Prey (2016) is a game that I adore. You are Morgan, someone going to space today. That’s actually not true. That’s not who you are. You have been on a spaceship for a long time, lying to yourself. Everything you thought you knew about who you are was just a lie you told yourself. The spaceship is dying, attacked by an alien species that mimics the environment and infects any humans it encounters. You learn that this alien threat is unable to empathize. You are told they lack mirror neurons. You navigate dangerous work and living environments filled with something called Looking Glass. Looking Glass is a technology that displays simulated 3D environments that follow your viewpoint, making them seem real. But they’re not real.
The game is filled with moments of decision, some small and some large. You have to decide how you want to try to open a locked door. You could blow it up with a grenade, you could find the key in the Medical Lab, or you could fire a nerf dart through the hole in the window and hit the door button from the inside. You have to decide what you want to do with the spaceship. You could attempt to abandon the ship, finding the only private escape pod that works. You could destroy the alien species, spreading a nullwave across the universe and wiping them all out at once. Or you could destroy the ship and everyone on it, preventing any contamination with earth. Each decision is a chance to show who Morgan is. But not you. You are not Morgan.
Depending on your actions, the ship and the people on it change. They react to who you show yourself to be. Except they aren’t real. They’re artificial intelligences, programmed by the development studio to react to decisions a player character makes. They just seem real, because they react to you, and you know you’re real. It’s a trick of perspective.
Looking Glass technology doesn’t show a reflection, or even what’s behind it. It’s a projection, based on your point of view. And similarly, your player character is a projection of your empathy. Morgan can jump, glide, shoot, swing a wrench. But only you can project out empathy and decision-making. Only you can care or not about the people you meet. Only you know who you are.
The game reflects back what it sees in you. But it’s important to remember that that reflection is false. It too is a projection. It’s all a projection. It seems to be the only thing I can do.