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Popped Culture: The Moral Compass Of Dishonored Is An Amoral Piece Of Shit

Posted January 21, 2013 by Lisa McInerney in Games
Samuel Is A Right Bollocks

Note: this article goes into detail about the plot and dénouement of Dishonored. If you haven’t gotten there yet, but intend to, go read something else. Sure we’ve gluts and gluts of game stuff here.

You are Corvo Attano, the Royal Protector of the Empress of The Empire Of Isles. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, your beloved Empress is assassinated right in front of you, and you are framed for her murder. The day before your scheduled execution, you’re broken out of prison by a small but influential group of loyalists who know they must bring down the tyrannous rule of the High Regent by the only means they can: assassination and subterfuge. And you are the only man lethal enough to do their dirty work.

Dishonored is one of those games that gives you a choice as to how you play: as a benevolent instrument of change or a vengeful demon with a hard-on for chaos. It’s also one of those games that punishes you for being destructive.

Kill more people, expect more rats on the streets. Wreak havoc on missions, expect more guards.

When you’re a bad boy in Dishonored, you really feel it. Every malicious choice you make affects the world around you. Kill more people, expect more rats on the streets. Wreak havoc on missions, expect more guards patrolling the next time you’re out and about. It even affects the weather on your final mission: if you’ve been relatively decent in your shenanigans, you’ll find yourself ready to take on your nemeses on a sunny day; if you’ve been on a bloodthirsty rampage, you’ll be meeting your destiny on a dark and stormy night.

All of this is welcome; it’s great to see how your character’s actions influence the world around him, and it adds an immersive touch when everything you do has a consequence. That’s not what we meant when we said it punishes you for being destructive.

Oh no.

The real gut-punch for players who’ve been violently tactless in their quest comes not in the form of bad weather, increased enemy vigilance, or tougher targets. It comes in the form of a humble boatman named Samuel, one of those salt-of-the-earth types whose role in the saga is to ferry Corvo along the river to each mission, and collect him afterwards. Samuel is am old-school chap with no expectation of glory or reward for doing his part. He’s pragmatic and shrewd. Samuel purports to be the moral centre of the game. Unlike the high-minded revolutionaries he serves, he is not blinded by power and paranoia. He does what he does because he believes it is the right thing to do.

And if Corvo has been even halfway vicious on his journey, Samuel gives it to him in the ear just before the last battle.

As you part company on the beach outside Kingsparrow Lighthouse, he turns to you and says…

And you, Corvo. The things you’ve done. You could be the worst of us… Get out of my boat.

…before vindictively setting off a flare to give away your position.

Even if you’ve been relatively restrained on your path, Samuel bemoans your carry-on.

It’s like you went out of your way to be brutal.

… he’ll keen, before telling you he never wants to see you again. It’s like going through a break-up, such is its emotional weight. And you never see it coming.

Because Samuel the Boatman is SOME MAN TO TALK.

Here are three very good reasons why.


Samuel Doesn’t Understand The Concept Of Collateral Damage

Look, the point of Dishonored is that decent men sometimes do shitty things for the greater good. The needs of the many, and all that. The player can go through the entire saga without killing a single soul (but it’s bloody hard, as acknowledged by the hefty achievement or trophy you get for your pains), but for the majority of players, those not patient or masochistic enough to inch their way through each mission, there will be a few murders here and there. It’s a necessary evil.

So a guard catches Corvo sneaking into the High Overseer’s office. What is Corvo supposed to do? Sleep darts are rare and the guard is wasting no time whipping his sword out and advancing like a falling tree. Yes, he’s probably got a wife and kids, but such is life and death in warfare. For the purposes of his mission, the guard is Corvo’s enemy. Holding back may mean imprisonment or death, and then who’s going to rescue Lady Emily and put the world to rights? Lord Pendleton?

"Not fucking likely, pleb."

Samuel doesn’t get that.

Samuel refuses to get that.


Which Is Weird Because Samuel Is Well Able To Invoke It

No one ever suspects the humble boatman.

Just over halfway through the game, Samuel is tasked with poisoning Corvo. He knows he has no choice to do it: the Loyalists know that once they’ve restored order to the empire, they’ll have to account for their actions. Corvo is the only one who got his hands dirty, and Corvo knows too much. The irony is that Corvo becomes collateral damage. The task is given to the humble boatman – no one ever suspects the humble boatman. He doesn’t give a single thing away, either; he brings Corvo back from what should have been his very last mission, and allows the Royal Protector to walk into the Loyalists’ HQ, knowing that he would be poisoned and done away with once he got in there. He didn’t even twitch.

He did halve the dose of poison, wagering that it would be enough to render Corvo unconscious and bring him to the brink, without actually killing him. Which was very noble of him, especially when the man had no education, or medical or scientific knowledge whatsoever. He poisoned Corvo and gambled that the assassin would be man enough to only pass out for a couple of fucking days.


It’s Like Samuel Went Out Of His Way To Be Brutal

That’s not even the best part: directed by the Loyalists to leave Corvo’s body where it could be found (so that the trail of blood could be firmly attributed to Corvo’s size tens), he leaves the most wanted man in Dunwall half dead on a boat in the Flooded District, where the gang who assassinated the Empress are based, and… that’s it. He fucks off in his boat, admitting to the delirious Corvo that he knew he himself would otherwise have been the next to be dispensed with.

To save his own skin, Samuel leaves Corvo weak and defenceless.

But fuck it, Corvo, I’m as bad, sure I even fucking poisoned you and left you drift into the lions’ den.”

We don’t blame Samuel. After all, the beauty of Dishonored is how murky its morals are. Good men, after all, do bad things for good reasons, and Samuel the humble boatman is no different.

But does Samuel give so much as a nod to this? When he’s berating Corvo for being somewhat less than benevolent, when Corvo’s been framed for the murder of the Empress, when her (and maybe even his) child has been kidnapped and held captive in a brothel attic, when he’s been betrayed more times than a falling waiter… does Samuel ever say, ’But fuck it, Corvo, I’m as bad, sure I even fucking poisoned you and left you drift into the lions’ den because I had a funny feeling in me left toe that you just might make it out alive’?

He does not.

Look at him there holding all the fucks he gives.

So yes, Dishonored. Yes, you did serve up a heart-wrenching moment in the final mission. Yes, it did hurt Corvo that Samuel had a pop at him. But no, it wasn’t because Corvo finally realised that he himself possessed the moral aptitude of a toaster. It was because it took us that long to realise that Samuel was an utter cunt.

The Lord Protector: it’s a thankless job.

About the Author

Lisa McInerney

Lisa’s soul is so damn sensitive, she has to invent and occupy parallel universes just to spread herself evenly. This is also known as being a frustrated novelist.

  • David

    Sorry, but YOU don’t get that. You are not able to feel this story.

    • http://www.ramp.ie/ Lisa McInerney


      • Ciaran O’Brien

        He’s right, you just don’t get Samuel’s pain. NOBODY does. Craaaaawling iiiin his skiiiiiin, these wooooounds they wiiiiil not heeeeeaaaaaal, etc.

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