Jodie Holmes isn’t your average woman. She has been tethered to a spiritual presence named Aiden since birth, a presence she has partial control over. That spirit can affect the world in a variety of ways: everything from moving objects to healing wounds and talking with the dead. For most of her formative years, she grows up in a military facility with very little interaction with people her own age. Her first job out of this facility is working with the CIA to fully utilize the unique strengths of her spiritual bond with Aiden. Her life is a truly extraordinary one, more exciting than yours or mine.
None of this is why I found myself enjoying the story of Beyond: Two Souls. In fact, it was the ordinary parts of Jodie’s life that enthralled me. Several scenes in Beyond focused on this perfectly normal part of Jodie’s life, such as a teenage birthday party that ends in teasing and tears due to fear of her powers. Or a part where she throws a hissy fit–stomping around, breaking stuff, and rocking out on her guitar–because she can’t leave for one night just to hang out with her friends. These moments were intriguing to me because they felt real. I didn’t feel like I was watching some lifeless video game protagonist who seems like he or she couldn’t actually exist in the real world. Instead, Jodie actually felt like a human person, someone who feels real human emotions and has problems other than saving the world. Of course, this illusion is often shattered by the more ridiculous events that also occur in Beyond, but I have to give David Cage points for at least trying
I think it was those moments that felt especially female in the experience they were trying to portray that stuck with me the most. I enjoy playing female characters whenever I can because I am more intrigued with a character who is as different from me as possible. Being born male, I can never fully understand what life is like for a woman in our society but am fascinated to learn as much as I can about the experience. While books can do a better job of getting inside a character’s head than any other medium, I think video games have the potential to offer the most immersive experience, filled to the brim with those small details that don’t seem important but actually matter most of all.
Beyond doesn’t have many of these, but the few that appear are what resonated with me the most, keeping the experience in my head for days afterwards. One such example is when teenaged Jodie sneaks out of her confinement and goes to a nearby bar on her own. Things soon escalate to the point of her being sexually assaulted by the men in the bar. While Jodie is never truly in danger thanks to Aiden’s protective presence, this was a horrifying scene for me. My character had no direct control, no way to escape the situation on her own. She was completely helpless. In comparison, a later scene where Jodie prepares for a first date with a guy surprised me with how nervous I was for him to arrive. I had spent my time trying to ensure that every last piece of clutter was picked up, that the food I had prepared was something delicious and appealing to him, and that my outfit was the right mix of cool and attractive. I felt myself stumbling over conversation choices, what music to play, how forward I wanted to be to this new guy. It may not be a perfect analog to how nervous a person is on their first date, but it felt damn close. I personally would have enjoyed Beyond even more if the somewhat silly supernatural elements had been excised from the game entirely and instead the focus was entirely on this woman’s life, bringing Cage’s focus on the seemingly mundane everyday activities to the forefront.
Sadly, this isn’t the case. Even though the plot is done in a passable manner, I never really cared much about it, instead hoping that the next scene focused more on a younger Jodie without the supernatural elements. The true power of Beyond is the fact that Jodie is a character who believably grows and changes over the course of the game’s events. Even though the events aren’t told in chronological order, it’s plainly obvious where Jodie has come from and why she turns out the way she does. How many games can attest to that? How many can also claim that they have a woman as the lead and not a man? Thanks to the minimalist gameplay and the terrific performances (especially from Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe), I often forgot I was playing a game at all. It all felt much more real than that, as if I had created Jodie as a character myself and was guiding her down a path that was mostly locked in place but had enough choice in place to make me feel like I mattered. While some may argue that my desired experience isn’t really a game anymore, I’m too enchanted with the idea to care.