Spoilers for Byzantium in The Outer Worlds
Went to Byzantium!
It was….what I expected in some ways (really, people? You’re excited to “retire?” Saw that coming). But I have to admit that I didn’t expect Byzantium to be so much like everywhere else, and I’ll talk on why it bothers me I didn’t expect that in a bit.
I toodled past “retirees” (really people), then through the main drag, met the director, went to the clothes store and got Parvati her date clothes (you didn’t have to do that), modeled some, got a key card off a drunk guy, headed over to the movie place.
Really, it’s the same place as everywhere else, and no, this isn’t all video game “They used the same graphics hurr durr.” It’s intentionally like that. Shit’s boarded up because sprats, things are still kinda dark and grungy, there’s a gun shop, there’s a bar…. Sure, the lights are brighter in the gun shop and the bar, but they sell the same shit to the same type of people. Sure, they’re kinda sorta doing better, but the only reason they think they’re doing A WHOLE LOT better is a) they’ve been TOLD they are and b) they don’t know any better because they’ve never left and been told it really sucks out there.
It’s all smoke and mirrors and marketing. Like everything else.
I truly expected it to be either truly awful (much like I think the retirees are going to have it, but I could be wrong there, too) or genuinely awesome and me here eating my words. And I was wrong twice.
And here’s why that bugs me:
I live in a “rich” town with “good” schools. I live in a town people work hard to “get” to. It’s certainly expensive. Snobby, too. That said, I have filled these pages with all my mopey first world problems and complaints about where I live. People, myself included, talk a lot about my TOWN. Just in the last few days with stupid zoom field day calls we’ve talked on my town having such “good” schools and how much that sucks. Both ends of the spectrum!
That said…..I live in a split level. I drive a minivan. My split level is like 543985745987 other split levels in every town full of every type of working person everywhere. Same with my minivan. I have a street and a yard and neighbors and kids that resemble streets and yards and neighbors and kids in every town from the “richer” towns with “better” schools all the way through every town in every state in this great land filled with lawyers and factories and waiters and mechanics and EVERYONE. It’s all the damn same. The differences are so damn superficial between here and everywhere else, just as they are in Monarch and Edgewater and Byzantium.
What matters so much is the marketing.
And yet….I didn’t see Byzantium coming. And I should have. I kinda live there.
Dude! That is deep. And absolutely true.
I got to Byzantium and thought “yeah, everything’s falling apart here too”. Things look a little prettier, in some cases, and their vodka is purple, but they’re eating the same food. Walking around the same boarded up buildings.
Did you have the conversation with that woman who was complaining about the fact that the suggestion box had been removed? Not because she ever expected any of her suggestions to be acted on, but because the ritual of having somewhere to file a complaint was important. She’s acknowledging that it’s all a front, but the maintenance of that front is itself important. Like, when you can’t even keep up the smoke and mirrors anymore, that’s when you KNOW things are getting bad.
And, as you say, it’s marketing. Smoke and mirrors. “We’re so lucky to be here and not there” because we’ve been told here is so much better. We don’t know, because why would we ever leave, but we’ve been told!
And to some extent these people are indeed better off, in that they don’t have to work. I’m sure you talked to the bartender, who doesn’t actually serve drinks because that’s beneath him and he has a robot to do the menial labor, and there are all these people standing around commenting on the sculpture (“it’s called an orrery”): the people here have an amount of leisure that people in the working towns don’t necessarily have. We certainly met a number of people in those towns hanging out drinking, but no one was commenting on art, that I remember.
So there is an actual leisure class with a different experience of life here on The Outer Worlds, but they try to present it as if they were experiencing a completely different and better WORLD in total, and that’s not true…their world is slowly falling to pieces the same as everyone else’s. I guess they just have more free time to watch it crumble.
I also had a bad feeling about those retirees, who are so desperate to get here. We’ll talk later, of course.
YES! That was awesome. They even knew there were shredders in it! They knew!
