Memento Mori, and the Aesthetics of Paradise Killer

Also, you should nominate yourself for awards

I finished playing Paradise Killer last night, and haven’t had time to dig into what people have said about it yet. I hope everyone talks about its art direction (because it’s incredible) but what I want to talk about are the skulls.

Skulls as a motif are typically a symbol of death, and more specifically a reminder of our own mortality. Look at this screenshot I took… maybe two minutes into the game?

Here is the information I had at this point:

Lady Love Dies (you) need to come out of exile after three million days. The entire council have been murdered, and you need to investigate.

Mortality is not quite right in this place. Death is in the air, murder certainly, but among apparently ageless people. So what are these skull displays for?

It's hard to ignore how opulently they're presented. They’re not morbid, they’re exuberant. The skulls are carved from colourful opal, framed in gold, and propped up next to planters and art pieces. Rather than a sombre reminder of death, it’s a celebration of it.

Again: weird, when you consider that death is out of the norm for people who live on this island. Then you learn more about how the world of Paradise works. You and your peers may be ageless, but your island is powered by thousands of enslaved citizens. When the time comes, those citizens are ritually sacrificed en masse, so that their anguish and blood may fuel the gods. These same gods are also depicted across the island as statues, in the same purple opal.

The omnipresent skulls are both a celebration and a reminder of mortality. Just not ours.

Oh, Also

Have you nominated good games media you’ve enjoyed this year for the Good Games Writings’ 2020 awards? As I think most people who subscribe to this are also writers: go nominate yourselves, I’m cheerleading for you!

Ruth Cassidy is a writer and self-described velcro cyborg who, when not writing about video games, is probably being emotional about musicals, mountains, or cats. Has had some bylines, in some places.

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