“Time is a great teacher. Sadly, it kills all it’s pupils…”
— Chris Coloumbo
LISA the Painful strikes a huge powerful emotional chord within me.
LISA is a game that takes place in a post apocalyptic setting where women no longer exist. Men are left alone to their own devices for years, until one day when the main character, Brad, finds a baby that happens to be a female, raising her until she’s maybe twelve or so.
When she’s kidnapped it’s up to Brad to save the one thing he loves in this world, his ‘little Buddy’. The game explores the complexity of human life and I can’t help but find myself in awe of it. LISA hides itself in the guise of pessimistic humor and nihilism but within that hard exterior is a fragile and heartwarming story… kinda. While LISA takes itself not so seriously there is an underlying story about life and life lessons that rarely gets told in any medium. The game takes on many different aspects of the human experience and portrays them in all of its beautiful, nasty and perverse glory.
LISA the Painful has men walking around in leather and tight shirts doing karate while talking about wrestling and killing people, it’s unabashedly very manly. The vast array of characters encountered all have distinct personality traits, albeit some are just really rude and dismiss Brad, but most of them actually have an importance in the world, story and to the central ideas of life and male behavior. There are many gangs who wear masks and support raping and killing, the most base desires, and there are other gangs that
make music and are pretty chill. Sometimes Brad encounters characters who are just trying to make it in the world and want to avoid the outside. Even encounters with characters he fights somehow all relate to at least one of the eight guiding factors of male behavior. Ronald Levant, Ed.D lists these as such: “They are: (1) emotional restriction, (2) avoidance of femininity, (3) focus on toughness and aggression, (4) self-reliance, (5) achievement, (6) rationality, (7) objectification of sex, and (8) homophobia.” There are encounters where a character may feel emotional for the first time in a while and they’ll attack. There’s also an encounter with a guy who has two eye-patches on and doesn’t like that Brad is in his territory so he’ll ambush him. All of these roles are reflected heavily in LISA the Painful. Brad is completely silent, nihilistic, and aggressive throughout his whole journey to find his little Buddy. His love and devotion for the one thing that actually truly loved him knows no bounds; he is dedicated to saving her no matter the cost. He wants to finally be the good guy. But in this world being the good guy is the wrong thing to do and can have some very horrible outcomes.
All of the characters are carrying baggage in some way, shape or form. Like most of us on this Earth, we all have our flaws and secrets that we keep from each other. In a society where we have devices to make personas of ourselves and are able to
communicate entirely through text we all wear some sort of mask, negative or positive. But what happens when all of that goes away? What happens if all of these people who have unsolved problems in life just got planted into an apocalyptic setting, and then what happens if you took away the things most of these men loved? Their wives, children, pets, video games, TV, etc? What would they have left? Would society end up being disgusting, depraved and as nihilistic as it’s portrayed in LISA? I think so. If we reverted back to our basic instincts as a species with all of the knowledge and social changes we have now, society would be in shambles for who knows how long. It would leave us with just ourselves to think about the lives we led and who we are — how numbing would that be? To think about your issues while you have to fight for your survival, after years of having “killing is bad” drilled into you by society, would break you as a human. Some have the capacity to kill but most don’t. There would be no sexual outlet if you were straight and if you were gay you’d end up being stuck in a horrible situation. It would destroy everyone who survived. An apocalypse would completely strip us to our very base desires of power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honour, idealism, social contact, family, status, romance, eating and tranquility.
This leads us to the main character, Brad,
the catalyst of the story. There are times throughout where Brad will have to make a decision to either keep something or lose something. Both outcomes are usually very painful. You may have to choose between a party member being killed or losing a limb. Your money or your party member’s life. In one situation a group of children get lit on fire and you have to grab a can of water to put them out, but the water ends up being gasoline. LISA the Painful therefore is aptly named. It doesn’t pull any shots and never holds itself back when it just wants to sucker punch you emotionally.
Brad is often quiet and disregarded in this world, and
isn’t affected by many of the behaviors that this society reflects upon him like it does to the others . His days spent as a youth hiding in his room, with a father that never paid attention to him, ended up paying off in the long run. No matter how painful that experience was it shaped him as a human and has allowed him to survive. All of Brad’s choices throughout are heavily reflected by the absence of his basic desires being met at a young age. As a player you have to make these tough decisions but Brad would do whatever it takes to save the one thing he loves and to be loved himself. Brad from youth to adult has always been abused and made fun of by the other boys and men in his life because he wasn’t like them at all. He was considered weak and someone who “didn’t lift their chin up”. He was never a social, tough and strong kid and into his adult life he is still the same person. The events in LISA cause Brad to take a deep reflective look into himself and in turn we look into ourselves as well.
LISA really speaks to me on a lot of levels. I’m a very pessimistic person within reason and I also heavily follow Marcus Aurelius’ philosophy of stoicism. I feel that LISA has a huge lesson to learn about life and being aware of your decisions and owning them throughout it: choices make you who you are, so don’t hide them and don’t be afraid of them one bit. LISA on one hand is a hilarious game about the apocalypse, and in the other hand it’s about JOY, love and peace within one’s self. LISA‘s Steam page describes it as this: “Lisa is a quirky side-scrolling RPG set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Beneath the charming and funny exterior is a world full of disgust and moral destruction. Players will learn what kind of person they are by being FORCED to make choices. These choices permanently effect the game play. If you want to save a party member from death, you will have to sacrifice the strength of your character. Whether it’s taking a beating for them, or chopping off limbs, or some other inhuman way. You will learn that in this world being selfish and heartless is the only way to survive… ”
LISA is a game that I think everyone can learn something from. It’s strange and poetic to the human condition. It really hammers home this idea of self reflection to a ridiculous degree. LISA acts not only as a video game but a mirror into ourselves and the society that we live in. At the end of the day though, all I know is I love LISA the Painful, and even though LISA the Painful does not love me back
“No. You don’t understand. I’ve been dead for 35 years. Today is the day I live.”
So this is my first post for Indie Whatever — it was kind of heavy, right? That’s what I want this to be, though. I want it to be different and I want to dig into things, no matter what it is. And sometimes it might not be as heavy as this was. I just want to write super personable and unique things about games and people who I really dig. Thank you for reading and I hope you stick around for my next post on June 21st!
Header art was done by: https://twitter.com/zikurorobenzen and edited by me.