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Exploring Death in 'Nier' with Procedurally Generated Elegies

A Twitter account ticks off a haunting new death in Nier: Automata, hour after hour.

Above: screenshot courtesy Square Enix

"A wounded android was distracted by a flower during a pointless battle."

In video games, death is most commonly portrayed as failure—a shortcoming of skill or wit or even luck. Even in games where death is embraced as inevitable, there tends to be a tinge of that "sorry, you weren't quite good enough" flavor.

"I felt my own weakness surrounded by the winds of death."

NieR: Automata is different. In NieR, death is poetry. It's still often inevitable, but in a way that speak less to the Sisyphean trials of a roguelike and more to the slow tilling of soil that is mortality.

In NieR: Automata, death is a moment of true clarity. Nothing makes that more obvious than NierDeathExperience, a twitter bot created by Brandon Boyer that automatically assembles the different segments of text that NieR presents to players after a death in the game.

"A shrewd soldier died peacefully somewhere very dull."

Normally, functions like this that allow players to leave messages for each other are meant to serve as warnings and advice. Whether tied to character death or a usable item, the purpose is generally to tip someone off to what threats may lie ahead—or, just as commonly, to troll anyone following in their footsteps. Play enough Dark Souls and you're likely to get sixth sense for when someone's trying to lead you to a brutal demise, or for when their guidance is genuine.

"One android laughed at the enemy's strength in the boring countryside."

The messages that can be left in NieR: Automata may serve similar functions, but with decidedly more ambiguous, existential qualities. Most of the strings that can be chosen from are more abstract than concrete, and as a result the messages pieced together by NierDeathExperience are contemplative. There's tragedy in them but, much like NieR: Automata as a whole, that tragedy is not a precise one.

"I couldn't help but smile at a fake city."