When I first played The 25th Ward: The Silver Case, I was very glad to find someone who was as terrified of apartment complexes as I was. I had a really awful job one summer that had me go door to door in one of these buildings, handing out flyers, collecting signatures, just being a pest. This was a few years ago but what always sticks with me is that unreal, inhuman landscape. Several floors (nearly 20, in fact) comprised of the exact same hallway. Same number of doors spaced exactly the same distance apart. Harsh fluorescent lighting illuminating vomit-inducing magenta walls. Not a single window to be found either. If you stayed in those halls for long enough, I think you would be completely disassociated from existence itself. Truth be told, it seemed I was someplace else not found on this Earth when I worked that job. Strangest of all is that despite my job, collecting signatures and canvassing, I do not remember a single face from that building. It’s fitting, since I cannot imagine this is a place where people live.
You leave the building and look at it from the outside and it just looks an unimpressive, brown, squat block of nothing. You wouldn’t guess the nightmare inside. The lives all crammed in an environment bearing no signs of life whatsoever. I don’t want to sound unhinged, but I realized sometime that summer that the existence of apartment complexes betrays something unwell within us. What does it take to come up with apartment complexes? A pathological need to manage human lives. To compartmentalize and organize people, to ensure that no one is taking up more space than they’re worth. There are too many people, so we need to build little broilers for them.
There’s plenty that is alienating about our cities that more and more do not seem to reflect the humanity of those dwelling within them. Suda’s The 25th Ward, envisions a municipal system that is utterly dispassionate in its management of people. Not so much a dystopia as it is a utopia that operates too smoothly for comfort. There is no ideology here and The 25th Ward isn’t interested in contemporary boogeymen to blame for the state of its world. The crime here is fundamental to the concept of governance itself, existing in perpetual tension with a natural proclivity to destruction that opposes the life of the system as much as it fuels it. In The 25th Ward, that impulse is given a name and a face: Kamui Uehara, a kind of memetic, conceptual serial killer that doesn’t so much exist in a physical reality as manifest within the deepest layers of the system. There’s a codependency here. The object is controlling and subverting human nature, not changing it entirely. Like many of Goichi Suda’s work before the success of No More Heroes, there’s an undeniable anxiety here, an awareness that your institutions are stripping your soul bare even as it drives you to new depths of depravity. The game channels Suda’s long-time idol, Takashi Miike. Despite the devastation, death, and violence, the central conflict is one that is impossible to resolve. The question isn’t whether the Wards can be redeemed or saved, but if its individuals can remain so. It is unclear how much of this anger and anxiety remains with Suda today, whose most recent works (Travis Strikes Again and No More Heroes 3) offer a reconciliation with trauma that would have been unthinkable in the earlier days of his career. Taking this alone as indication, I am glad the man seems to be in a better place. There does not seem to be hope for most of us, but if you can manage to kill the life that traps you then I suppose you should get out while you can. That’s the honesty I have always appreciated from Suda. You cannot save the world, but you might just barely be able to save yourself. Jury’s still out on how the latter’s going to go for the rest of us.