Sunday, February 28, 2010

Character Profile: Travis Bell

Straight up, being a remnant psyche would be horrible. Actually, on second thought, that could be kind of cool. It would all depend on who you followed around. Celebrities, boring; politicians, ugh; sports stars, God no; a group of professional assassins, now that could be interesting. The Killer 7 are an elite group dedicated to exterminating the Heaven Smile threat, and Travis Bell was their first target. He became the “Killer who got killed on the job,” and the group’s first remant psyche. And Travis isn’t afraid to provide harsh and relentless criticism over it. As he puts it, “Hey Smith, I ain’t letting you go nowhere.”

As odd and eclectic as he may seem, Travis is a reliable voice. His ability to tell Garcian “Straight up” what's going on shows his insight into the government’s underground affairs. In a game as convoluted as Killer 7, Travis is an invaluable ally in finding the truth. He doggedly pursues any and all connections between the assassins and their targets. Travis is usually willing to share what he finds, but he’s also disenfranchised soul. This gives him a huge agency within the story. He could tell us exactly what's going on, but he won't. As a psyche, Travis could go anywhere and do anything, but he’s tethered to the group. To stick around with a bunch of assassin for a week is one thing, you’d get to know them just enough to see what they do for a living. If you spent fifty years with them, you end up a little jaded. Travis knows what’s going on in the world and can see past the hypocrisy. And why make it easy for them? They did kill him after all.

What makes Travis so interesting is that there are three elements involved when reading him. First, there’s his posture. Each time we encounter Travis he’s always in a new position or performing some action. From pelvic thrusts to cooking to working out, he’s always doing something that’s symbolic of his mood. Second, there are his t-shirt. Like his pose, each says something about the tone of his upcoming dialogue. His t-shirts also add an unconscious layer to his tone. The third is the straight up analysis of his dialogue. For instance, in the first level he says this to Garcian:

“Oh, there you are! Don’t be shy, Emir! Who woulda figured you’d be the only survivor? Well, anyway, how are you getting along with the chief? Straight up, I was waiting for you this whole time. Yeah, I know… Don’t be so mad, man… Don’t glare at me like that… The chief’ll wake up. Really, I’m sorry. The other chief must be rolling on the floor with laughter.”

Travis is just nonchalantly reclining against a wall waiting for Garcian Smith to show up, whatever, he’s cool with it. In reality, Travis was killed in 1969, almost fifty years prior to the incident at the Celtic Building. He’s been waiting for a long freaking time. His t-shirt has the words “Pillow Talk” written on it. This may seem insignificant, but it affects the player on a subconscious level. Travis t-shirt is saying that he's “In Bed” with the Killer 7 and he's able to share intimate details about their lives. And right off the bat, Travis’s dialogue shows that he can see through Harman’s façade. He can see into the deeper conflict inside of Garcian Smith. This shows just how much power Travis holds over the game’s narrative. The only problem is that he’s a cryptic and reluctant expositional character.

In “Setting sun” Travis talks about the Yakumo Party Cabinet and introduces the International Ethics Committee. These are big names in the government conspiracies surrounding you. This is how Travis confronts Garcian and his identity. Travis asks us, "How much do you actually know?" and in truth we know absolutely nothing about what's going on. Garcian believes that he is working for the United States government to help stop the Heaven Smiles, he’s right and he’s wrong. Behind all of the bloodshed there's a veil of deception being pulled over Garcian’s eyes. This is the thing about Killer 7, you can’t know what’s going on in the game.

Travis is one of the lucky few who were transformed into a remnant psyche. According to Iwazaru, these kinds spirits are only formed by killing them and most are either unwilling to leave their killers alone or unable to. Travis is in the former category. But we see people who we have killed returning to talk with us and give us some advice. Afterwards, they always disappear, but not Travis. He stays with us and haunts us. Travis is unable to release his grip from Garcian because his death brought a kind of pleasure. He even says, “The pain went straight up my spine, and then back down again. To be honest, that shit felt good.” You can see how Travis is able to connect his catch-phrase to the sexual pleasure/ecstasy he got from death. This is why he follows the Killer 7 around. To be with them is to be stimulated, in more ways than one.

Travis Bell was killed on a hot and muggy summer’s night, and not without a hint of irony. He was assigned to take out the Killer 7, but got a bullet instead. Even in death Travis managed to keep his sense of humour about it. If you read Hand in Killer 7, you can get a sense of who he is in relation to the group, but there’s an air of mystery surrounding him. Travis has a fragmented sense of self. This is why he has to display his emotional states in his posture, in his facial expressions and on his t-shirts. Each character in Killer 7 is obscured in some way. This is why Travis is so important. He is an expositional character, a secondary voice who is outside of the main story. As one of these remnant psyches, he has insight into the psychological condition of the characters. He knows things about him. But as a means of exposition, you’d probably be better off listening to Iwazaru than Travis. Travis is a reliable and an interesting voice, but he’s also a smartass. The thing about him is that he can see past the façade. He can see into Garcian’s true nature and the conflict he’s apart of. Near the end of the game, Travis says this:

“There you are, Smith. I was waiting for you. Do you remember this hotel? Let’s talk straight for a second. Well, suit yourself. It was stuck into this sofa. I found it again. What does this bullet mean? You know, right chief? The charade is all over, my friend.”

