Disco Elysium and the Joy of Playing a Rubbish Cop

ZA/UM Studio’s detective RPG Disco Elysium gives you plenty of opportunities to mess up and even more ways to personalize your character. And according to this recent PC Gamer article, this ability to become a complete failure is exactly what sets Disco Elysium apart from its more heroic peers. An excerpt:

This is surprisingly fertile ground for roleplaying. Instead of the game affirming that I was the most important person in the universe—which I already know to be true—I had to find closure myself. I had to dwell on it. I thought about the argument, and how Kim had tried to stay out of it and had even asked me to just ignore it, and how I didn't listen. I challenged the racist because, frankly, it felt really good to tell the guy where he could stick his rhetoric, but in the end he remained a racist, I was still angry, and Kim was—against his will—at the centre of it. Where another RPG might merrily let me act the saviour and never ask any questions, Disco Elysium made me confront why I was making these decisions. You might not be able to make other people change, but you can still grow.

Despite being a seemingly throwaway conversation, I reconsidered the relationship between Kim and his forgetful partner, and it grounded me in the world in a way that no big moral decision in something like Mass Effect ever could. I'm never going to be able to relate to Commander Shepard deciding the fate of an entire species, but I've definitely been an inconsiderate, shitty friend.

I kept cocking up, of course. Sometimes it was a failed roll, but often it was just me making a bad call. I got seduced, tricked and used as a pawn by both the union and a corporation. Instead of a litany of heroic deeds, I collected flaws, delusions, obsessions and weird quirks—a person, essentially. On those rare occasions where things went right and Kim would congratulate me on a job well done, it was like winning the lottery. When you're not the chosen one, those little victories really matter. Even gloomy Geralt gets to save the day, no matter what, but there's no room for destiny in Disco Elysium. Little breaks in the case, some friendly banter with Kim and a hug from a stranger are moments to be treasured.