they abandon their storytelling altogether. They don’t pose counter-narratives, they don’t poke holes in your theories – the conversation noticeably degrades. For instance, in the image above, when you press your friend about whether she broke into the council building, she just asks your question back to you: “You really think I was on the roof of the Council building trying to break in?” Similarly, when you note disparities in evidence that contradict the official story, the Grand Marshall tells you your theories are “total rahat,” and declares “You’re the thing that’s wrong here” (below). Finally, when you find hard evidence suggesting a character was involved in murdering the council (at the very bottom), you’re told “This is the most tenuous thing I’ve ever heard.” Examples could be multiplied further – but the general trend is personal attacks, questions about how you could even come up with such a theory – rather than counter-narratives or explanations, it’s outrage or offense at your actual process of building a narrative.
In that sense, Paradise Killer operates a little differently to some of these other examples that I mentioned earlier. We don’t necessarily see slipping masks, a false narrative replaced with a reveal of true intention. Instead, these characters have their single story, and then express incomprehension and rage when that story is tested. There’s a sense of hopelessness or frustration in their actions – there’s no initiative, no ability to evolve a story as inconvenient facts are discovered. Paradise Killer is a story about a bunch of people who are very bad at constructing a narrative, and one investigator with a gift for it. We mentioned this last week – but as the detective, you can come up with a range of different stories as to the events that took place, including laying the blame at the feet of innocent parties.
Really, your chaotic disassembling of established narratives makes you the Paradise Killer of the title. It’s not the murder of the council that kills Paradise – it’s the fact that they let you in to resolve it. Paradise Island is a false ideal, a series of unsuccessful attempts to reach perfection. It is a façade, a mutually shared narrative that doesn’t necessarily line up with the absolute truth. By challenging that narrative, by disassembling the various stories and tales of different characters, you in some sense undermine the island’s foundation. The freedom with which you combine, recombine, and challenge different stories is dizzying for the other characters. They’re repulsed by it, they resent it – it’s a threat. It’s an independent source of narrative, beholden to her own ideals of truth and justice – and not those under the control of the Syndicate. Who kills Paradise? You do.