EDIT: tumblr’s fucking w the formatting and won’t let the read more work properly so uh sorry to everyone who has to scroll past this lmao
anon u have no idea how happy this question makes me
Firstly: a lot of the things i recommended in that post are relevant to this idea of place-as-character through subtext and interpretation only - it’s not super overt or even intentional on a lot of the creators’ parts - and that also goes for dishonored too. It’s very much an interpretation and the way i read the text
Secondly: i am extremely obsessed with dishonored and i have. A Lot of thoughts about it so u will have to forgive me because while i’ve tried to structure this answer sensibly, i do go slightly off the rails and start talking about haunted whales. Its fine. This is what my blog’s for.
a) the gameplay makes the setting a central, core focus of the player’s experience
The level design in Dishonored is very open. There are multiple pathways through the environments. The game rewards you for exploration and creativity in traversing it, either with finding loot, letting you bypass conflicts, or revealing new information or greater depth about the world and its history. You’re encouraged by the game mechanics of stealth and climbing to spend time moving around the world and getting to know it.
Obviously this is very much down to your preferred gameplay style - someone who prefers charging around and getting into fights or doesn’t have the patience to unravel the little snippets of information the game gives you will have quite a different experience. But I favour ghost playthroughs, and spend a lot of time planning, waiting, and creatively navigating the environments (especially when I’m trying to do a clean hands run cause then u have to try and navigate around every guard, rather than through them lmao). It means that I read every book I can find, listen to whatever dialogue I can overhear or prompt, follow different pathways and just like, spend inordinate amounts of time looking at the scenery.
And the result of this is a game where you play a lot of attention to the world around you. I feel utterly absorbed in Dunwall in a way that other games rarely achieve for me. It’s a game about its setting.
b) that setting is teeming with life, detail, and also? It’s really fucking haunted
I am obsessed with the artistry that went into this game - the stylisation, the gorgeous lighting, the character designs, and the environment designs. It’s all so well-crafted and I would die for it. It’s also obsessively detailed - filled with posters, advertising, notes and books filled with little snippets of history. Even just finding bone-charms or runes, there’s often some form of environmental storytelling adding context to their presence, even just a note or a weird shrine with fun graffiti.
And the weird thing about all this? Half the time you’re actually in the city, it’s totally abandoned. You never see a crowded street, or a shop open, or people’s day-to-day lives. You only get glimpses, and even then, it’s either the corrupt arms of the government or the wealthy elite. The city is so empty and yet filled with life and history. The city itself - the environment, the walls, the buildings themselves - is alive.
And yeah, it’s haunted. Hold on this is where i go insane
So scattered throughout the missions, u sometimes overhear people talk about how they uncovered the ruins of an ancient civilisation beneath the city. Thousands of years old. They carved the whale bones you now carry on your belt. The land Dunwall is built on is old, and old things are inherently haunted.
(a disclaimer: this is an overly-dramatic paraphrasing of a lecture i went to two years ago and if i track down any readings discussing it i will link them but just. Assume unless im referring directly to some primary source or secondary scholarship that im taking poetic licence w it lmao)
I’ve spoken about this briefly before but in Greek myth, the city of Thebes is founded on an initial act of violence: the slaughter of Ares’ dragon by Kadmos. Kadmos sows the dragon’s teeth in the earth, and the Spartoi, the skeletal men who sprout from them, slaughter each other. The survivors found the city, and the violence that founded it is, in a way, rooted at its core. It trickles down through the generations, again and again, one tragedy after another. That’s where we get Semele, and Pentheus, and Oedipos, and Antigone, and Kreon, all dealt cruel hands by fate and the blood at the core of their house. It’s probably not quite the same literal curse as with the House of Atreus (which goes all the way back to Tantalos), but it’s this taint upon the entire house, and it lies at the heart of the city of Thebes itself.
And I just think about that whale you can find in the slaughterhouse in the Knife of Dunwall DLC, kept alive by Sokolov’s machinery so that every last drop of life can be wrung from its body, and how when you hold the Heart to your ear sometimes it tells you, they are burning the whales, and I don’t know, maybe you can just imagine the smell in the air. It’s a city built on whalebone. A city built on unspeakable cruelty. the entirety of Gristol’s power and prosperity is built on whaling.
The Heart remarks on the city a lot - I’ve pulled some of my favourite lines:
- I smell bones in the pylons, blood beneath the stone blocks. Men died building this structure.
- Even the terrible floods were not enough to wash away the sorrows of Dunwall.
- When the sea wall broke, many strange things were drowned and forgotten.
- These waters are greedy. They will never give back what they have taken.
- This city is built on the bones of the great ones.
- Can you hear them too? Crying out in the dark?
Dunwall is haunted, and it carries the taint of the cruelty that it’s built on. Haunted places like this take on their own character, their own personality - they become alive in some way. the writer of I Am In Eskew expresses something similar here i think: places are shaped by their histories and memories and if they become a site of somethign awful they take that on, themselves, and it echoes.
c) but finally: the city is YOU
So like. bear with me here
You’re playing as Corvo, and he’s completely silent. In this game he’s really intended to be an avatar for the player, so he’s not voiced, and the entire game is in first person. I’m pretty sure you only ever see him in his wanted poster and at the very end of the game. And this means that the only image you really have of him is how the world responds to him: people’s praise or their horror or their taunts, and of course, the way the city changes with high and low chaos. Dunwall goes where you go. It will follow you all the way down into grief and terror, rotting with plague from the inside out, or it will let you drag it back up from disaster if you force yourself to stay your hand.
(I should add as an aside that my view of the game is very much shaped by the order I played the endings in - high chaos first, and then low chaos. Everything I did in low chaos felt so much more impactful and sort of…raw? Because I knew exactly how dark Dunwall could get, and I was realising at every moment exactly how much of a hand I’d had in it.)
So basically: the city is Corvo’s mirror. It is his reflection. You have no way of seeing Corvo, only his impact upon the world, and so in a way, Corvo is the city.
And you are Corvo, so you are the city.
Ok i’ll calm down MY POINT IS that the city is so integral for how corvo’s story is told, and it’s the core of the whole game. It’s as much a character as corvo is, really.
SO YEAH. Tl;dr, gameplay puts the setting as a central focus, Dunwall Is Haunted and Therefore Alive, and also, it develops alongside Corvo and mirrors him so intensely that it’s hard to separate him from it and so really, it’s a character in itself.
thank u for asking this anon i love u