Blog: Ghostrunner (2020): Annihilation, Redemption and the Fall

Ishan Purkait, Presidency University

“But who prays for Satan? Who in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?”

-Mark Twain

The concept of the Biblical U was introduced by Jay MacPherson and Northrop Frye (2004) in order to emphasize a narrative structure found in the Bible across multiple episodes and places – the presence of a character/race falling entirely from grace to the bottom of the U, where a return to a righteous way of living and repentance for sin would find them finally returning to the top of the U, where they started out. This arc of redemption (‘redeem’ being the word used in the Bible) is a structure we find, almost ironically, in comedy, and also functions as a metaphorical vehicle that could tie together worlds well beyond the Bible(note Frye’s stress on the usage of the word “spiritually” to mean metaphorically).

 Ghostrunner (2020) is a game packed with allusions, a good example being the colossal Tower of Babel-esque Dharma Tower. For the purpose of this article, though, I’d like to point out how the story acts as a visualizer for the idea of Man’s fall and eventual redemption, including a return to pre-lapsarian powers and knowledge.  For starters, Jack the Ghostrunner – number seventy-six, to be precise – is literally knocked off the upper levels of Dharma City by the insurgent Mara (spiritually the Devil, if I may) from where he suffers a terrifying fall all the way to the Base – a fall that all but renders his biomechanical construction useless, until he is rescued and repaired by a rebel group called the Climbers. The Architect, a sentient presence that conceived the idea of Dharma City (analogous to God, for our purpose here) guides Jack as he attempts to return to the upper levels through the Base (spiritually Hell?) a space infested with enemies and threats. This emphasis on verticality in the game narrative is mirrored in the gameplay, as the game relies heavily on vertical movement during combat, without which one cannot clear even the simplest level. The Architect is continually criticizing the Climbers for repairing Jack very poorly, as a result of which He attempts to recalibrate Jack in puzzle-oriented levels that require the player to interact with a medium called Cybervoid through – you guessed it – plenty of vertical shenanigans. As Jack continues his ascent towards Dharma City and a return to his powers, abilities and, crucially, his memory before the Fall, one cannot help but notice the emphasis on the Lapse of man and the Original Sin, and the idea that only God could guide humanity back on the path back to the Paradise Adam inhabited before the Fall. The game does, however, upsets this rather linear narrative with an aggressive stance on the idea of spiritual theodicy – the Architect is revealed to have had much more power than He claimed He did, and Jack realizes that He could have disposed of Mara on his own without Jack having to do the dirty work that eventually led to himself becoming independent and sentient alongside fueling the Architect’s power. The Ghostrunner ultimately destroys both Cybervoid and the Architect (hence losing his own sentient power) in an episode that is more reminiscent of a glorious Satan in Paradise Lost than the Serpent in the Bible. The Ghostrunner does not quite find the redemption arc that a Biblical narrative would anticipate, turning instead against his creator with a rather un-Job-like belligerence. As we tumble towards our very own world of neon towers and Cybervoid, humanity will face Judgment Day not on a green field under blue skies, but under blinding lights and with control chips in the mind. Only then would we understand the true perspective of the Ghostrunner, and rise up, perhaps, against the creator. God is waiting, as is Satan. Our day will come. 

Works Cited

505 Games. Ghostrunner. Version 0.34834.545 for Windows PC, All in! Games SA, 2020.

“Ghostrunner Standing with a Sword Slung across His Back on a Red Background. .” HD Wallpapers, 25 Sept. 2020, http://www.hdwallpapers.in/ghostrunner_poster_4k_hd_games-wallpapers.html

“Shape of the Bible.” Biblical and Classical Myths the Mythological Framework of Western Culture, by Northrop Frye and Jay Macpherson, University of Toronto Press, 2004, pp. 21–30.

Ishan Purkait is an undergraduate student of English Literature at Presidency University Kolkata. He has presented at GamesLit 2019 and Postmemory and the Contemporary World 2021 Conferences. His research interests include digital media, ludology, and culture studies.

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