Category Archives: Dishonored

Out of the Freezer: How Dishonored Killed the Empress Without Fridging Her


Editor’s Note: Sorry for the hiatus, dear readers, things have been quite busy and exciting on this end. Hopefully this essay will be enjoyable enough to make up for it.

Empress Jessamine Kaldwin dies ten minutes into Dishonored. It’s not a spoiler or a surprise—her death is stated blatantly in the game’s promotional material, and it is her demise that jettisons main character Corvo into his journey for revenge. One might say her death is the most important thing about her, and that she exists solely to affect the emotions of the hero. Such a state is both unfortunate and so common in pop culture that it has its own name: fridging, wherein a character close to the protagonist is brutally done away in order to propel the hero into action. The trope has come under heavy fire in recent years, as fridged characters (often attractive love interests) are inherently devalued and shown to only be important in terms of how the protagonist reacts to them. The only difference between a fridged characters and a sexy lamp is that a dead human usually prompts greater sympathy from the audience.


By virtue of her demise catalyzing the plot, it has been suggested that the Empress is a textbook case of fridging, and she is ultimately a prop in Corvo’s story. However, there is another argument to be made here: while Jessamine’s death does indisputably get the ball rolling, that’s not where her story ends, and the game knows it. In its handling of Jessamine Kaldwin, Dishonored dodges the fridging trope by giving her power and importance that are widely felt and subsist long after her death.

Continue reading Out of the Freezer: How Dishonored Killed the Empress Without Fridging Her

Feminine Mysdeeds: Feminine Power in the Dunwall Underworld

File:BridgemoreWitchesPressKitInterior 2.jpg

In the late stages of Dishonored, when protagonist Corvo Attano infiltrates the corrupt Lord Regent’s tower stronghold, there is a safe in the executive suite. Quite the bounty is to be found inside, including a taped confession wherein the Lord Regent admits to plotting the assassination of the Empress. The account is chilling, spoken by a man who feels wholly justified in what he has done—”She had to die, you see,” he explains fervently. “She had to die,”—with no hint of remorse. The idea of such a carefully calculated murder is disturbing enough, but it becomes even more unsettling when considering the Empress’ position: in a city packed with aristocrats and politicians, she is the only woman in Dunwall holding an office of esteem; it is also a largely male cohort that, deeming her unfit for rule, turns on her.

I am going to destroy you, Hiram Burrows, and I’m going to enjoy it.

This is no coincidence: in a city where women are restricted from certain professions, accused of witchcraft for practicing mathematics, and are much more likely to be maids (or prostitutes) than Parliamentarians, the culture of Dunwall perpetuates a wide-reaching gender disparity where women hold little social power. (For those interested, Becky Chambers has an awesome essay on just this topic over at The Mary Sue.) But, as anyone who has played the game knows, there is another world to Dunwall: a dark, slimy world of organized crime and dark magic, existing in the abandoned factories, darkened alleyways, and hidden places of the city. In this underworld, where guardsmen and politicians tread at their own peril (and may lose a tongue, limb, or life for their efforts), an interesting thing happens: women rise to power. In Dishonored, feminine power thrives in the underworld, where women are able to assert authority and influence that is largely out of reach in “legitimate” society.

Continue reading Feminine Mysdeeds: Feminine Power in the Dunwall Underworld

Merchants, Whores, and Swineherds: the Narrative of Xenophobia in Dishonored

The 2012-2013 winter season—or fall-to-spring season, if you, dear reader, live in a balmier climate than I—has seen something very interesting going on in the world of gaming: not one, but two major game franchises incorporating self-aware elements of racism in their story lines. Assassin’s Creed III, released in October 2012, tells the story of a Native American man in the late 1700’s who sees as much willful discounting of his people from his allies as he does his enemies. Bioshock Infinite, set 100 years earlier than its March 2013 release date (Editor’s Note: a little day called todaySCREAM), also deals with elements of racism inherent to the time period, as Ken Levine discusses here in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

However, this essay is not about Assassin’s Creed or Bioshock; it is about a third game, one that preceded the former’s release by two weeks, and shares distinct gameplay similarities with the latter: Dishonored.

Set in the fictional, plague-ravaged capitol city of Dunwall, Dishonored follows a royal bodyguard named Corvo who is framed for the murder of the Empress and the abduction of her daughter. After escaping from prison, he sets out to seek revenge (or justice, or both) with the help of a pro-Royal group called the Loyalist Conspiracy. The game was a smash-hit, winning 28 gaming awards (including Best Overall Action Game from IGN; Action/Adventure Game of the Year, PS3 Game of the Year, and XBox 360 Game of the Year from GameSpot’s Best Games;  and 12 different Game of the Year titles), and was so successful that producer Bethesda declared it a series-starter within a month of release. The gameplay is stellar, the story engaging, the world expansive and the experience grand. This author would—and does—highly recommend it to just about anyone.

That said, it’s also not a game that seems to incorporate racism in the same fashion as the two games mentioned above. An interesting aspect of Dishonored is how much the story can change based on information the player may or may not encounter. Hundreds of in-game books litter its nine levels; dozens of conversations can be overheard throughout the city; and various advertisements, notes, and splashes of graffiti help flesh out the setting of Dunwall and the Empire it heads. It is in these places that Dishonored‘s narrative of prejudice lives. Blink, and you might miss it—but once it is uncovered, it paints a stomach-turning picture of Corvo as an outsider, subject to hidden and overt prejudice, that comes to shape his circumstances in palpable ways.

Continue reading Merchants, Whores, and Swineherds: the Narrative of Xenophobia in Dishonored