Impact Games in Review: Dishonored

Developer: Arkane Studios
Release Date: October 9th, 2012
Availability: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Cost: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

What’s it About?

Corvo Attano, Lord Protector of Dunwall’s Empress Jessamine Kaldwin, returns home for an assignment abroad only to bear witness to the brutal murder of the Empress by supernatural assassins. When he is found at the scene of the crime, he is stripped of his title and framed for her murder by the Royal Spymaster Hiram Burrows, who condemns Corvo to execution and imprisons him.

Following the death of the Empress, Dunwall falls to ruin under the vicious Rat Plague: a debilitating disease that overcomes its victims and is fatal unless treated with an expensive elixir in incredibly scarce quantities. Weepers roam the streets, zombie-like shells of infected humans who seek only to spread the disease. Due to the severity of the disease, Dunwall becomes a utilitarian dictatorship, with whole sections of the town shut down for quarantine and riddled with Walls of Light and Arc Pylons–electrical traps powered by whale oil that will kill anyone unauthorized to pass through them.

Corvo escapes his prison cell aided by a group of Loyalists to the Empress who seek to see that her now-missing daughter, Emily Kaldwin, is found safely and takes the throne. He then goes on a mission of revenge, searching out the aristocrats who wronged him and see peace restored to the empire. But, when he is visited by the mysterious Outsider, who grants him extraordinary supernatural abilities, Corvo is forced to balance his morality and his incredible power in order to create the Dunwall young Emily will be fit to rule.

Be warned! Dishonored spoilers to follow. 

What’s it Like?

  • First-person stealth-action game where players take on complete control of protagonist Corvo Attano.
  • Players have the ability to choose their preferred play style, from stealthy to violent or a mixture of the two.
  • Corvo is armed with his retractable sword, pistol, and crossbow, along with a myriad of traps and explosives suitable for any occasion.
  • Supernatural abilities such as Blink (short-distance teleportation), Bend Time, and Possession help to make all stealth or all melee gameplay easier and more fun.

What’s the Impact?

Public Health

Prominent in the game is the Rat Plague; a deadly disease with a catastrophic mortality rate vaguely similar in nature to the Bubonic Plague. Citizens die in such large volumes that bodies litter the streets and sewers in bags. The Plague itself is revealed to have been engineered and implemented as a means of ridding Dunwall of its poverty, but these plans go awry as half of Dunwall’s entire population falls victim to the plague, forcing the implementation of cruel and violent methods to control the disaster.

Dishonored can be looked at in terms of its impact on Public Health in the way that it demonstrates the effects of poor management of a pandemic. Due to the violence of the outbreak, Dunwall’s government is forced to find some way to deal with the volume of bodies, resorting to dumping them into sewers, where more become infected, and by simply committing violence on Weepers and healthy citizens alike. The disaster proves to be so great that even more violent and controlling methods are implemented, found in the Walls of Light and Arc Pylons, in desperate attempts to maintain quarantines. Through the navigation of the world in which Dishonored is set, players can come to see the lack of effectiveness in the quarantine methods focused on by the government, understanding the importance of proper body disposal, along with the availability of a cure, in the event of a pandemic.

Questions for Discussion:

  • In the event of a pandemic, what steps should be taken to preserve public health?
  • What role does the government serve in handling and managing a pandemic?

Environmental Sustainability

Almost all of Dunwall’s economy relies on whaling; whale byproducts are rife throughout the game, scenes are picturesque with whaling ships dotting the horizon while players themselves may come to rely on whales to replenish their heath, in the form of tins of potted whale meat. The whole of Dunwall’s source of power and electricity comes from the utilization of volatile whale oil. While it may be seen as a marvel of science and technology, much of the bizarre and incredible machenery found in Dishonored, such as Arc Pylons, Walls of Light, and Tallboys, rely on it entirely, effectively weaponizing this technological advancement. Due to the explosive nature of the oil, players may even turn to it as a weapon themselves.

The use of whale oil in the space raises some important considerations when it comes to non-renewable power sources as a whole, particularly when looked at in relationship to the similar trend found in the world’s reliance on oil. Whales are in limited supply, inevitably, and the governmental control of the oil directs its use for militarized purposes, instead of as a means to help citizens of Dunwall. At the same time, it is incredibly dangerous in its use, considering its highly explosive and destructive nature.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What are the dangers in using a non-sustainable energy source?
  • What kinds of energy alternatives to oil exist today? How are they being used?

Civic Engagement

At the end of each mission, players receive either a high or a low chaos rating, directly related to the manner in which they eliminated their target and the number of NPCs they murdered (or didn’t) along the way. These moral choices, though binary, directly influence the state of the game world as the player continues; high chaos results in a more negative experience whereas a low chaos results in a brighter Dunwall and a more positive end-game scenario. Players are able to directly engage in the decision they make, seeing the immediate changes in Dunwall, and in the NPCs they come in contact with, from mission to mission as they make both friends and enemies along the way.

Considering the game as a tool for civic engagement and understanding, players are able to experiment with moral choices in a space that is safe and has no real impact on the real world around them. They are not only able to explore different options of interacting with people but they are able to see how important their contributions to society are as the game they play in changes from mission to mission. All of their actions have active consequences, whether they be in relation to the difficulty of the game or the disposition of their allies and enemies, and they are able understand the way that their individual actions can relate to society as a whole.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What kinds of moral choices do you make every day? How simple or difficult are they to make?
  • What kind of role do you play in your society? How strong is your individual impact?