Welcome to a new series called Grand Thrash Auto, where we have some of our favourite metal musicians discuss their five favourite games! For this piece, we’re exploring science fiction and selfhood with Tanya Byrne of sludge monoliths Bismuth, who have quickly become one of the UK doom scene’s finest exports. If you’re yet to hear 2018’s The Slow Dying Of The Great Barrier Reef then you’ve made a horrible mistake and need to rectify that before reading on. Also check out Tanya’s solo noise project Elbrus. Otherwise, enjoy!
Tanya: “It’s worth mentioning off the bat that I enjoy sci-fi that delves into the philosophy of the self and what it means to be a consciousness. Questions such as ‘what makes me?’, ‘If I do not have a human body plan, will I still be me?’, ‘If even my physical brain is stripped away and my consciousness is copied, will this mind diverge from me, and how would I know it?’, and finally ‘Does a copy of a consciousness deserve the same protection as the original; if not, why not?’
“Video games are just about the perfect medium to engage in such philosophical enquiries. Through gaming, enquiry becomes active, as the player often assumes the identity of a lifeform whose whole being is affected deeply by the previous questions. A thorough investigation of these themes is pertinent as we approach an age where artificial intelligence can, in some instances, trick humans into thinking they are talking to another person. A fair few of the games in this top five make deliberations on what it means to be human. Some of them, well, they are just fun to play. That’s enough ramblings for one night, on with this list! It was difficult to whittle this to just five games, therefore these are not in any order.”
Final Fantasy VIII
“Most people who play video games have Very. Strong. Opinions on what game in this long-running role-playing series is the best. Throwing my hat in the ring, Final Fantasy VIII is the game that is closest to my heart (and I LOVE all the other FF games). Darker in tone, and more mature than the sometimes cartoonish or more standard DnD stories of previous entries in the series, it attempts (sometimes successfully) to break away from the cliché characters that can plague the RPG genre. Of course, there are still sorceresses and questing, but it is wrapped up in an existential dread filled coming-of-age story, with technology as magic. The hero loner is an archetype in gaming these days, but Squall was quite a departure for RPGs of the 1990s. Through Squall and Seifer, FFVIII was one of the first to explore the loneliness and isolation that the expectations of others on your future can cause. Sixteen years old at the time of release, and on the cusp of making important decisions that have helped shape my life, it really spoke to me.”
“SOMA probes the meaning of consciousness and humanity in a masterful way. A slow exploration of the Duplicates Paradox, I can’t elaborate too much on the story without massive spoilers. Instead I will leave you with a quote from Thomas Reid: ‘I would be glad to know your Lordship’s opinion whether when my brain has lost its original structure, and when some hundred years after the same materials are fabricated so curiously as to become an intelligent being, whether, I say that being will be me; or, if, two or three such beings should be formed out of my brain; whether they will all be me, and consequently one and the same intelligent being.’”
When I finished the game, I couldn’t move and was left in a well of thoughts, staring at the darkness with tears falling that I had not noticed. Were these thoughts truly mine? I couldn’t say.
“Have you ever sat and pondered the essential pointlessness of existence? God is dead, so what is the point? In NieR, androids and robots are waged in neverending war on a post-apocalyptic Earth and both their gods (humans and invading aliens, respectively) are no more. NieR explores nihilism and the search for purpose in life, even if that life is not organic. The artificial intelligences embrace humanity through collaboration and roughly copying old human societies. As expected, Nietzsche pops up all over as well as discussions surrounding the personhood of artificial intelligence. Repetition is key in this game, so don’t give up after your first playthrough. Gameplay wise, it combines bullet hell and more traditional RPG sections. This game took me very much by surprise when I played it and can’t recommend it enough.”
Mass Effect series
“One of the most expansive space operas available in gaming, Mass Effect is a third-person RPG and shooter. I was originally sucked into this series via it’s passing resemblance to Babylon 5 and have been following Commander Shepard ever since. Political intrigue, formidable foes and lots of spaceships and epic battles makes the sci-fi nerd that lives inside of me very happy. Am I excited for the remaster? YES.”
“Civilization is a turn-based strategy empire building game. The whole aim is to take over the world using one of several methods that lead to dominance. It’s one of the most satisfying games to play with friends. Being a scientist, obviously science victory is my preferred method.”
Honourable mentions“This selection was extremely difficult to compile as my thoughts change from day to day. Other games that would have appeared above on a different day include: Bioshock, Silent Hill, Dead Space, Death Stranding (this was so close to being top five today), Metal Gear Solid 2, Heavy Rain, Alien: Isolation, Observation, The Talos Principle, Persona 5, Catherine…”
Check out Bismuth’s music on Bandcamp.