Let's talk about Disco Elysium okay?

Disco Elysium is one of the best video games released in the past few years, and yet it barely feels like a video game. I want to say that it feels like something more, but maybe that's doing video games a disservice. So let me say that it feels like something different, at least.

I finished my first playthrough of Disco Elysium last week, and I've not stopped thinking about it since. I've gushed to everyone who will listen about what a powerfully emotional and intellectual experience it was, and I think it signals an exciting new direction for narrative-heavy interactive video entertainments.

It's also had what I call The Bloodborne Effect on me. That is, a video game executed with such confidence, design precision, and commitment to an aesthetic that when it's over, I need to step away from the medium as a whole for a while, because so much of what it offers feels, comparatively, like trash.

I'm not sure where to start this discussion exactly, but I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks of Disco Elysium, whether or not you've finished it, or even played it, or whatever. I guess this thread (if it becomes a thread at all, lol) will inherently be full of quote-unquote spoilers, which is a shame, but sort of unavoidable.

Anyway, some stray thoughts to start us off:

  • - I can‘t honestly think of a game with better-realized characters than this one. Cuno is immediately grating and yet fascinating, made almost tragic when you realize the nature of his toxic codependency on Cunoesse. Kim Kitsuragi contains so many layers that I wish I’d spent more time getting to know him (to the extent that he'll let himself be known), and was thrilled to have been able to recruit him.
  • - Basing an entire game around the internal war between competing voices in one's head shouldn't work, should it? It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it allowed me to experience what Harry was going through with a depth and richness that felt alarmingly true to life.
  • - Comedy and tragedy are two things that video games usually struggle with. How many genuinely funny games are there? Not many, especially compared to the hundreds of cringe-filled ones. How many games contain the kinds of gut punches that hurt so badly because they expose some near-universal frailty that we all contain? Not many, though plenty of games (allegedly) make players cry through melodramatic string swells. Disco Elysium has humanity and subtlety, despite presenting a world full of magic realism and extreme caricatures.
  • There's so much else to talk about, too, so I hope some folks on here will feel like doing just that.

    Yes thanks for starting a thread. I played DE back in March during covid lockdown, and the experience got mulched into general anxiety - deflection paste. The game's portrayal of a brittle and exhausted State, its responsibilities to the public good hobbled by decades of austerity enforced to support the interests of a wealthy minority something something hitting a little too close to home etc

    But now that everything is fine again here in the USA, I'm working my way through another playthrough with more available brain bandwith.

    It really is excellent, and I agree that it feels like a breakthrough in narrative - not just because the quality of the writing is good* but because all game actions are mediated by cognitive processes, emotional states and responses, and moral and political convictions. ALSO, said cog processes, emotions, and morals/politics, can radically evolve depending on your approach. So you wind up being much more attentive throughout. Compare w other cRPG types, where you roll a character and maybe select some backstory at the outset, then "roleplay" by adding numbers to numbers after level up and make the occasional "moral choice" - they feel somewhat empty compared to DE. And yes, DE has the same basic structure, but the continual negotiation w internal monologue and mental processes make it much richer (at least for me)

    *for those who haven't played DE and want to give it a try, the most overwrought (in my opinion) writing is in the first few sentences, so if you're put off, don't worry, it'll be fine

    @whatsarobot#7237 I have this super long essay on the fridge waiting to be published for the magazine I collaborate with in which I tried to expose what felt, to me at least, the core or the best kept secret of the game, which is how it plays with the assumptions you normally approach not just any game, but any work of fiction, and funnels that into the peculiar interpretation of role-playing the game has.

    Let's put it this way: Disco Elysium is not a videogame about playing as a detective, but a game about playing as the consciousness, the brain processes of a detective which has short-circuited his own brain in a way that allows him the chance to rebuild his own sense of self and all his assumptions and understanding about the world he lives in.

