There are no honour points in LISA: The Painful

“That son of a bitch.”



Contrary to popular belief, gamers are an empathetic bunch. Reportedly, around 92% of Mass Effect players were ‘Paragons’, meaning they almost exclusively chose the most morally pure responses to any given player choice. They saved civilians, halted genocides, and brokered peace to garner undying adoration from NPCs and those juicy, invisible honour points. Given how high the percentile of Paragon players is, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I fall hard into that group and, if you’re reading this, you probably did too.

Role-playing as the ‘Lawful Good’ character archetype in games has likely governed how I interact with the real world. I often push myself to go the extra mile in an effort to do the right thing, either by doing people favours or pulling late shifts at work in an effort to get in people’s good books. My peers and my partner occasionally comment on how selfless I can be, yet it’s a quietly poisonous trait I don’t personally recognize until I notice the toll it starts to take on my health as I slowly burn myself out. I wouldn’t say video games have made me a pathological people pleaser, but they certainly enable that side of my personality by rewarding me with bonus experience points or a sense of heroism without any negative consequences. It feels good to be the good guy.

I think this concept is what Austin Jorgensen, the creator of LISA: The Painful delights in subverting. The game is rife with gut-wrenching player choices that aren’t clear-cut ‘Black and White’ options. Rather they are ‘Jet Black’ or ‘Ink Black’. Take your pick.

The world of LISA’s is one of chaotic degeneracy. About a decade before our adventure starts, a bright flash instantly deleted every woman from existence, leaving only the men behind in a Godless, lawless sausage fest — a post-apocalypse where the dwindling survivors are hell-bent on finding ‘alternative solutions’ to their pent-up sexual inhibitions.

It’s easy then to graft onto our protagonist, Brad. He’s seemingly one of the only moral men left on the planet because he’s not motivated by man’s most base instinct to procreate. His childhood trauma of witnessing the destruction that lust can cause has left him sexually and emotionally castrated, so when he miraculously stumbles across the only baby girl left on the planet he does what any normal, pre-apocalypse man would do: he raises and protects her in secrecy. One day however, word gets out about what you’re hiding and your surrogate daughter gets kidnapped. Brad’s paternal instinct goes into overdrive and your odyssey to rescue her begins.

The best RPGs have party members, and LISA gifts you with a real oddball right out the gate. Your very first combat encounter results in you saving a man with a permanent five o’clock shadow, garbed in a garish leopard-print leotard. The grateful man is Terry Hintz, a self-appointed tutorial giver and the very first member of your motley fighting crew.

It’s a struggle to call Terry a legitimate addition to your team however because he’s comedically terrible at fighting. Even after levelling him up a bit, Terry’s pitiful flailing means that his standard attack damage rarely exceeds zero — he is a literal leopard-print Magikarp floundering his way around the apocalypse. Yet his dog-like loyalty and helplessness is also what made me feel protective of Terry. My paternal streak extended outwards and I adopted him like a puppy. I vowed that no harm would ever befall him.

A promise the game was hell bent on undoing.

Terry is one of many, many party members in LISA. In fact, the game practically gives teammates out the start. I quickly found out why: the majority of them don’t live to see the credits. You’re repeatedly forced to make sacrifices. Usually a Mad Max marauder type will raise their machete, gesturing towards two options: give up something valuable, or give up the life of Terry Hintz. Ever the paragon, I did the selfless thing and surrendered what was mine in every instance. My money, other party members, even my own arm, just to keep poor Terry alive.  

“You’re… You’re a really good friend,” Terry tells me. A meagre comfort while I feel the warmth diminish from my now amputated arm as I’m informed that my base stats have permanently decreased.

Not long after, I rested at a campfire — a classic role-playing act that restores everyone to full strength. Nothing ever bad happens in that moment while the screen fades to black and a familiar lullaby plays.

But, remember, this is LISA.

Come morning, a text box arrived to inform me that a member of my party had abandoned me in the night. I opened my sub-menu to inspect my team, and a black void marked where Terry once stood. Despite everything I’d sacrificed for him, Terry had gone.

That son of a bitch.

To clarify, this isn’t a scripted moment. When resting in LISA a number of random events can occur — a teammate abandoning you is one of the most damning, but that’s just how the cookie crumbled this time. Terry’s betrayal stung me in a way I’d never experienced in a game until then. I considered resorting to the fan-recommended tactic of save scumming: reloading an old save file to bring him back to my side. That didn’t feel in keeping with the spirit of the game, so I ultimately decided to press on without him.

Something within me died that day. My people-pleasing tendencies were laid bare and punished. Terry told me I was a good friend, but it was base-less validation in spite of my unflinching acts of martyrdom to keep him alive. My heart hardened as the lives of my remaining party members became increasingly fungible — so I made a new vow: to never get overly attached to another party member again.

Until I still willingly offered up my second arm to keep my team alive in a later choice.

In a game centred around self-flagellation — a game that’s often actively hostile to the player — what was I honestly expecting to happen after so much self-sacrifice? Surely someone was invisibly keeping track of my acts of altruism, at least, countless other games have conditioned me to think that way. I kept telling myself that perhaps my choices would unlock Brad’s ultimate weapon, a jacked-up party member or maybe even the ‘Good’ ending. Instead I found out the hard way that there are no honour points in LISA The Painful. Its world just shrugs at your good deeds with cold indifference.

I’d shrug back. But that’s hard to do without any arms.

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