Disco Elysium is one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time. In this industry, it feels like anything even half decent is known as a masterpiece, but in a world of masterpieces, Disco is king. It doesn't have phenomenal sales records smashed, with millions upon millions of copies sold to its name. It's probably the closest gaming gets to a real hidden gem, not just a Mad Max decent game that was okay and if you played it you'd probably like it, but a truly special game that takes you to places few other games do, and that once you've played it, you feel part of something. It's not just a great game because it's fun or because the combat is intuitive or anything like that. It's great because it means something, and that's rare. Except now the characters can kiss each other, and it all means nothing.

On the face of it, this is the sort of outrage I would usually dismiss as being stupid. We all know of the sorts of reactionary content creators who would dine out for a month on any other game adding a photo mode that lets the two male characters kiss. That's not what this is. It's not the fact that this turns the protagonist gay that makes Disco's kissing so obnoxious. It's the fact that the developers are completely misunderstanding the community and trying to commodify every inch of their property, with such a diametrically opposed viewpoint of capitalism to the game itself.

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The story of ZA/UM is a complicated situation, and you can read a more detailed explanation here. For now, what you need to know is that four figures in Disco Elysium's development left the studio "involuntarily", which has soured fans. It feels to them as if the creators have had their art taken from them, now in the hands of a studio whose main motivation may be cash, not integrity - although recent claims of unfair dismissal against ZA/UM have been thrown out. Though this latest update which allows players to manipulate scenes in a complex photo mode (including setting up non-canonical kissing) is free, it still feels to fans like a cheapening of the legacy.

Disco Elysium Kim and Harry kissing next to a bookshelf by a balcony

It might have been less poorly received if ZA/UM wasn't short of goodwill, but this pandering probably wouldn't have happened without ZA/UM needing to win audiences back. When narrative designer Justin Keenan was asked "Why can't we kiss Kim?" a couple of years ago, he said "Because the thing about desire is that it's stronger when it's not totally satisfied". This new mode isn't just a direct contradiction of that statement, it feels as if it goes against what Disco Elysium is about.

Yes, Disco is essentially a Choose Your Own Adventure game, so there's something of a collaboration between the creators and the player. But this has been shaped and curated in a very specific way. It's similar to when fans of Breaking Bad or The Boys make the most ridiculous memes out of the show's most hard-hitting moments - it's an act of appreciation, subverting the art's original context to connect deeply with the community. When people were making fanart of Harry and Kim kissing, they weren't demanding that this be in the next game, they were taking these characters and reimagining them for their own purposes. It gives the fans a greater appreciation of the art when they have control themselves.

disco elysium Screenshot Of Characters Shooting Each Other

In this update, ZA/UM is trying to be one of the cool kids. It's taking that ownership away from you, to sell it back to you and make itself involved in the joke. It's no different to a brand account tweeting about a TikTok trend a week after it died. Or, perhaps more pertinently as many have pointed out, to when Bethesda bought Fallout and made Pip-Boy the mascot for everything from action figures to lunchboxes to phone cases - it's cheapening the story and the art itself, taking control away from the fans, in order to convince the fans you're one of them.

The ZA/UM situation is going to colour a lot of opinions on this, and it's easy to imagine a reality where there's a strong connection between the fans and the studio and this update is received warmly. But that wouldn't change what it is or what it represents. It's born out of a desire to pander, and this is a game that is beloved for how it challenges. Harry and Kim have already kissed in a million pieces of fan art. We didn't need the game to clumsily add it in later.

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