    Most works of fiction focus on the material aspects of their worlds. The lore and world building talk about the different races, animals or monsters, the peculiarities of its geography but so very rarely risk thinking about the very fundamental stuff that allows a person to perceive and function on _**any**_ world like for example, our understanding of space and geometry, our sense of temporality or causality or our own psychology. Authors like Borges or Stanislaw Lem feel so groundbreaking because their fiction challenge a lot of these assumptions and allow themselves the chance to fictionalize on a metaphysical or onthological level. The Aleph is story that warps your mind with the idea of all of the space fitting in one inch, and Solaris is a book about an ocean that is a living being. Disco Elysium is a fictional story that works at this level, and so very rarely a videogame dares to enter this domain.

    Disco Elysium does this by challenging all those fundamentals at the individual level like, the protagonist needs to discover very basic stuff like the fact that gravity and fundamental physics are a thing in order to factor those in his thought processes, which in itself is very wacky and funny but also super interesting and smart from a writing perspective. At the same time, the bigger picture, the traditional sense of world building is super captivating and interesting, and also, very goddamned intelligent. I don't want to spoil anything but I'd say most players will spend a lot of time trying to figure out if the game takes place on our world, some alternative version of it, or a completely made up fictional thing, and it's not only until you speak with certain characters and allow yourself some time to figure it out you understand how unique a scenario this game is.

    I could spend the whole morning writing about this game (which I already did in another language!) so let me end this post with the TL;DR: Disco Elysium is a roleplaying videogame about playing as a human being, which sounds silly but think about it, what "being human" means to you? are politics important to the way you see the world? are your morals something you care for? do you value knowledge over emotions and feeling, intuition over logic? In game development exists this thing called vertical slice, which is a segment of a game that acts as a proof of concept and is intented to show all the interactions and relevant pieces of the game it's trying to represent. Well, I don't think is that crazy to say that Disco Elysium is something like the vertical slice of a human consciousness, or, better yet, a work of fiction that plays around the idea of performing as that vertical slice, sometimes in a satyrical way (how could you summarize the whole human experience on a videogame?) but so very often in the most sincere and earnest of ways.

    Would any non-USA residents be kind enough to describe what disco is/was/means/meant where you are from?

    I ask because I'm interested in the presence of disco music and how it ties into some of the larger themes of the game. I think about this for two reasons.

    1) I was recently reminded of this quote by Mark Fisher:

    "The slow cancellation of the future has been accompanied by a deflation of expectations. There can be few who believe that in the coming year a record as great as, say, the Stooges’ Funhouse or Sly Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On will be released. Still less do we expect the kind of ruptures brought about by The Beatles or disco. The feeling of belatedness, of living after the gold rush, is as omnipresent as it is disavowed. Compare the fallow terrain of the current moment with the fecundity of previous periods and you will quickly be accused of ‘nostalgia’. But the reliance of current artists on styles that were established long ago suggests that the current moment is in the grip of a formal nostalgia...It is not that nothing happened in the period when the slow cancellation of the future set in. On the contrary, those thirty years [referring to Reagan/Thatcher/neoliberal austerity, privatization, etc] et has been a time of massive, traumatic change."

    Which I find to be a fair encapsulation of one of the dominant moods of the game complete with disco citation

    2) My hometown of Chicago has a fraught relationship with disco/dance music. There was this infamously stupid reactionary event in 1979:


    And while it was framed as "good old rock and roll" fighting back against "mechanical," "soulless" disco music, it was, in reality, just retrograde racist/homophobic backlash. Disco was a new type of music that was mostly by and for non-white, non-hetero people who, in the dynamics of the city at that time, were "invading" white neighborhoods. House music would be a more covert/underground scene by necessity.

    Can anyone confirm if disco has a similar valence elsewhere in the world? Am I provincially-biased?

    I'm interested bc in my experience with the game, the disco theme is more meaningful than jokes about being "groovy."

    It's of a piece with the game's depiction of a failed revolutionary state 50 years into its degradation. Disco can be seen as a relic, but per the Fisher quote, it's not something that failed or was eclipsed, just something generative that was brutalized when it made the worst people uncomfortable.

    So anyway, I feel compelled to behave as a disco loyalist during my current playthrough of the game out of a kind of political conviction, and because while the current of the game world is receding into entropy, the game gives you ways to fight back.

    Please someone tell me that Chicago is not the only place people were weird about disco, it will make me feel better thanks


    Continuing to play through this and was reminded of discussion on the IC show about preferring the citadel part of Mass Effect to anything else in the series.

