Corvo Is Not An Honorable Man

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Corvo Is Not An Honorable Man

Discussion about Dishonored tends to focus on the game's morality. Should Corvo kill his opponents, or neutralize them by nonlethal means?

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That was a brilliant article. I wish games were given this much thought and analysis more often. It's always fascinating to read what's beneath the surface.

I have not played the game myself, but with this great analysis I think I really should. It makes me wonder if this kind of research has indeed taken place behind the scenes, making this new layer of story intentional.

I really liked this read Robert. You have put both Dishonored and Critical Intel on the map for me. Keep it up!

I love you for this article...

You're right, it's not a perfect fit (for example, when Corvo has outlived his usefulness to the Loyalists, they try to cover their tracks not just by attempting to kill him, but by poisoning him, which is not at all the 'Gentlemanly' thing to do), but it does help explain why I love the choice system in Dishonored so much. It annoys me when I see people describe it as an 'arbitrary moral choice', because it's not about morality at all. Corvo is never supposed to be an honourable hero, but one of the main themes of the games is demonstrating how fucked up this society's idea of 'Honour' is in the first place, so what does it matter.

Look at the so called 'Good' ending for example (although, again, the game never says that it's supposed to be 'good'). In this ending, after removing the conspirators on both sides, you place a child on the throne who really has no idea how to rule by herself, and the only adviser she has is you. So you have, to all intents and purposes, seized power for yourself, regardless of whether or not you also care for Emily in other ways. Does that sound 'heroic' to anybody here?

Good article. It made me think of a 'dirty' form of sword fighting that was popular in spain where one would grab the opponents sword with a protected left hand first chance they got and then stabbed the unprotected enemy with their own sword.

This is a beautiful analysis. I'm going to choose to believe it is a correct interpretation whether it is what the devs had in mind or not because it's too good not to.

NinjaDeathSlap:
(for example, when Corvo has outlived his usefulness to the Loyalists, they try to cover their tracks not just by attempting to kill him, but by poisoning him, which is not at all the 'Gentlemanly' thing to do)

One could, however, argue that they skirt around the issue by making Samuel the boatman do it.

The problem is that this is a tale the fits far more in line with 18th and 19th century Russia not Britain. The entire idea of an Empress should have clued us in there as Russia had an Empress or Tsarina ruling for 2/3s of the 18th century. The culture, the politics, the personalities could all be pulled right out of 18th century Russia. It is easy for the western world to look at Britain as the model for this time period because so much of who we are comes from them(and France) but not every story ties to our particular roots and this one certainly comes from Russia's less well known history.

This was a Brilliant article and I loved reading it. It does shed more light on the game and you allowed me to view it in a different way. Thank you very much for this article.

Every time I miss these themes, I feel like an idiot.

*applause*, another fascinating article.

Thanks for the article!

I especially liked the detailed explanation of the gentlemens honour system, compared to the vendetta. Core feature of the honourcode was the right to duel. This right only applies to members of this 'gentlemen's circle', so in the example you gave with the stolen theatre-seat: if the man who just took the seat himself is not a gentleman, he would not be entitled to accept a duel since this path of honour is blocked for him. (hope I explain that right, English is not my motherlanguage.)

In Germany there are some interesting, similar remains of this honour and duel system: within the academic fraternities. There are also some, that legitimately have fencing duels with sharp blades (sharp, not pointed, they cause non-lethal wounds) about honour matters. To be competent, they get trained within their fraternity (if it is one of the fencing ones), and are only allowed to duel with someone from another fencing frat. They also have a second each to assist them during the fencing, comparable to the guys that used to handle the guns for the duelists, and a neutral referee. When two people from a fencing frat meet, they will have a quite different behaviour compared to meeting others.

The remarkable fact about this whole honour and fencing business is, that it is fully covered by the law, in a country that has very strict laws about weapons of all kinds. And yet it is possible to challenge someone for taking your seat in a theatre to a duel with sharp steel blades, provided you and the other are both members of a fencing frat. You will not be able to kill anyone, but in those duels (Mensur) severe wounds to head and face can occur.

Compared to a vendetta, which is much more emotional and, on a direct level, personal (not aimed at the abstract idea of honour) but usually not in tune with the law. In all vendetta based storylines (movies, games, etc.) the acting party nearly always follows a clearly defined outlaw-path. A nice example of this can be seen in the series 'sons of anarchy' about the motorcycle clubs.

So in 'Dishonored' we have a protagonist, that goes an outlaw-way and starts off in prison. Although he was thrown there on a false accusation, escaping it with potentially gruesome means will eradicate his innocence and it would be just legit to put him in jail again.

If we take both positions 'gentleman' and 'vendetta' and take a look at our general medias, what approach is presented more often?

Is there a really good example of a 'gentleman'-driven plot?

