Jesse Venbrux is no stranger to either intriguing freeware or Play This Thing!. The creator of the Karoshi series, Execution, and Frozzd, Jesse has consistently crafted gems any indie game aficionado worth his salt knows about. Pazzon, an existentialist platformer, is one of his undeservedly lesser known works. Unlike his other 'arsty' game Execution, the implications this games raises aren't readily apparent once you boot up the .exe a second time. Mr. Venbrux claims that the game is a "short artistic(?) game with a mysterious story about religion." I find that the game tackles the broader topics of dogmatism and agency; and more importantly, how dogma applies to the structure, narrative, and players of games, who ultimately have no agency.
Pazzon has a dreamlike feel to it. The characters and background are all angular and incongruent, and the soundtrack is sparse. You begin the game with some cliched NPC dialogue, and are quickly told to meet with the three presidents. An NPC tells you "press up to jump", and you find that pressing up indeed lets you jump. After a bit of platforming you are then told by another NPC about your double jump, and come to the conclusion (as in all games) that the NPC's are trustworthy in what they say about the game world you are plopped into. You soon meet up with the triumvarite, who call you the chosen one and tell you (three times, no less) that your undertaking is dangerous. You eventually reach a priest who asks (which in game terms equates to telling) you to convert some heathens, merely because they believe differently than the in-game society. After you convert the first batch, the priest devours them. Agahst, you continue. There are some would-be converts who revolt, but you simply jump on their head, Mario-style. You repeat this process, until you stumble upon a third type of convert. Once you take them back to the priest, they fire upon and kill him. You waltz over to the three presidents, and face them in a boss battle of sorts. The final "boss" warns you that if you kill him you will perish also. You let your shooting converts finish him off, and you abruptly are put into a "The End" card.
What to make of it? Well, the first thing to analyze is the dialogue given to you by the NPCs. At first they tell you how to interact with the world, which you don't contest. You initially believe that the NPCs are trustworthy and are there for the player. The first lie you are told is that it is "dangerous, dangerous, dangerous." There are not any actual enemies in this game; the would-be converts do change color and appear hostile, but they cannot cause you any damage. The only way to die is to fall into a pit or onto some spikes; in effect, the only enemy is yourself. You are then told by the priest that you and he are in the right, which justifies your cultural and literal genocide. Just like the converts, you blindly follow the system simply because it tells you to. You are lied to, but you are powerless to do anything about it.
Pazzon incorporates the silent protagonist to the extreme. You are completely forced into things, and have no say in the goings-on of the game. After you discover that the priest wants you to convert them for his own selfish desire, you can either continue leading the converts to their death or stop playing. You are shoehorned into those two meager options. The same thing applies to your ally-assisted revolt; you're still doing nothing more than following the game's system. The "boss" battles further this. You are still absolutely passive; your allies do all of the shooting. If this theme isn't already drilled into your head, the final "boss" exemplifies this. He doesn't return fire or become aggressive in any way. He simply states that you will perish with him. The boss, allies, and player all fulfill their passive roles until the credits roll.
This game points out the lack of agency videogame protagonists possess, or rather the falsity of the illusion of agency that that games provide. You have no influence on the structure or narrative of Pazzon. You simply jump through the dogmatic hoops given to you by the designer. The structure of this game points this out by presenting the converts, who you could be seen as tatamount to. Both the converts and player blindly follow the dogma of the game, fulfill the needs of the in-game society, and then perish. This comparison extends to the would-be converts; if you attempt to do something the narrative won't allow, you will only end up dead. In the end, you are just another automated cog in the dogmatic videogame machine. The only difference is that you have the chance to misfire (i.e. perish and restart.) Mr. Venbrux makes this all too apparent in Pazzon.
To continue PTT's tradition of passively ragging on Bioshock, one might say that Pazzon can be seen as an indictment of Bioshock's storyline. As much as Bioshock tries to immerse you with its beautiful graphics and music, it still possesses the same silent and passive protagonist. You have as much free will in Pazzon as you do in Bioshock, or indeed in almost any other videogame. The greatest strength of the videogame medium is its interactivity; so why is it that gamers let themselves be spoon-fed rigid game structures and narratives? Wouldn't you want to vicariously become an actual hero, rather than a silent underling whoring out to an inflexible and unwavering status quo? Wouldn't you want gamers to have a voice?
If you look at the sociological implications the game raises, it basically says to not to be passive and let those in power fuck you over. Which totally applies to gamers, don't you think?