Words About Video Games

Transistor: Who is Red?

Transistor's digital dystopia, where the entire city--from the street layout to the weather--is in constant flux at the whims of the residents, is easily the most thought-provoking setting I've encountered in video games this year.

Likewise, the villains--a group that goes to extreme methods to restore meaning to a city that never has a fixed form--are not monsters incapable of feeling remorse over the destruction their methods have caused.

It's a game brimming with ideas, but in spite of its stunning aesthetic, it holds the player at arm's length, never quite inviting them into the narrative the way the developer's previous game, Bastion, did.

I think that's ultimately to the game's detriment. The silent protagonist worked in Bastion because the Kid had no particular role in the story outside of what the player saw when they were playing as him, and the player made all of the Kid's choices.

But Transistor's story is Red's story in the way Bastion's story was not really about the Kid. That is, the final moments of Bastion are about what will happen to the world; the final moments of Transistor are about Red. And Transistor denies the player any choice in how Red's story plays out.

I think that's why the ending of Transistor feels unearned. We don't know Red all that much better when the game ends than when it started. We don't know how she feels about anything that she's witnessing, or how we, as her, are supposed to feel, because these parts of her memory, her experience, her desires are blocked off from us by the silent protagonist trope.