The Propaganda of inFamous

(*minor spoilers*)

While the story of inFamous is told through the standard methods of cutscenes, found messages and calls from allies and mission handlers, it adds aftermath commentary. In the form of propaganda the game provides story related and world building feedback on your actions. The messages only relate to the main story missions so the words don’t change, but the effect they have on you as the player as you relate to your in game character is different.

The first of the two main propaganda machines are the USTV acting as the government mouthpiece with its all too peppy and creepy anchorwoman assuring the public that everything is all right. It’s an obvious fact that we as a city are not the intended audience for these news reports, because anyone with working eyes can see they are lies. They display everything as sunny and keep to the script. All the credit of any good Cole has managed to accomplish is given to military efforts. The picture of the city is painted rosy, saying that things have almost returned to normal within the quarantine. It subtly leads the player to realize that no one will ever leave Empire City to make sure no one can contradict the government. It is truth control.

The other voice is the Voice of Survival, who starts as a teacher and motivator on how the people can survive their new circumstances and in some cases acting as a public service announcement as in the case of the children needing coats and blankets. He later turns into a propaganda machine himself, creating panic and subverting any good being done in the city by deliberately misappropriating credit and painting Cole out as the enemy regardless of Karma level. The turning point begins when Cole gets out of bed and steps into the public, right after the food drop. Through most of the game we think of him as popularity hog, noting that fear and panic causes more people to listen to him. But he is not a propaganda machine for himself, but was working for the First Sons the whole time. Here good intentions gone awry.

The dichotomy between them is not really right wing vs. left wing that so much of our modern news networks have become about. Truth control and keeping to the message is not unique to the right as American political news channels would have you believe; it has been used extensively by the left in communist dictatorships. Nor is the anti-government, rabble rousing anarchy movement so entrenched in the left as European history would have you believe; if Texan governor calling for secession and the many militia cells around the country are any indication. Instead the dichotomy on display is one of power. USTV instills power into the hands of the establishment as a faceless entity (again not a construct of communism and the left). The Voice of Survival instills the power into total opposition of the others’ messages regardless of idealistic consistency. (I know I’m going to get flack for this) Think of it is as Lawful Evil vs. Chaotic Evil. The dichotomy is not in purpose or method, but in who benefits.

USTV is far more obvious in both its purpose and backer (I wonder if it is because of their more structured nature and obvious lies to anyone in the quarantine). The Voice of Survival not so much. Only at the end when we see him as a pawn in the hands of Kessler and the First Sons does his motives make any sense. He isn’t anything, but anti-Cole and anti-government. Grievances and ideals do not matter so much as personal motives for the propaganda. His lies are not as obvious, because anything happening on one island has no way of informing others on the other island or even other parts of the same island. The Voice of Survival props himself up as the news hound of Empire City against the obvious lies of USTV. He becomes more credible regardless of his lawlessness.

Of course that is not to say Cole does not participate in his own version of propaganda. He has no TV stations or broadcast equipment (although I don’t know why not with what else his electricity powers can do). He has the advantage of being on the ground. His actions speak far louder than either of the propaganda machines. If you stop out of your way to save a fallen person by electro-shocking them back to life, you have changed that person’s mind about you. If you suck out their life force, then those around you will see you for what you are. The selfish and violent verses the altruistic and precise and which one you let the citizens of the city see. Additionally, one of the side missions is for you to choose which poster a design student will plaster all over the city. Neither has a message in anything but what the art conveys. ‘Do you want to be seen as a savior or as a dominator?’ the game asks? These posters will be with you until the end of the game and will subtly alter the perception of you. They are your propaganda as you try and disprove the TV talking heads or confirming what they’re saying.

Like the milieu of inFamous, propaganda is something else that gets shuffled to the sidelines. In the opening chapters it is a constant thorn in your side and a major plot point. It is what starts the riots. Later It becomes nothing but an in game commentary of how different parts of the world take the unfolding events, omitting your actions in them, so Sucker Punch didn’t have to record two different videos, but it has none of the impact or worthiness it did in the beginning. Once my posters were plastered on every wall of the warrens I never felt threatened or othered by the city regardless of what these two sides said about me. Again a great chance for commentary or uniqueness lost on the developers.

Also one last note to developers: If you have audio tracks that are unrepeatable and interesting, DON’T PLAY TWO OF THEM AT THE SAME GODDAMN TIME.

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