It’s interesting, too, that they’ve been told, not so much that HERE is better, but that THERE sucks. The clothes lady obviously had a far worse view of Edgewater and Monarch and all that than reality would support. Sure, there were marauders, but still, the picture she had was far worse, which made her feel far better.
And true about the art, but did you have Parvati with you? I did, because of the clothes, and the first thing she does is points out that, if it’s supposed to be a model of the system, it’s very, VERY inaccurate. In that way she has. Have some metaphor, Parvati.
Which is also a pretty good mirror for, well, here. Yes, I live in a wealthy town. Yes, I am lucky as hell to have a wife with a good job (which is safe in these troubled times). I have time to play games and blog and talk about art (when the kids behave). Life’s good here, and I live here because I choose to.
Now, I live near a lot of people who have never really BEEN anywhere else. I capitalize that because they may have vacationed or visited, but never really experienced another place. I speak, of course, of all the places that we think we know about, the flyover states, the south, the midwest, all THOSE places that voted for Trump and like cheap beer and stuff. I know people who talk about those places as if they are filled with slobbering, hood wearing terrors. They might as well have been talking about raptidons. “Who on EARTH would want to live there? It’s TOTALLY different from here, where we have art and culture and all that.”
Now…I’ve BEEN to some of those “other” places. I was born there. I came THIS close to moving to Cleveland. I like it here better. In my opinion, here is objectively better than there. It is richer. There are more opportunities. There is more leisure. BUUUUT it isn’t THAT different. I have family in Cleveland. They have split levels. They have minivans. They have yards and families and are fun to talk to and don’t wear hoods (I think). Their day to day life, their pleasures and their problems, all of it is pretty much identical to mine.
But I’d still rather live here, despite the expense and the expectations. I mulched the front bed this weekend. Just the front. All those people who are not driving by anymore will see it.
I’d still rather live here.
But is that real? Is it REALLY better here? Or am I falling for the marketing?
Of course. I’m fully expecting to be wrong. Which means I’m right.
Very true, that’s an interesting distinction, that they’re being sold not on the awesomeness of here, but on the horrors of there.
“Sure, this isn’t perfect, but at least you’re not on MONARCH.” [Shudder]
I get the sense that maybe once upon a time the marketing could more persuasively argue “this is so great!!!” (and certainly the marketing for Byzantium in the other areas still sells it that way), but that things have decayed to the point that they have to fall back on talking about how it’s worse everywhere else.
I’m sure there’s a term for that…negative advertising compared to positive advertising or something.
But mainly, I really got the sense that things are not going well in this entire project here in the Outer Worlds, and maybe the decay is slightly less evident in Byzantium than everywhere else (citizens here can still hang out and admire the inaccurate orrery), but it’s reached here too, and that’s not a good sign for the long-term future.
And good point about how this distinction of ‘at least we’re not THERE’ also plays out in our own lives. As you say, we have a version of that in our lives as the Coastal Elites, but having (like you) lived in smaller towns in non-coastal areas, I also remember the way people there can think of the Big City as a hotbed of crime and debauchery where an innocent normal person will probably be robbed and murdered as soon as they get off the bus.
At least we’re not THERE!
Or, if you’re in a big city in the middle of the country, you might still assume all those coastal weirdos are obsessing about their part-skim oatmilk kale lattes nonstop, when instead, as you point out, we’re just mulching our lawns and checking on our booze supply, the same as everyone else.
Though we personally are indeed elite, since our main concerns are the booze supply, rather than whether or not we’re going to get sick and die at the job we can’t afford to lose and can’t do from home. I remind myself every day how damn lucky I am that this is all I have to complain about right now.
At least we’re not THERE.
Right. Everything goes into that “at least you’re not there”. Did you catch the NPC banter about how one person in the group “really need to watch more aetherwave?” Even their leisure is designed to make them think that THERE sucks. Wherever there is.
