Finding Hope in the Dark World of Nier

Nier: Automata is enjoying a moment right now, having recently surpassed one million shipped units. In a month, it’s exceeded the lifetime sales of the original Nier, which is remembered more as a cult success than a financial success.

But despite its low profile, Nier still connected with many players. Some found comfort in its outcast characters. Writing for First Person Scholar, Cayla Coats explains why the game had such personal impact. Spoilers ahead.

The ultimate example of this sort of narrative empathy occurs right after beating the main story for the first time. Upon beginning a second playthrough, the player is given the option to jump into a bit of post-game content titled Kainé’s Dreams. This content is comprised of a series of short stories, presented as a visual novel. It is within this section of the game that the player learns that the half-possessed Kainé is also intersex—that her body is the site of multiple intersecting and oppressed identities. Based on the strictures of the society she was born into, Kainé’s body is coded as both male and female, human and Shade, and, because her body resists easy categorization, she is marginalized. She is the victim of social, emotional, and physical violence.

This segment of the post-game resonated closely with my experiences as a trans person, and is what initially got me thinking about the possibility of reading Nier as a trans narrative. Hated, feared, and eventually exiled, Kainé’s sense of self was irreparably damaged. She states plainly in these stories that she hates her body, that she wishes she were dead. Society fears and hates a body that resists demarcations of sex or gender, and the owner of that body will inevitably take on that fear and hate. This is a narrative I struggle with personally every day of my life.

Significantly, Kainé’s Dreams stops the ludic momentum of the game. There is no player control, no visual distraction. It’s the game distilled down to a textual narrative, meted out paragraph by paragraph. Nier confronts you with the violence society enacts upon Kainé, and it forces you to wade through it, to dwell within it. This segment of the game pierced me to my core. Reflected in these stories, I saw my own experiences, a shared and resonant pain resounding through my mind.

 
Continue on to First Person Scholar for the rest of Coats’ powerful story.