After some thinking I came to HERO from Zhang Yimou: the whole plot unravels about the nameless one, and how he carefully chose his path to get close to the king. To commit a deed of great honour by not killing him, and facing his own death as an assassin, to be buried like a hero. The honour to prove a point, knowing this can end your life.

Maybe we should not call the game 'Dishonored' but 'Vendetta'... but then again, that was a game from System Three I used to play on my C64 :)

That was incredibly fascinating. Really. Where do you get these fascinating historical details? More importantly, why aren't I being taught them, instead of WWII for the THIRD frickin' time?!

Being Italian myself, i have to say, the whole "this is more of a vendetta" thing is really spot on.

In fact, it is hilarious to me that the word we use to transalte "revenge" (vendetta, that is) has come into use in English because of how extraordinarily vicious and resilient Italian family feuds seem to be.

For a little perspective, it is such a deeply rooted cultural thing that, to me, Dishonored made no sense for the most part. OF COURSE i am going to pick those "nonlethal" options! i want them to suffer as i did, i don't want them to DIE. Not immediately, anyway. If i were going to kill them, i would make damn sure they knew i was coming, like you can do with the lord protector by removing your mask. Killing them is not the point. It can be the end of it, but the point is to make them pay for what they've done. That's why often vendettas target tangential people.

For instance, the assault on the bride's marriage in "Kill Bill" is clearly a vendetta. I'm going to kill you, yes, BUT FIRST i'm going to slaughter everyone in this church, just so you will carry this guilt on your conscience in your last moments.

Obviously, this applies to a fantasy scenario, to well-adjusted people, but it is a real thing. It happens all the time in southern Italy, especially between the varioua mafias (there are more than one, although the Mafia is a specific organization, the term has become a general term for italian criminal organizations. This because most of the american italian mobsters come from Sicily and that is the Mafia's territory).

Just wanted to give some additional info on the other side of the coin.

jetriot:
The problem is that this is a tale the fits far more in line with 18th and 19th century Russia not Britain. The entire idea of an Empress should have clued us in there as Russia had an Empress or Tsarina ruling for 2/3s of the 18th century. The culture, the politics, the personalities could all be pulled right out of 18th century Russia. It is easy for the western world to look at Britain as the model for this time period because so much of who we are comes from them(and France) but not every story ties to our particular roots and this one certainly comes from Russia's less well known history.

I'm going to disagree with you there. Arkane Studios very clearly based most of Dishonored on Britain as a whole and London specifically. Their artists took trips to both London and Edinburgh during the game's development in order to design the look of the city, and they even kept an anatomy expert on staff in order to design the characters' faces in line with British morphology. In addition, early in the conceptual phase, Dishonored was actually going to take place in London during the year 1666 - the year the plague hit the city, followed by the Great Fire. Ergo, the whole idea of Dunwall as a decaying, dying city comes from British history. Moreover, a major part of the game's plot involves assassinating the Pendleton twins so that Lord Pendleton can gain their votes in Parliament, which is a British - not Russian - institution.

On the other hand, I will give you one thing: Sokolov is definitely based on Gregori Rasputin, so the game isn't missing Russian elements. Though I wouldn't say that having an "Empress" automatically means Russia. Remember that during the long eighteenth century we had a French Empress (Josephine), a Russian Empress, an Austrian Empress, an Empress of the Holy Roman Empire... hell, there was even an Empress consort of Brazil and very briefly an Empress of Mexico, before Maximillian got gunned down by Juarista rebels. There were Empresses all over.

I will say this though: I'm on record in last week's comments saying I'd love to play more games based on non-WWII Russian history. You're right that it's a sadly overlooked period.

An absolutely superb article, and one of the best features the escapist has had in along time.

Hell, this analysis has improved my opinion of Dishonoreds plot quite a bit. I truly hadn't even considered looking at this from a cultural perspective.

Fun read I just never figured Corvo as being a member of the nobles. I thought he was just a bodyguard that every tolerated because the empress liked him. Always nice to learn more about the games we play and how they link to history.

Pete1001:

NinjaDeathSlap:
(for example, when Corvo has outlived his usefulness to the Loyalists, they try to cover their tracks not just by attempting to kill him, but by poisoning him, which is not at all the 'Gentlemanly' thing to do)

One could, however, argue that they skirt around the issue by making Samuel the boatman do it.

This is indeed true, I'd forgotten about that. So I guess it fits even better than I'd thought.

NinjaDeathSlap:
In this ending, after removing the conspirators on both sides, you place a child on the throne who really has no idea how to rule by herself, and the only adviser she has is you. So you have, to all intents and purposes, seized power for yourself, regardless of whether or not you also care for Emily in other ways. Does that sound 'heroic' to anybody here?