Well…maybe to some degree decay is here too. But the buildings are often closed for “sprat sighting.” I’m not sure that means that a) they’re really bankrupt and been evicted just like everywhere else but Byzantium doesn’t want “evicted” all over or b) the place has sprats, it has always had sprats, everywhere has sprats. I mean, my “rich, desirable” town was built in a fucking swamp. It has ALWAYS had mosquitoes the size of SUVs. It is not a sign of decay. It’s just that for centuries wealthy people have sat on nice decks saying “wonderful [swat] weather we’re having [swat]. Isn’t it [swat] lovely [swat] here? So glad we’re [swat] not there.”
Not that I’ve ever done that. I spray for mosquitoes.
Or maybe Byzantium is decaying and those are the same bars on the same doors with different labels.
Ooo! Excellent point about everyone having a “not THERE.” Even Ellie is glad she’s no longer in Byzantium and would prefer flying around get shot at on Monarch.
But Byzantium also mirrors real life because, as much as we all have similar concerns about family and homes and jobs and booze supply, real life sure does have its haves and have nots, even its have mores and have lesses. As you say, I’d still rather sip purple vodka than get the plague in the saltuna factory.
What do you make of the idea that, in Halcyon, getting to Byzantium is a false promise? We had that scientist in Roseway who wanted nothing more than to move to Byzantium and was utterly convinced that if he did everything “right” he WOULD get to Byzantium. Now, here we are in Byzantium and people are all “Well, EVERYONE here was born here. No one is from somewhere else.” That implies that there is no social ladder. That scientist could bust his ass forever and make the best damn toothpaste in the galaxy and still not get ahead.
How’s that fit into the metaphor? It’s very true in real life that being born into money is the best way to have money later in life. That said, while the pure, unvarnished “American dream” of “work hard, get ahead” is naive, there is some chance of getting to a real Byzantium in real life even if you weren’t born in one. Right?
Well, some people are coming to Byzantium who weren’t born there…those ‘retirees’. But yeah, looking around and not seeing any blissfully happy retirees on the streets (or even any locals complaining about how the blissfully retired yokels are bringing down the property values, or whatever), we can surmise that they certainly don’t occupy any positions of influence or authority.
I wondered about that scientist. I mean, I took his research, so he was doomed to fail, but it was an option to give it to him, right? Maybe then this would have been a moment of “darn it, I gave him back his research so he could come here, but he never will anyway!”
But yeah…he was never going to make it. Apparently Byzantium is held out as a promise, but is never delivered. The carrot that the workers can never reach. Maybe they used to be able to reach it?
Because I really got the sense here that things used to be better than they are. Meeting that woman who says you can’t even complain anymore because the box broke and they can’t fix it…that suggested to me that there’s a lack of a lot of stuff behind the scenes here. Practical skills, shredder parts, whatever…things are breaking and no one can fix them. That’s bad, and that’s a lot of what says “decay” to me.
But maybe years ago before so many things were broken, more stuff worked and there was more room for new people to come in. Maybe people used to be able to work really hard and make the best toothpaste in the galaxy and actually get the reward they were promised.
Well, yeah, not counting the retirees who I think are not going to end well.
But real people? Scientists who did what they were told? No. The promise is a lie. Probably. I may be wrong.
It’s interesting you read that the decay makes it LESS likely for people to get there. Usually decay means things are more affordable. When we went to Miami, you had hotels that, back in my grandparents day, were party grounds for the rich and famous but, now, after the decades, they’ve become places where middle class folk go because they’ve, well, decayed enough to be cheap. Usually the nicer something gets the more distant.
Ah, but this experience of decay making things more affordable works when the rich people have somewhere else to go. It would likely be true here, if all the privileged and elegant citizens had a shiny new city to go critique orreries in.
But since they’re trapped here (everyone is trapped in this game), my thought was that as things decay, they work harder (or the administration behind the scenes works harder) to limit the stress on the system by keeping the population down.
Don’t let anyone else in to break things even faster! Keep the few things that still work for the elites who deserve them!
It’s not as if letting in more people is going to bring an influx of useful stuff like money (the rich here already have plenty, and what’s it really worth if there’s nothing good to buy?) or resources (as far as we can tell, the towns all have the same resources and materials–after all, they were all built by the same corporations).