    A similar kind of feeling here where you navigate the social and political dynamics and tensions in a relatively compact place. Seems like a mostly legible urban district at first, but as you spin through it over a few days, you start to see the conflicts in sharper relief.

    And the game world doesn't expand so much as it gets more detailed. You gain access to basements, alleys, and locked rooms rather than like new "zones"

    I‘m a USA resident but disco was short for “discotec” which we’d just call “a club” all the way through the early 2000s in some european regions, and italo disco is STILL a genre that has little to do with our american disco, so at the very least it has a much wider application in europe (where the game was made, anyway).

    I don't have a lot to say about disco elysium because I haven't finished it, I'm waiting til I can play it on not-a-PC. I played an hour or so for a game awards event and basically gave it top marks in every category, and as I said on the show, it's almost insulting to me that it's their first game, and makes me realize I should probably stop messing around with piddling nonsense and start focusing on our bigger projects.


    @exodus#7361 it’s almost insulting to me that it’s their first game, and makes me realize I should probably stop messing around with piddling nonsense and start focusing on our bigger projects

    to be fair, this probably helped: "The majority of the game's funding was provided by Estonian businessman Margus Linnamäe [et].[17][19]"

    On track to finish this in the next day or two. A few more impressions:


  • *

    The standoff/gunfight is cool. Danger in VG almost never feels like danger due to repetition, superpowered characters etc, so I enjoyed having to (very) imperfectly muddle through this sequence. Felt weird and tense, and I appreciated how the encounter has you juggling aspects of your character stats, personality, political/moral values. A rubber meets the road moment for my hungover and neurosis-plagued cop - very good. The only comparison I can think of are some of the fights in Shenmue that take place after long stretches of noncombat walking/talking/working at the harbor.

  • *

    Appreciate the instances of unexpected, unique animations. Kind of like suikoden II where you get used to stiff jrpg character movements then break out and do something you didn't expect. Not an insight just something I like in DE

  • Not positive:

  • *

    design and sequencing went kind of haywire around days 4-5 for me. Spent like 36 in game hours trying to get tuff enough to open an ice cream maker after being hobbled by making a brains over brawn type character to that point. Had me wishing I had save-scummed because it really killed the momentum (temporarily).

  • *

    A matter of taste but the narrative wanders into a maudlin zone at least for me. Gets kind of lazily sad-macho but maybe I'm more allergic to that kind of sentimentality. Although the sequence I'm thinking of (dream outside of video store) has some good pointed and caustic writing that helped leaven that scene.

  • @yeso - Thanks for bringing up the issue of “Disco” and what it actually means. I was born in the mid-80's and grew up in and around Toronto, and I remember automatically assuming that disco did, in fact, suck. This went on for most of my early life, until I became a teenager and started getting into music and realized that, in fact, a lot of what is called “disco,” at least in North America, is pretty awesome.

    But in the context of the game, "disco" seems to mean something more all-encompassing, and perhaps something uniquely (Eastern) European, which I am in no way equipped to understand. So your question then got me thinking about what other nuances and references in the game most likely flew straight over my head. My knowledge of intra-European conflict and history is sadly limited, so I suspect there are a lot of jokes I'm not really understanding, and probably a lot more meaningful commentary as well.

    I take your point about the maudlin zone in that flashback, and I see where you're coming from. As a white cishet dude, that scene felt relatable in a way that I chose not to question too deeply. It never struck me as lazily sad-macho, but in retrospect, I can see how it might come across that way. I'd definitely be interested to hear more critical writing about this game from a non-white, non-cishet dude perspective. There never seems to be enough of that in regard to any game that exists, but particularly in regard to this one, where cultural identity and class politics are so salient, it would be valuable.

    @JoJoestar - I loved your idea about this game being a vertical slice of a human being, or a mind, or an experience. I've been mulling that over for days, and still am not sure how to respond to you in a way that will add meaning to the conversation. But I think you shed light on the one area where this game feels "gamey," and that is the amnesia aspect. You could argue that it's necessary, in order to facilitate a character who must cobble his perception of reality back together from fragments of understanding, and rampant alcoholism and drug abuse do create a plausible-enough explanation.

