I have been struggling with something that can only be described as an inescapable feeling of unreality. I exist in the world, but I do not live in it. Here, my existence is bound by a kind of grim pragmatism. My body is an assemblage of machines, an assembly line of production and expulsion. Life isn’t so much a choice as it is a default state that I am uninterested in arguing with. However, there is another place I inhabit, one where the mundane brutalities of this world give way to pure feeling and impulse. I think the word is melancholia. Sure, I wish I were someplace else (who doesn’t?). But I’ve gone beyond wishing. My libidinal impulses pull me to this world; this is where I live. This is distinct from nostalgia, or people’s remembrances of a time when life was a bit more colorful. Nostalgia compares some lost, or hypothetical, reality to the present. It is a yearning for something that isn’t, and it requires acceptance that it can never be. However, melancholia necessitates that you never concede this, even as the world grows colder and greyer and duller. There is no future, the past is dead, but you live in an unending present looped ad infinitum. Paradise is real and it’s in your head.
Grasshopper Manufacture’s Flower Sun and Rain (FSR) is about a man getting everything he wants and finding that it is not enough. No matter where he is, no matter what he does, he cannot escape from the fact of his own existence. Sumio Mondo is a searcher, a kind of investigator/adventurer that, as per his namesake, travels the world finding things for various people who want them found. He is on Lospass, a small Micronesian resort island, to find a bomb planted somewhere on the premises. Here, it is necessary to place this game alongside Grasshopper’s debut title, The Silver Case, to which FSR has more than a few thematic and narrative tethers. Silver Case shows us the dead-end of history, a truly grey world where even evil has been supplanted by convenience and bureaucracy. The 24th Ward is a machine comprised of smaller machines, it’s machines all the way down to the people themselves. Anything authentic these people could have had ekes its way out through taboo and fetishes, desperate spasms symptomatic of a deeply set psychic rot. The pathology is this: you know you are going nowhere. Your life is a Gilliamesque product of the whims of pencil-pushers and middle managers. The city is featureless, too deadened to even bother decorating itself with trash. This is 1999. In 2001, Lospass whisks you away from all this drudgery. Unlike the 24th Ward, Lospass is all wide-open spaces. Masafumi Takada’s alienating, eerie synths give way to woodwind, drums, and violin. The prior game’s on-rails movement and cramped user interface give way to fully controllable, omnidirectional 3D movement. Indeed, the whole game is just about that – walking, under a forever blue sky. Played back-to-back with Silver Case, there is a sense of resurrection. This is what living feels like. This is how it should be.
The only problem is Mondo himself, the interloper and tourist, who at every turn seems out of place in Losspas’ naturalistic surroundings with his suit and briefcase. With the demeanor of a burned-out yuppie, Mondo fulfills various requests for the island’s denizens, all the while finding himself a man out of his element. But that’s all well with him because his element sucks. It’s concrete, billboards and lost futures. Lospass stretches out impossibly before him, bursting with possibilities he could never have imagined. What he finds here are encounters with various people that come alive when no one is looking, not unlike the people you will meet in midnight blind alleys or on deserted subway trains. These are our best people, and Lospass is full of these eccentrics. Our neuroses and precarity have led to increasingly atomized, isolated lives. Each person an individual who has managed to monopolize their own pain and shame, but Lospass is a community. People know each other here.
What were we here for again? A bomb? It doesn’t really matter. Sit a while, put up your feet, live a little. Of course, this is too good to be true. You need to come down off of this, right back down to earth so you can get back to your squirming and struggling. If Silver Case captures the feeling of nightmare, then FSR is the sad realization that a dream is coming to an end, even as you are living it. It’s seeing everything you want and need dissolve before your eyes because this toilet of a world we’ve built for ourselves will deny you even your delusions. Sumio Mondo becomes Sumio Kodai and finds himself once more in the Wards, once more under that grey sky. He’s not an adventurer, just some cop. He leaves this paradise and slams the door shut behind him. However, his existence – his physical being itself – is slowing growing immaterial, he finds himself living in that borderland between the real and fantasy. The Sumio Kodai that returned from Lospass is lighter somehow, lacking in substance, and seemingly untethered to the world he has come back to. Sometimes, he could almost float off the ground and you think he is not really here.
Everyone has encountered these people. They’re right in front of you, but they’re not. I knew someone who got too old to keep things straight up there. For them, each day seemed akin to flitting – or living – through a highlight reel of their own life. Hearing the same tune over and over again in an empty house, but the more it plays the hollower and tinnier it sounds until the tape itself begins to fall apart and you see that this house – you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else – is rotting from the inside. The lights go dark, but the song still plays. Is there any other way to live?