Yes actually because Corvo probably knows a great deal about how to rule. It's obvious that he was very close to the Empress(the game heavily hints to him being Emily's father). Stands to reason that in this kind of a relationship he may have picked up some tips on how to rule and he probably even advised the Empress on some matters. He can teach Emily what she needs to learn and hand the throne over when he thinks she's ready. Again, he obviously loves her and would not deny her the throne once she's ready.

OT: This was a very interesting article but it's not the interpretation I have at all. My interpretation of what honour was in this world is similar to what it is in ASoIaF. If you are honourable, you do the right thing and basically strive to be a good person. Corvo was a good person at the beginning of the game, he's a loving father and helps the Empress in her plans to make the city better for her people (even the commoners). Once he is framed, he is shamed and loses his honour.

Throughout the game, you are trying to repair Corvo's reputation by putting the rightful ruler on the throne. You do this by either doing good things (sparing simple guards, they are only doing their jobs) or by further dishonouring him through the slaughtering of innocents (again, the city watch is just doing their job although some are obviously corrupt) and making the plague worse.

I dunno, I could be wrong but this is the impression I got from the game. Odds are there are more than one correct interpretation and you can choose the one you like most.

NinjaDeathSlap:

Pete1001:

NinjaDeathSlap:
(for example, when Corvo has outlived his usefulness to the Loyalists, they try to cover their tracks not just by attempting to kill him, but by poisoning him, which is not at all the 'Gentlemanly' thing to do)

One could, however, argue that they skirt around the issue by making Samuel the boatman do it.

This is indeed true, I'd forgotten about that. So I guess it fits even better than I'd thought.

Absolutely, and remember that Corvo is no longer a "gentleman." Gentlemen were pretty much free to do what they wanted to the lower classes - for example they could beat the hell out of a servant or a tradesman without fear of repercussion. They would be usually be tried and executed for murdering someone though, as was the case in several incidents I've read. One particularly harrowing example: an aristocrat had a psychotic break and thought his valet was spying on him and turning information over to his enemies. He shot the poor guy point-blank while the valet begged for his life. In another case, a noble hired a group of assassins to murder a fencing master who'd accidentally put out his eye in a bout - he got hanged as well (he felt he had no other option to recover his honor, since a fencing masters were not considered gentlemen and therefore could not be dueled).

Either way, the Loyalists are hypocrites when it comes to the code of honor anyway, as the duel attests, so I think it still holds up.

What a warped way to view human interactions. Aristocrats really did have too much time on their hands, didn't they?

Truly a fantastic interpretation of an already lore filled game. I tip my hat to you sir!

image

Robert Rath:

jetriot:
The problem is that this is a tale the fits far more in line with 18th and 19th century Russia not Britain. The entire idea of an Empress should have clued us in there as Russia had an Empress or Tsarina ruling for 2/3s of the 18th century. The culture, the politics, the personalities could all be pulled right out of 18th century Russia. It is easy for the western world to look at Britain as the model for this time period because so much of who we are comes from them(and France) but not every story ties to our particular roots and this one certainly comes from Russia's less well known history.

I'm going to disagree with you there. Arkane Studios very clearly based most of Dishonored on Britain as a whole and London specifically. Their artists took trips to both London and Edinburgh during the game's development in order to design the look of the city, and they even kept an anatomy expert on staff in order to design the characters' faces in line with British morphology. In addition, early in the conceptual phase, Dishonored was actually going to take place in London during the year 1666 - the year the plague hit the city, followed by the Great Fire. Ergo, the whole idea of Dunwall as a decaying, dying city comes from British history. Moreover, a major part of the game's plot involves assassinating the Pendleton twins so that Lord Pendleton can gain their votes in Parliament, which is a British - not Russian - institution.

On the other hand, I will give you one thing: Sokolov is definitely based on Gregori Rasputin, so the game isn't missing Russian elements. Though I wouldn't say that having an "Empress" automatically means Russia. Remember that during the long eighteenth century we had a French Empress (Josephine), a Russian Empress, an Austrian Empress, an Empress of the Holy Roman Empire... hell, there was even an Empress consort of Brazil and very briefly an Empress of Mexico, before Maximillian got gunned down by Juarista rebels. There were Empresses all over.

I will say this though: I'm on record in last week's comments saying I'd love to play more games based on non-WWII Russian history. You're right that it's a sadly overlooked period.

I did not know those things about the development. Thanks for the correction!

Probably one of the most enriching articles I've read in months. I truly enjoyed it, and would strongly encourage more columns like this.

Whoa, if it was intentional, then the devs weren't just good at making games, they were fucking great storytellers too.

Articles like this is what keeps me coming back to the Escapist.

Great read, great game, great site.

Congrats all around.

This is wonderful. The historical treatment of honour caught my eye back when Art of Manliness ran a series on it, and it's nice to see this expanded. The examination of Italian honour as opposed to English really makes the piece as well - it's just a pity there wasn't more time spent on it.