    But that got me thinking about how the "vertical slice" could be the aspect of this game that gets picked up and carried forward. Its contribution to the medium, if you will. @exodus is absolutely right to be mad at ZA/UM for knocking it out of the park so emphatically on their first attempt (it's frankly baffling), and I'm on board for whatever video game they make next (Disco Elysium is slated to become a TV show and a board game, but those don't interest me much), but I do wonder how they'll choose to proceed from here.

    What's more interesting? A continuation of Harry's (or Kim's, or Cuno's) story, or more stories told in this world? Or, creating an entirely new story around @JoJoestar's "vertical slice" idea, in which elements of a character's psyche wage conversation-wars with each other? I know I'd favour the latter, and I think that gameplay mechanic needs to be picked up and explored in lots of different situations, by lots of different (types of) creators. The question is, how do you make it work, apart from having an amnesiac, alcoholic detective as your protagonist?


    @whatsarobot#7419 As a white cishet dude, that scene felt relatable in a way that I chose not to question too deeply

    Yes it is relatable, and some of the pointed writing in that scene does capture some of the mix of magnanimity vs pettiness the dissolution of a serious relationship can provoke (I don't know anything about this personally ok). I just thought it was a little rote and wasn't really convincing as the trauma-foundation for a middle-aged dude's extreme crackup.

    Although, maybe this is another effect of cultural differences b/t people in a Euro welfare state contra vs dumbasses like us in the USA - grinding overwork+mild-moderate drinking problem+failed relationship+living on knife edge of poverty is kind of the way it goes over here rather than anything too dramatic. (not that that's ok and we should just "toughen up")


    @whatsarobot#7419 absolutely right to be mad at ZA/UM for knocking it out of the park so emphatically on their first attempt (it’s frankly baffling),

    I wonder if this is a Marquee Moon -> Adventure situation where the band Television worked on their songs for the first album for like 7 years, it was great, then had 8 months to do the 2nd album and it was less so. But then again DE seems like a smaller part of a big and elaborate imaginative space/setting so maybe there is a lot left in the tank. I guess we'll see. Also I know 0 about game dev but these folks seem like they had substantially more technical and $ support than your average scrappy indie setup. Would appreciate someone who knows better telling me if I am mistaken.


    @whatsarobot#7419 The question is, how do you make it work, apart from having an amnesiac, alcoholic detective as your protagonist?

    I think it would work. The same mechanic applied to a different character, even a "mentally stable" one could have different psychic voices, speaking in different tones, and producing dynamics that relate to that individual. The amnesia thing in DE is I think more of a plot/theme conceit than a precondition for that mechanic to work.

    Anyway this is what za/um said:

    'Rather than Disco Elysium’s down-on-his-luck middle aged male cop, players could choose to be a pregnant woman, about five months along, which Kurvitz says would be an “incredible writing challenge” within Disco Elysium’s very weird, very internalised system of skills and thoughts. “It would be unbelievable to use our skill system to speak about the bodily sensations of having another organism inside of you, while you’re in the setting and talking to another person.” '


    ...not sure what to think about that....

    Wow, playing as a pregnant woman would be fascinating. I sure hope they‘d get a team of women in there to write the voices’ dialogue.

    Finished the game and loved it despite a couple of criticisms. Grateful to the people on here that got me hyped to play it again with a more open mind.

    Also the game is 30% off for a while

    And someone made a gameboy version


    Disco Elysium is… the best time you‘ll ever have talking to yourself with made up words.

    Disco Elysium is… the saddest you’ll ever feel while breathing through your nose.

    Disco Elysium is… an AA meeting for thesaurus addicts.

    Disco Elysium is… a slow firing joke machine gun.

    Disco Elysium is… seven thousand clicks too many for an Oscar nomination.

    Great tribute to Tim's God Hand video!

    the final cut edition is out and am surprised to learn that they recast cuno - I personally hope they made him even more annoying

    looking forward to running through the new stuff at some point

    @yeso#24366 I started a new play through now that the final cut edition is out.

    the full voice acting is quite a welcome addition. I'm only about an hour into this play through but being able to listen to the characters has already given me a new perspective on things, and the inner dialogue feels like it makes more "sense" to me so far too. I feel like the context for some of the in-world language makes more sense when it’s being read to me.

