Scratching the Surface of Video Games and Social Commentary

Lots of video games feature a dichotomy between those who live on “the Surface” and those who live elsewhere. It’s very interesting to think about the perception of characters based on their relative “height” by other characters and players alike.

You see it in games like Undertale, where the monsters are forced to live in the underground after the humans defeated them in war.


The ultimate “Who are the real monsters?” game.

Or in Xenogears, when the party reaches the elevated city of Shevat, with its remnants of ancient technology and wisdom of a bygone age…


The city in the sky keeps on turning. (source)

In the age of Antiquity in Chrono Trigger, where the Earthbound Ones and are kept separate from the floating Kingdom of Zeal, and their magical advancements…

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The higher up people are physically, the higher they seem to be regarded or the loftier their ideals and technologies tend to be. However these games also tend to highlight the hardships of the lowborn, and the dangerous nature of the highborn. In Undertale, the monsters are desperate to return to the surface. In Chrono Trigger, the Earthbound Ones live in squalor, while the people of Zeal attempt to attain a power they don’t fully understand. Both games feature a moment of comeuppance and potential equalizing, such as the monsters’ return to the surface, or the fall of Zeal forcing the two groups to band together to survive.

An interesting turn for this concept is found in Final Fantasy VI. The world of the Espers is found deep underneath the surface, a move made by the Espers to attempt to avoid conflict with the power-hungry humans. Both in Terra’s flashback and upon exploring the Esper Cave, we find the underground/surface tensions.

esper world

Get it? Surface tension? Haha… Ha… No wonder the Espers left.

All this gets turned on its head, though, when Emperor Gestahl and Kefka’s bid for magic power causes the magical land to rise from the ground and float in the sky.

floating continent

Jumping from here seems safe enough.

The Floating Continent transforms the Espers’ world from a hidden land of people forced to flee to a hovering representation of the power that will ultimately reshape the face of the world.

There’s a physical dimension to the arduous journey against oppression in games. The heroes literally have to climb up or down to grasp the magnitude of the story’s situation. This metaphor for hubris and lust for power is so often made into a tale of the highborn and the lowborn that it’s actually quite surprising that the analogy to the socially high and lowborn in the real world is often missed. I guess it just goes to show that there’s much more to the meaning of a video game than what’s just on the surface.

Chrono Trigger pics from Coughing Hobo’s Let’s Play.
Final Fantasy VI pics from Blastinus’ Let’s Play.


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