Fingers crossed that this column keeps up, as always.

VERY interesting read. I do like looking at Dishonored through this lens.

However, someone clearly hasn't played Dishonored as: Corvo Attano: The Loudest Man in Dunwall!
Honourably duelling your way through Dunwall, one guard at a time...

NinjaDeathSlap:
I love you for this article...

You're right, it's not a perfect fit (for example, when Corvo has outlived his usefulness to the Loyalists, they try to cover their tracks not just by attempting to kill him, but by poisoning him, which is not at all the 'Gentlemanly' thing to do), but it does help explain why I love the choice system in Dishonored so much. It annoys me when I see people describe it as an 'arbitrary moral choice', because it's not about morality at all. Corvo is never supposed to be an honourable hero, but one of the main themes of the games is demonstrating how fucked up this society's idea of 'Honour' is in the first place, so what does it matter.

Look at the so called 'Good' ending for example (although, again, the game never says that it's supposed to be 'good'). In this ending, after removing the conspirators on both sides, you place a child on the throne who really has no idea how to rule by herself, and the only adviser she has is you. So you have, to all intents and purposes, seized power for yourself, regardless of whether or not you also care for Emily in other ways. Does that sound 'heroic' to anybody here?

It doesn't sound very heroic at all no, but it does sound very Italian. Corvo has expertly placed himself as the power behind the throne, his (possible) daughter is safe and his own version of honor is satisfied

2fish:
Fun read I just never figured Corvo as being a member of the nobles. I thought he was just a bodyguard that every tolerated because the empress liked him. Always nice to learn more about the games we play and how they link to history.

Well, being bodyguard of the Empress does bring its own title so he could very well just have been a talented common swordsman from the streets the Empress or her father picked just because, then raised to a noble so he could perform his duties.

Keep in mind that it wasn't uncommon for close courtiers of the Royals to receive a formal title. A good example is a position most popular during the 15th century known as "Groomer of the Stool", which basically meant you were responsible for providing facilities for and assisting with the king's excretions, yet was a sought-after position since it meant time alone with the monarch and since they were apparently prone to talking secrets on the potty it made the holder of the position much feared around the court.

That is probably the best article I've ever read on here.

I usually skim through articles, just taking out the important bits. But I read every word of this.

Fantastic!

This is a really cool article, though I'd point out that I'm pretty sure dueling with swords was in favour of the older combatant, not the younger - sword fighting isn't necessarily extremely physical, and ultimately relies on skill, which one assumes an older man would've had more time to accrue.

Prince Regent:
Good article. It made me think of a 'dirty' form of sword fighting that was popular in spain where one would grab the opponents sword with a protected left hand first chance they got and then stabbed the unprotected enemy with their own sword.

Actually this is pretty common across sword fighting systems, so I don't think it was considered 'dirty'. Also one does not even necessarily need a protected hand to do it (depending on the type of blade, it's easier with broader blades).

Critical intel is swiftly becoming my favourite piece of content on this site. Intelligent gaming inddeed.

More please.

I picked up this game, played through it and then haven't looked at it since, and having said that, I really want to play it again now due to the deeper level of storytelling that you have exposed. Your article actually gives Corvo believable characterisation.

Quaxar:

2fish:
Fun read I just never figured Corvo as being a member of the nobles. I thought he was just a bodyguard that every tolerated because the empress liked him. Always nice to learn more about the games we play and how they link to history.

Well, being bodyguard of the Empress does bring its own title so he could very well just have been a talented common swordsman from the streets the Empress or her father picked just because, then raised to a noble so he could perform his duties.

Keep in mind that it wasn't uncommon for close courtiers of the Royals to receive a formal title. A good example is a position most popular during the 15th century known as "Groomer of the Stool", which basically meant you were responsible for providing facilities for and assisting with the king's excretions, yet was a sought-after position since it meant time alone with the monarch and since they were apparently prone to talking secrets on the potty it made the holder of the position much feared around the court.

It depends on how you interpret the title "Lord Protector". Is he the protector of lords, or the lord of protectors? The former would be a formal title given to a commoner, the latter would be a noble's title. Given that the bodyguard is chosen from commoners, I'm more inclined to believe the former, rather than the latter. It would also explain why, if Emily really is Corvo's daughter, it's kept a secret, as it would have been a scandal for the Empress to have an affair with a commoner, even one of such high position.

a pretty interesting article, certainly a pleasure to read. and its always nice to be presented with alternate interpretations.

i do disagree with a very minor point, saying that the games tagline is that "revenge solves everything" is a bit much, considering that every action in that game is damning, and the only good comes from putting a person with honest intentions into power, think about it, the revenge on everyone causes nothing but grief and death for everyone, both citizens and loyalist.

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