Back This Way Again: The Iteration and Labour of Community Involvement
by Philip Miletic
Throughout Nier: Automata, 9S has his share of complaints regarding the tedium of the tasks that him and 2B undertake. “Back this way again?” 9S points out, “What a pain.” His complaints are uncannily timed, given that I, too, felt the tedium.
9S’s expression can be read as a reflection on the circular fate of 9S and 2B; it can also be read as Yoko Taro’s smug meta-commentary on these repetitive tasks (a frequent criticism of his games).
Or 9S’s expression can be read as a reflection on the affective labour of friendships and community involvement.
What struck me about 9S’s complaint is how often I, myself, fall into the “what a pain” mindset when it comes to friendships, and how I am trying to dig myself out of that.
I’ve had serious bouts of social anxiety, which have complicated the friendships that I hold dear. And while I am characteristically “introverted,” this doesn’t mean I don’t value the communities that I belong to. I want to be supportive. I want to be there for the unglamorous work that comes with care.
One day, I wanted to be alone. I thought I needed to recharge because that’s what my counselor said: introverts need to recharge alone. Cool. But the following weekend, I wanted to be alone again. And again.
I was isolating myself and feeling miserable. Going out was so hard. At the thought of anything social, I was echoing 9S: “What a pain.” It seemed easier to stay home and be alone.
Writing this, I feel so embarrassed, Pod 153. I feel like such a shitty friend.
Playing through the side quests of Nier: Automata reminded me of the richness and complexity of being involved with others. Friendships and communities aren’t supposed to be “easy,” they are vulnerable, complex, and require time and labour from everyone involved. And that labour isn’t all cutscenes and boss battles.
And, fuck, I was falling into the trope of the white cishet male that, especially in sci-fi, wants to isolate themselves and disconnect from the world. Gross.
So, despite the iteration and labour of these tasks, I found myself slogging through them because I cared about these relationships. “What a pain,” 9S repeats, and I finally respond: “Just shut up.” And I take him back, again, through Pascal’s Village.
I loved the interactions that the side quests offer, the stories that emerge from each repetitive iteration, the feelings from seeing something through. By the end I was, like A2, saddened that I didn’t get to experience as much of the world (through side quests) as I could have.
“I never quite realized,” upon seeing all the players who deleted their save file to help me reach the end, “how beautiful this world is.” In return, I deleted my save. I let go. I’m allowing myself to be vulnerable again. It’s still fucking hard. But I’m trying. ◒