Reviews - Updated on March 31, 2022

In dystopian games, one of the main characters is a ruthless totalitarian state. This is a diverse in genre, although not very densely populated section of games. Over the past 10 years, Papers, Please, Beholder, We Happy Few, Frostpunk, The Shrouded Isle and others have been noted in it. Today I would like to talk about Mind Scanners. And since the review is already there, I offer a short text about ideas and references both for those who did not understand anything in it, and for those who grabbed a lot.

Brainwashing by Mind Scanners

If a person believes that he is an oak, is that enough to recognize him as sick (insane)?

Not all dystopias are equally successful

Tyrants and totalitarian regimes are commonplace in many video games. But you need to distinguish between games where there is something about totalitarianism, from games in which rigid rules and ideology are a fundamental part of the gameplay and game decisions. Mind Scanners bills itself as a psychiatrist simulator. The action takes place in the metropolis Structure, where order and efficiency matter most. It appreciates and actively develops technical innovations, but at the same time, the number of mental anomalies is growing. Your hero must fight with them.

Games often allow us to play out a hypothetical situation. For example, imagine a world with technologies that easily overstep the bounds of what is permitted. Mind Scanners is the fruit of such a thought experiment, which the game hastens to announce in a simple name. The gameplay easily becomes a chore, because, as in Papers, Please, it is much easier to put the stamp “Normal / abnormal” than to think about the fate of another person.

In theory, such a game should encourage reflection, help to take a more critical look at what is happening in society. However, the problem with Mind Scanners and almost all similar games is that we are offered to work, fight and suffer in a frank caricature of a totalitarian society.

Yes, stereotypes are important to create an atmosphere or to easily guess the context. But they are often stupid and can spoil the impression. Mind Scanners aims to convey to the player the feeling of a small person who, in his place, can either resist the system or obey it with almost inevitable remorse. It would seem that such an experience is not only interesting by diving into the details of a totalitarian reality, but should also give you the determination to defend your principles.

In fact, the stereotype “Totalitarianism is something bad” allows you to perceive yourself as an unconditionally moral person. If they are bad, then I am obviously good, even when forced to do evil. To create true moral engagement with the risk of guilt is an extremely difficult task.

Brainwashing by Mind Scanners

The machines in Mind Scanners are really weird.

System with a capital letter

Mind Scanners doesn’t give a backstory – you just find out that everything is run by an organization called “Structure” (synonymous with the word “system”). The rest is obvious from the name: she controls people and looks for citizens with anomalies. And so that you do not inadvertently imagine that your task is to do your job well, without reflection, an additional element is introduced – a sentimental (spoiler: no) story about a daughter who was taken away and will be studied at the Institute. And so that you do not suddenly think that this is for her good, you are told that it is impossible to see her.

It is easy to understand that “Structure” immediately causes a feeling of something hostile to feelings and emotions. It soon shows up in the very essence of your work. The idea of ​​the authors is simple: people have different oddities: some of them are artificial, some are part of the character or experience of a person. In descriptions and dialogues, we are hinted that some “overshoots” are harmless (although the “Structure” does not like them), others are harmful or dangerous for the person himself or his environment.

The struggle against the system has become a commonplace of any countercultural movements, but the ideas of the Frankfurt School were the source. For example, the philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in The Dialectic of Enlightenment explicitly stated that the path of reason is an attempt to subjugate nature, including inner passions and feelings. And Herbert Marcuse in “One-Dimensional Man” directly predicted the craving of any system for totalitarianism and at the same time an attempt to forcefully make everyone happy.

Brainwashing by Mind Scanners

Retro style of the film “Brazil”.

Eradicating anomalies

Mind Scanners treats psychological research and treatment in a unique way. The gameplay is structured in such a way that we have to reduce people’s remarks about Rorschach spots to standardized assessments, and then determine the essence of the strangeness. For example, we will meet a too enthusiastic journalist who cannot stop at anything. The boundary between health and insanity each time you have to look for yourself.

Healing, on the other hand, is reminiscent of the torture mechanics from other games (like This Is the Police): you have to perform strange manipulations on different devices while monitoring your stress levels. So even when the healed person thanks you, doubt remains. It’s like you made him thank you for something he didn’t want. Although it is easy to imagine a player who perceives himself as a savior. At the same time, a number of dialogues turned out to be very interesting and even unexpected, which is quite similar to the work of a psi-specialist.

Brainwashing by Mind Scanners

The eternal struggle of light and darkness

The most amusing thing is that the mind in the game is presented as a dubious (somewhere manic) craving for universal utility and control. This strongly resembles the effect of McDonaldization, in which a kind of madness of the mind and dehumanization of a person grow out of the craving for functionality.

The mind has been compared to the light of the sun since Antiquity, so the Resistance in the game is called Moonrise (“Moonrise”). Like the movie Equilibrium, the game’s important conflict is the juxtaposition of living feelings and human weaknesses with the demands of the mind. This brings to mind Nietzsche, who distinguished between Apollonian and Dionysian principles in culture, and argued that the dominance of the desire for reason and order deprives culture of life and makes it mechanistic, which happened with some of your patients.

The plot details and retro design in the game, by the way, refer not only to Papers, Please, but also to the style of their common ancestor – the film “Brazil” by Terry Gilliam (I recommend). He was one of the first to create a memorable image of such an aesthetic. And the scan itself is somewhat reminiscent of the Voight-Kampf test from Blade Runner. The healing tools are reminiscent of the films of David Cronenberg (he even has a movie called Scanners) and trashy biopunk.

Brainwashing by Mind Scanners

Voight-Kampf test from Blade Runner.

What have we learned about totalitarian psychiatry?

In the game, we see a lot of stereotypes about totalitarianism. No one can hear you upstairs, but there will be sympathetic people downstairs. The unspoken demands on you and other heroes seem pointless, so there is no remorse for violating (most importantly, do not get caught). As always, the special and the dissident are persecuted, and the ideology puts higher reason and technology, and not something natural, natural. And behind the words about the good and caring for mental health is only the forced normalization of people. And, finally, the world itself is sad, dirty gray, and the combination of yellow, red and green in the interface increases psychological discomfort, as well as somewhat uterine sounds.

The bottom line is this: you can have fun with the dialogues and game mechanics, but the general meaning is simple, secondary, and even teaches an extremely strange idea of ​​\u200b\u200bpsychotherapy. Of course, one can only be glad that one of the players discovered the value of personal unusualness. For those who have understood this for a long time, it remains to catch only references.

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