Again, we can use the same method of analysis. In this dialogue, Travis is sitting in a pretty dramatic spot inside of Hotel Union. As you run through hotel, you are confronted by six different rooms each with a "soul shell" hidden inside. Each time you uncover one of these shells, Garcian, in the second part of the level, recollects the fragments of a mission he was sent on many years ago. This is how Travis confronts Garcian with the “Truth,” and he knows it’s going to hurt. Travis’s t-shirt says “New York” on it. There’s an over arcing theme in the game about the deception of the United States government. By connecting Garcian’s false identity with the word “New York” it creates a bridge between Garcian’s fragmented identity and the United States. In essence, it’s Travis attacking Garcian’s identity as a person and his role as an assassin for the US government. Travis sees past the charade and he knows how little time there is left in the game. This is another aspect of his character I'll be talking about a little later on.

As a remnant psyche, Travis Bell is nothing more than a figment of Garcian Smith’s imagination. This is what makes his character so interesting. Travis is aware of his existence as a videogame character. In "Alter Ego" he comments on how stupid collecting the colour samples is. He says something like, "What's a pain in the ass! What's with the design of this studo? Straight up, this sucks ass. Pissing me off, I tell ya." He is aware that collecting these samples if far too complex for any real world security system.

To say that Killer 7 is an accessible game is like saying Goichi Suda and Shinji Mikami are mainstream developers. The more you think about the story the less it makes sense. Garcian Smith is fragmented along the lines of his personality, his psyche and his identity. So, in order to fully understand Travis, you have to look to the source of his creation, Emir Parkreiner. Major spoilers ahead, I’ll do a small recap of Travis below.

Travis Bell is a remnant psyche who can see almost everything. He’s willing to share his knowledge, and right from the start of the game we can see just how much he knows. He looks at Garcian and just laughs. He says, “The other chief must be rolling on the floor with laughter.” Travis is important because he can see into the conflicts surrounding the Killer 7, and ,unlike Iwazaru, he’s no servant of the Master. He can speak his mind. He has free agency to say what he wants and do what he likes so long as he follows his killers on their journey. In some ways, this makes Travis more of a prisoner than Iwazaru. He’s trapped in his spiritual form, not because he likes it, but because he can’t escape from his obsession with finding the truth behind his death. He wants to know the truth, and this is what drives him. He’s an important character because of the exposition he provides. He tells us about the alternate reality we are in and what the hell we should be doing. Travis Bell can see into Garcian’s mind and collect some of the fragments. The only problem is that picture he constructs is grotesque and unfinished. On with the profile!

Emir Parkreiner was an assassin who was trained at Coburn Elementary school. After killing all of the school’s faculty and students, he was picked up by the US government as an assassin. Emir was then tasked with killing a group of assassins called the "Smith Alliance" that included: Harman, Dan, KAEDE, Kevin, Mask, Coyote and Con. This murder spree was later known as the Killer 7, partially due to the intense level of violence that took place but mostly because there were seven victims. After these events took place, Emir committed suicide on the roof of Hotel Union. This death of the “self” spurred the creation of a disocciative identity disorder. He thus assumed the roles of the assassins he killed and used them in his government sanctioned operations. On a spiritual level this was when Harman Smith, an ancient demi-god, decided to take in Emir as a vessel to wage his battle against Kun Lan.

For me, understanding Killer 7 depends on your grasp on the characters. One of my goals for doing all of these character profiles was one day to get around to categorizing and examining each of the Smith personalities. Each of them is article in and of themselves, they’re that complex. I thought starting on a smaller would be best. Travis Bell is anything but simple, his moods and thought are complex, his dialogue is insanely cryptic and his purpose in the game is somewhat obscure. Straight up, he knows what's going on. This is what makes Travis so different from the other spirits. He can see through Emir, he can see through Harman and he can see through the United State’s historical façade. Travis can see the truth.

In Travis’s last dialogue he says, “I’m warning you, the truth is too big to even begin to scratch the surface. But Smith, I do believe that you can find the truth.” He confides in Garcian that he believe that the end is near. It’s quite a dramatic moment and it signals the death of his character. He says, in probably is the best last words in all of videogames, “I’m telling you straight up, this is about it from me. I wish you all the luck, and die like a dog. Then laugh it off. I’ll be waiting for you with a grin as wide as the truth.” What a way to go out.

Haunting the Killer 7 would be tough. The hardest part would be trying to keep the important details to yourself. If anything, Travis helped Garcian find himself. Killer 7 is a tough game and is practically impossible to decipher. It’s a game that no one can really understand, and this applies even to the characters themselves. Travis Bell is a minor voice in the grand scheme of things, but the fact that he can see so much makes him almost too important to be left unexplored. Sure, being a remnant psyche of an inherently fragmented person would be kind of confusing, but Travis works with what he can get. He's "The Killer who got killed on the job" and, ironically, he helped Garcian actually get somewhere.

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