    I can’t wait to keep going. This game really stuck with me after my initial play through, I've been holding off revisiting until this update.

    @yeso#24366 My question: is it possible to make Cuno more annoying?


    I played and finished it last night! I somewhat intentionally waited to play it until after the Final Cut version was out so if anyone has any questions about that having been one's initial experience, hmu!

    Some quick thoughts:

    I thought the premise for the method of narrative delivery was fascinating and was delivered with incredible execution. Having such a broad array of facets of one's internal psyche chiming in with internal monologue was an almost uninterrupted joy to play. It works so, so well.

    Part of why the internal monologue angle works so well, at least for me as someone who played the Final Cut first, is the strength of Lenval Brown's performance as the narrator, for sure. I can scarcely imagine playing the game without it. There's some truly brilliant voice acting all round, and I appreciated how they used accents and pronunciation here and there too. Poor little Kuuno. They really must have had a crack team of language coaches. The narrator is the best example as well, hearing Brown switch between skillfully affected French pronunciations of certain in-universe French derived words but then going back to a less affected pronunciation for other still French derived words was an exquisite level of detail and really sold how deliberate the world building is.

    One regrettable thing to report is that there are a good amount of audio bugs and I really wish it had had a few more months of polish and QA in this regard. It wasn't enough to ruin the experience, but there were numerous instances of missing audio and the audio not matching up with the text.

    By the way, if you are sensitive to that kind of language, this includes instances where the homophobic slur that is used in the game and is prominently censored in the audio and text, at least one or two times I remember, it was not properly censored. I thought it was a good idea to censor it so I was disappointed (thankfully not made upset but still) in the fact that greater care was not put in to ensure that all of it would be censored.

    Also, I feel the need to point out that while I do think it was an artful choice to have descriptive text of actions that are woven through character dialogue (such as, say: "Fuck you!" **Cuno flips you the bird.** "You dumb shit!!"), the spoken audio not matching up with the text on screen is a regrettable oversight in terms of accessibility. Text and audio should always match 1:1. As monumental as a task Lenval Brown already had, they really should have had them interject with descriptive text.

    Haven’t played this yet so I didn’t read any of the thread but does this run well on switch or is ps4 the way to go?

    @tomjonjon#26573 The Switch version is yet to be released.

    Disco Elysium sure is a Role Playing Game. I really felt a lot of freedom to really embody this character, and, maybe retrograde amnesia is almost cheating in this regard, but I really felt engaged in the idea of thinking and acting like this character.

    Or... and maybe I'm not totally alone in this... a lot of the times it felt more like I was just one part of the gang among the facets of Harry's psyche and his Limbic System and Ancient Lizard Brain... and that I was the ghost of an ultraleft provocateur who possessed the soul of some shitty bastard loser cop. That was often both very fun and very funny.

    I greatly appreciated the level of detail when it came to the game's political awareness and weight. It would be hard to narrow down just one thing. The realization that the Insulindian Peninsula was truly uninhabited by humans was a gut punch of a moment for me in the sense that it was such a script flipper, but, also, not really. The idea of a colonizing nation growing immeasurably wealthy from the settlement of uninhabited land is true in the real world if we're basing it off of self perception--all colonizers acted as if it was anyway. And the in-game equivalent of neoliberalism proceeded from the pristinely uninhabited Insulindian isola as if they had a right to conquest once they found isolas with human inhabitants. At first glance the pale/the isolas are a metaphor for the discovery of the "New World" in real world history, but really, it's kind of more like a simile, a statement by way of direct equivocation. Rather than being like "it's like colonization/white supremacy, but different" it has something a little more clever to say by saying "the material wealth and sense of entitlement made genocidal conquest a matter of course once they found other isolas."

    The game took such incredible pains to create such a politically/cultural/religiously/economically grounded world uncomfortably similar to our own that I was constantly astounded by this. Even more fun with that was allowing you to inhabit a person within fiction who has a fictionally justified reason to be someone who is a half insane caricature of a radical.

    ...That being said. Wow, that sure was an anticlimactic ending, overall. When is Disco Elysium 2 out