When I reviewed Mirror’s Edge the other day, I purposefully left out the discussion of the games plot because… Well, it warrants it’s own post. Not because it is complex or thought provoking. It’s because it makes no sense. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell was this game all about – and I don’t mean this in a good way. For example, I still don’t know what Half Life 2 story is all about but Valve does that on purpose to keep you guessing. The details are shrouded in mystery but the motivations of main characters and their relationships are clear. Mirror’s Edge universe on the other hand is populated by characters whose actions seem randomly generated and whose motivations are impenetrable.
The game takes place in some far away city that turned into a police state dystopia. At least that’s what we are told in the short intro. Faith, the protagonist tells us that the city used to be a great place to live (“dirty and dangerous, but alive and wonderful”), but then the wrong people got into power and ruined things. This shift in power was so uninteresting that apparently no one save for few political radicals noticed it. Said radicals (including Faith’s parents) started street riots which were violently put down by the police. Eventually they went underground and started doing their business in secret.
Faith is a “runner” – an illegal courier of sorts. Her employer hands her a yellow bag with “something” in it, and she is tasked with discrete and speedy delivery to the recipient. Curiously, instead of just blending in with the crowd, riding a bike or dressing as a UPS chick, Faith and her compatriots choose the most dangerous and ridiculous way to do their job. They choose to deliver their packages by taking “shortcuts” over rooftops of high rise buildings, private penthouses, corporate offices and other off-limits areas. In other words, they are trespassing over private property. Needless to say, the police and private security firms which protect various corporate buildings are not entirely happy with the runner business model.
Did I mention our dystopian city has democratically elected officials? Well, it does. In the first act we find out that one of the candidates running for the mayor was assassinated and Faith’s sister is implicated. Oh, yeah – Faith apparently has a sister who is also a cop. Of course no one bothered to tell us that until she showed up on the screen and Faith had to say some exposition loaded line like:
“Kate? What are you, my only sister, doing here?”
See, that’s one of the problems with this plot: characters just show up, and we don’t actually know whether we are supposed to like them or hate them or what. Kate is a cop working for the man. Faith is a runner who sticks it to the man every day. Are the sisters estranged because of this? How does their relationship work? Does Kate go out of her way ignore Faith’s illegal exploits? Does she cover for her? Do they ever cross paths? We don’t know. No one tells us. Writers don’t even seem to care.
All we know is that we find Kate standing over the corpse of a politician with a proverbial smoking gun still in her hand. She quickly explains that the guy called her, asked her to come in, then something happened, she blacked out and now he is dead killed with her gun. But apparently we are supposed to trust her, because of the whole sister thing that we just found out about.
But let me get back to the politician. He was running for the mayor, which means the city must have democratically elected officials no? Wait… Wasn’t this supposed to be a dystopian police state? I’m confused! I always thought that the main characteristic of a scary dystopian police state is the lack of democratic process. What the hell does make this city so bad? I mean, the streets are clean and orderly, the buildings, malls and even subway tunnels are well maintained. You see pedestrians walking around minding their own business. They clothes are nice, their cars are nice. The police doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone except for you – but then again you are the crazy person doing spider-man stunts on rooftops. Hell, even the news broadcasts you hear from time to time seem rather objective and impartial. It is a far cry from the oppressiveness of City 17 for example. The police here doesn’t tell you to pick up that can or else.
To be honest, the city seems like a nice place to live. In fact the only evidence of any wrong-doing we witness in this game is the death of Pope (the mayoral candidate I mentioned above) and it’s circumstances. Apparently Pope was a “good guy”. He sympathized the underground movement (which we don’t know anything about – not even what do they believe in and what do they stand for) and his election would improve things. At least that’s what Kate says, but she is not much of an authority seeing how she says it while holstering the smoking gun that was used to kill the politician. Faith on the other hand admits she doesn’t watch the news, so she can’t verify whether or not this was true.
So we have a politician with an unknown agenda who aligned himself with the underground movement with similarly unknown philosophy who just got shot by your sister (or someone who knocked her out and decided to frame her). Your sister then decides to turn herself in (which is suspicious in itself) , trusting that you can clear her name. The upside of this is that finding out who killed Pope (I don’t trust Kate but I’ll go with her crazy theory for the time being) will probably involve learning more about his political ideals, and the underground radical movement he was trying to help out – you know, the folks Faith is working for. Right?
Wrong. Pope died because he found out about “Project Icarus”. What is that? From what I understood it was a privately funded but state approved initiative to identify active Runners, monitor their movements and train a special mercenary task force to intercept and apprehend them. What the fuck?
And then everything clicked into place. I figured it out.
Check this out: if you were a political radical, would you use a parkour trained courier to send messages to your co-conspirators? No you wouldn’t. You would use PGP or some other strong encryption. The future police state may be big and scary, but they are not magicians. You can’t just throw men and money at a cryptography problem and expect it to be solved. A strong algorithm combined with a sufficiently strong key is much more secure than some dude or chick running around the rooftops with a conspicuous looking shoulder bag. What would you use a courier for?
It’s simple: contraband! Faith and her buddies are most likely drug traffickers. It makes perfect sense. Just think about it:
- Faith claims that the city used to be “dirty and dangerous, but alive and wonderful”. Now it is safe and boring. Almost as if someone pulled a plug on these dirty and dangerous activities by, say, banning certain narcotic substances?
- Most people didn’t care about the political changes in the city – this is usually what happens when drug laws are passed. Most of the population either doesn’t care or supports the initiative. On the other hand, individuals who worked producing, distributing or transporting the banned substance are likely to get very upset and… I don’t know – start a few riots.
- Usually when you ban a narcotic it’s price skyrockets. Lucrative but dangerous business of manufacturing and distributing it gets pushed deep underground. The people skilled in production of the drug either join some criminal organization that can shield them from the law and cut-throat competition, or start their own. Faith’s employers seem to be exactly that type of group with shady, unknown agenda and tons of secrets.
- Using runners to distribute your highly illegal product to your high end customers seems like a good idea, since they are very difficult to catch (with their 1337 parkour skills and everything), efficient, professional and dedicated. I’m sure they have other distribution networks – I believe that runner delivery would cost premium. Faith wouldn’t deliver the goods to a local dorm or someones house. No, runners are called when a CEO of a big corporation of a famous movie star wants to throw a big party and wants the drugs hand-delivered on the location by a trustworthy courier. This is also why police usually turns a blind eye toward runners. They serve the rich and the famous – their resources are better spent keeping the same substances out of schools or poor neighborhoods.
Doesn’t that make sense? I thought that the message was pretty clear here. But how does Pope’s death factor into the equation here?
Well, Pope uncovers a political scandal: someone in the government outsourced the “runner problem” to an unscrupulous private security firm. This company would invigilate, capture, interrogate and detain legal citizens without any form of legal oversight. You can see how that could be embarrassing to the people in high places. The entrenched politicians are afraid of the political backlash. Security firm is scared o lose their contract. Someone decides to take him out and finds a perfect suspect to take the fall for it. A cop who is both friends with Pope (easy access to the target) and who is connected to the drug cartels via her sister. And if Pope was pro-legalization, then it is not hard to see why a cartel could want him dead. If the narcotic was re-legalized, they would lose a lucrative revenue stream as competition from legal corporate distributions would drive the prices down.
So yeah, apparently Mirror’s Edge is a game in which you play a drug trafficker.