Arguably they COULD bring useful skills, so that’s a flaw in the logic of locking everything down, but maybe they either don’t have the specific skills needed to fix everything that’s broken, or it’s a comment on how the feeling of not wanting to associate with commoners is stronger than logic. Some of these people certainly seem to have a LOT of levels in snobbery.
Ah, good point about the rich having nothing else. I guess no one is building new hotels in Halcyon. Once you have the best, you cling to it and, sprats or no, these folks have the best in Halcyon. Or they think they do. They are certainly clinging. Even the gun store guy made it clear he thinks the only reason they have the best is that they are defending it. Of course, he’s a gun store owner.
That was kind of funny. You have these dialogue options like “so, do you often have to fight off the rampaging hordes?” or whatever. While so recently having wandered around the calm and peaceful streets.
Though we should also remember that the people who most clearly do have guns here are the guards, who are, you know, WORKING PEOPLE and might not be trusted not to turn on the rich if revolution comes. I didn’t really get a sense of brewing class warfare (perhaps that, too, is something they want to stave off by keeping the population small), the guards seem OK with their jobs (and honored to serve the Minister, in the case of the guy we got so drunk), but one can’t get complacent about the critical task of protecting one’s stuff.
Hmm, true. That guy did seem very pleased to do a job where “in two promotions I’ll get on the job bathroom breaks.” He was armored and armed and could have fucked shit up, but he was happy.
So what’s that? Better to be a peasant in heaven than a prince in hell?
Probably. I mean, talk about your “at least I’m not THERE” arguments.
“Yeah, you’re a corporate pawn who spends your days standing around guarding the leisure space of people who think you’re wallpaper, but at least you’re not on Monarch!”
Yeah. Which isn’t ALL that weird in terms of real life. The reason we were thinking of moving was that, for the money we paid for this house, we could’ve lived like kings. And yet, here we are, with a shitty kitchen, paying way more, but at least we’re not THERE.
Although it’s not all about just being prejudiced against THERE. I mean, yeah, we could go buy mansions in rural Nebraska right now, but once we got there and spent all our money on our mansion, would we be able to find a job that would pay for the upkeep?
Jobs and housing prices don’t track exactly, but there does tend to be a correlation. We make rational trade-offs based on what we want to do, as well as the fact that we want to not live THERE.
That, too. Guard guy was obviously of the opinion he had a great job, close to having bathroom breaks! He certainly would rather be a grunt in Byzantium than working in a saltuna factory.
What WOULD be interesting is to see if he’d rather be a grunt than to be, say, Dobson (Tobson? That guy). Is it better to be a grunt in Byzantium than to be in Edgewater but be the guy who isn’t working in the factory? Ellie doesn’t want to work in the saltuna factory, but she’s cool being not in Byzantium doing something that isn’t, you know, fatal.
Scientist guy certainly would’ve chosen Byzantium, but he wanted to be something more than a grunt there. But Parvati never really had a complaint about Edgewater per se. She wanted to join us because of the adventure, not because she was all “Man is SUCKS here. I want to be ANYWHERE but here.”
I also want the record to show that I am still totally capable of intelligent bloggage while simultaneously building a lovely little hamlet that is currently the box manufacturing capital of wherever the fuck City Skylines takes place.
Good work you! Make those boxes!
It is all kind of about what ambitions you have for your life, as well as where you are and where you specifically want to avoid being.
Maybe the game is partly saying that even in a literally new world, light years away from our familiar reality, people are just as likely to believe outrageous stories about THERE and settle for the best they can do here.
We travel millions of miles and end up recreating the same patterns, we can’t escape ourselves, etc.
Wow. That took a deep turn, even by normal standards. Let alone our standards lately.
We’re terribly intellectual when we get into the groove.
That’s Coastal Elites for you. Ha.
And totally nonsensical when we get out of it.
That’s us for you. Ha.
Man, that sure is.