*There will be full spoil­ers for NieR: Automa­ta. If you haven’t fin­ished play­ing the game I rec­om­mend com­ing back to read this lat­er.

While the debate of whether videogames are art has long been set­tled, I rarely (if ever) see peo­ple cite their inter­ac­tion with a game as being a part of the art. Some of this can be attrib­uted to just human error, but a part of it is because of games them­selves. It is dif­fi­cult to even think of clear exam­ples where inter­ac­tion played an impor­tant part of the art aspect of videogames rather than just the enter­tain­ment part. Some argu­ments could be made for the surgery scene in The Last Us or even some indie titles like Under­tale or the LISA series how­ev­er I find these games to not go as far or do it as well as NieR: Automa­ta. In NieR inter­ac­tion with the game becomes part of not only the nar­ra­tive, but the philo­soph­i­cal themes the game explores.

How NieR: Automata Makes Interaction Art
By beat­ing him you are tak­ing away his one pur­pose in life

What it means to be human is explored and answered by var­i­ous char­ac­ters through­out the game. Some char­ac­ters find human­i­ty in con­flict, some find it through com­mu­ni­ty, and oth­ers find it in their own unique sin­gu­lar pur­pose. This can be been seen with Pas­cal and his vil­lage, the For­est King, and many of the machines in side quests. Each one of them found human­i­ty and hap­pi­ness through things that are com­mon­ly praised in oth­er JRPGs (i.e pow­er of friend­ship). Nor­mal­ly this would lead to a hap­py end­ing where the arti­fi­cial life forms all learn to be human, but NieR offers a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. Regard­less of where they find it, time and time again any source of human­i­ty and hap­pi­ness is shown to be frag­ile and ulti­mate­ly liv­ing as humans leads to more suf­fer­ing.

The idea that human exis­tence is suf­fer­ing or will lead to suf­fer­ing is a pop­u­lar philo­soph­i­cal idea and fair­ly sim­ple. Because life is always filled with desire or in oth­er words lacks some­thing, all life will suf­fer and even if they sat­is­fy one desire there will be anoth­er that isn’t. In the case of NieR: Automa­ta what sat­is­fies a char­ac­ter is often tak­en away whether it is com­mu­ni­ty or some­thing sim­pler like being the fastest. Through­out the game, char­ac­ters strug­gle with their source of sat­is­fac­tion being tak­en away. The best exam­ples of this are 9S deal­ing with the death of 2B and Pas­cal choos­ing to die or for­get every­thing after the death of his entire vil­lage. None of the char­ac­ters ever find a way to deal with suf­fer­ing and the ones that try end up caus­ing more suf­fer­ing. Rather than tell the play­er how to han­dle this suf­fer­ing or even show­ing them, the game lets the player’s actions speak for them­selves.

How NieR: Automata Makes Interaction Art
Do you need oth­er peo­ple?

At the final end­ing of the game play­er are pre­sent­ed with an almost impos­si­ble bul­let hell sec­tion. When the play­er inevitably dies they are pre­sent­ed with the ques­tion to con­tin­ue. Here the play­er is giv­en a choice to either give up or con­tin­ue the frus­trat­ing­ly dif­fi­cult game­play. This reflects the choice between avoid­ing suf­fer­ing (death) or liv­ing despite the suf­fer­ing. Even­tu­al­ly the play­er is giv­en anoth­er choice to con­tin­ue on alone or receive help from oth­ers. Now the play­er is choos­ing whether they can con­tin­ue alone in the face of suf­fer­ing or admit­ting they need oth­ers to over­come it. If the play­er has made it to this point they will chose to receive help and have like­ly reached the same con­clu­sions as many char­ac­ters in the game. Life is worth liv­ing despite the suf­fer­ing and oth­er peo­ple make it pos­si­ble to over­come that suf­fer­ing.

How NieR: Automata Makes Interaction Art
There is hope, but no guar­an­tee

The play­er is pre­sent­ed with one final choice: give up your save data for a com­plete stranger or keep it and have no neg­a­tive con­se­quences. This choice is one that plays off nar­ra­tive, themes, and the gamer mind­set of reward and pro­gres­sion. It removes any of the nor­mal gamer rewards and presents play­ers with a choice that is only influ­enced by their instincts and the game’s rather bleak nar­ra­tive. By choos­ing to keep your save data, you are prov­ing that human­i­ty is suf­fer­ing. Humans are self­ish and their desires are greater than their will­ing­ness to help one anoth­er so they will con­tin­ue to suf­fer even when oth­ers are with them. If you choose to give up your save data, you are show­ing that human­i­ty isn’t com­plete­ly self­ish. There is some hope that they will help each oth­er over­come suf­fer­ing and adver­si­ty.  

Undoubt­ed­ly there will and are many peo­ple who just con­tin­ue on to see the end­ing and don’t think too much about the choic­es. This is under­stand­able because in the moment these choic­es can seem pure­ly nar­ra­tive how­ev­er they are deeply tied to the game’s themes. Each choice made dur­ing end­ing E is more than nar­ra­tive fla­vor or a way to increase replaya­bil­i­ty. They are a means to explore fair­ly com­plex philo­soph­i­cal dilem­mas in an eas­i­ly digestible and enter­tain­ing way that is unique to videogames. Whether it is game­play or choos­ing a dia­logue box, the play­er is say­ing some­thing about the sto­ry and its themes by inter­act­ing with the game. In this way inter­ac­tion becomes as much a part of the art of NieR: Automa­ta as any of its oth­er com­po­nents.