You don’t know who you are. You don’t know where you are. You don’t know what you’re doing, or which of the 24 voices in your head, clamoring for attention, are the ones you should be listening to. All you know is this: there is nothing more devastating in your entire world than being a disappointment to Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi.
You start Disco Elysium in darkness, alone with your most basic thoughts, and even they would rather you just sunk back down into the blackness and stopped thinking so much. You awake, though, and try to piece together who it is you’re meant to be. It’s not long before you find out that you’re lead cop on a murder investigation — and you’ve been ****ing things up bad.
A lot of truly fantastic articles have been written about Disco Elysium, but I want to talk about Kim in particular, and why he’s one of my favorite video game characters of all time — though be warned, I may have to spoil a couple of hard-to-find moments in the game to do it.
Kim is everything that Disco Elysium’s protagonist, Harry Du Bois, is not. Harry’s a mess of a cop who drove his car into the beach before getting so blackout drunk he can’t even remember who he is, while Kim’s woken up at 6:40 in the morning to politely, diplomatically, and professionally navigate a case that’s jurisdictionally iffy, knowing that he might never make a dent towards making the world a better place…but he can find answers, and get them where they need to be. The world that Kim was born into is trash — and Kim knows that the best he can do is tidy up his little corner of it and separate paper from plastic.
Kim rarely gets angry. He rarely even gets surprised, no matter how many wild, behaviourally erratic choices a player has Harry Du Bois make. What Kim does is process things — and the closest thing you get to a major reaction out of Kim is when he takes a minute or so to process what you’ve just told him. I will never forget the deadpan, but absolutely scathing delivery of Kim’s disbelief when you’re forced to inform him that not only have you not really begun investigating the murder, but that it’s been a week and you haven’t even taken the body down from the tree. The tension that voice actor Jullian Champenois pours into simply repeating the facts as he starts to realizes that he’s got more work cut out for him that even his cynical, shrewd mind could have predicted.
That’s not to say that Kim doesn’t have emotions — one of the more memorable opening scenes of the game was him dressing down a racist with all the cold fury of a man who’s lived with it his whole life, and knows he can’t stop it, but refuses to see it normalized. The simple pleasures he finds in well organized paperwork, in his one cigarette at the end of each day that both proves his self-discipline while granting him indulgence. The kindness he shows Harry, as the pair’s relationship develops. There was a moment when I realized that he was using Harry’s unsettling instability on purpose just to keep a suspect off balance, the first time I realized that Kim knows a lot more about how people work than he lets on.
Kim is both tired, and tireless. The world has worn his hopefulness down, but not his will to make it a more orderly place. He withholds judgment to an astounding degree — the metric by which he judges people seems to be less about morality, or his political views, but in how difficult you’re going to make his day, and the lives of the people you influence.
Depending on how you play, or what you choose to explore, there are hidden scenes you can discover that deepen your relationship with him. I consider one of my greatest accomplishments in the game to be getting him to agree to spend a few hours playing a board game with me. It was a Monopoly-like game, a microcosm of recent political situations wrapped up in ruthless business decisions. It’s a scene that highlighted just how firm a grasp he had on how history shaped the world he was in. How rulers manipulated the system to their own ends, and how he could do the same to win the game, patiently explaining to Harry just how effectively the game replicated real-world scenarios while still wrapped up in the pleasure of winning the game. To be able to see the satisfaction he felt to get his mind working on several levels, but also relax, for once, for the low stakes the game was. More than any other moment I’ve ever shared with a fictional character, I cherish that time.
The world Kim Kitsuragi lives in is fictional, and strange. It has physical laws different from our own — it’s a world that’s literally breaking apart because of black holes of memory, compassion, luck and hope. It is also a world that is breaking apart under the weight of its own history, of corrupt leaders and impassioned men who believed in their philosophies strongly enough to have other men die for those ideals. It can often feel like the world I’m living in, and thinking about Kim Kitsuragi brings me comfort. To understand the world, to see its bleakness and hope, and to still choose every day to try and make sense of it — that is something I can aspire to when loftier goals seem lost.
I don’t know if I’d ever want to be Lieutenant Kim Kitsuragi — but I hope that I can make him proud.