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"I don't want to be this kind of animal anymore" – How Disco Elysium caught the bottle in my hand

"You let misery win. And it will keep on winning till you die — or overcome it." On World Mental Health day, we look back on Disco Elysium, Harry, and the booze.

Disco Elysium Harry Du Bois passed out
Image credit: ZA/UM

While studying for my degree I would not – could not – write an article or essay without a buzz on. My first published article was written sloppily around 1AM in my cheap student room with help from Fireball whiskey and Rockstar energy drinks. There's this sweet spot on the verge of drunk, with your heart pumping lava and knee subconciously bopping up and down, where your brain can work miracles. Where I took my first steps towards being the writer I wanted to be. It's an experience video games never quite captured for me. Until I played Disco Elysium.

In that game, you jump into the shoes of Harry Du Bois. You soon learn that Harry is, when he can manage it, a damn good detective. He's turned down promotions, dedicated to solving cases with his boots on the ground. He is a tragic depiction of that romanticised investigator, representing the ugly side of alcohol and drug abuse. It's up to you to decide whether you give into Electrochemistry and become that superstar cop. You want to solve the murder and look cool doing it? Smoke a cigarette for some extra intellect, drink booze to get stronger.

When you study for a journalism degree you're introduced to a variety of other inspirational figures. David Frost as a pillar of proffesionalism in the face of presidents, Paxman's persistence, Louis Theroux. You're also introduced to Hunter S. Thompson, the father of Gonzo journalism and legendary enjoyer of drink and drugs.

You may also be taught – as I was – that drinking and smoking are relevant to your field. If you're interviewing someone and they buy a pint, you buy a pint. If they go out to smoke, you go out to smoke. To a young and impressionable student, it was all to easy to become a superstar cop.

A portrait of Harrier du Bois, the main character and tragic hero of Disco Elysium. His smile seems like an expression of pain.
It's an expression of pain. | Image credit: ZA/UM

Obviously, this wasn't great. For every good feature I wrote, I was too hazy to finish two others. I spent a good portion of my maintenance loan on drink, and often pitched articles around for extra money I needed. I'd shoot off drafts to editors at 4AM, and wake up to find then-Kotaku UK editor Rich Stanton being rightfully p**sed off at the quality of the pitch – killing any chance at future commissions.

When I tried to write without a buzz, I felt like I was missing that magic, that the words just weren't coming out right. Like I was actually missing out an that extra point of intellect and, like Harry, felt obligated to look around for another buzz before I took on any important challenge. Being a Superstar Cop in Disco Elysium isn't just sad to look at, it's a burden to play that way. It sucks up time and money.

This is just my experience, but it's not a unique one. Some institutions claim that approximately 20-30% of US students abuse Adderall for that extra edge. Cocaine use is up in the UK across age groups, including adults working longer hours than other comparable EU countries. Alcohol and cigarettes are mine, but there are loads of people out there in a similar rut – resorting to rough stuff to live up to self-imposed expectations and societal pressures.

Disco Elysium Harry Du Bois passed out
We've all been here. Right? | Image credit: ZA/UM

An important lesson Disco Elysium teaches you is that, with some support, you can confront (and maybe overcome) your problems. No matter how dire. You can battle them. Harry might not be able to remove those points he invested into Electrochemistry, but he can live on and succeed, maybe even thrive, in spite of them. He can do away with thoughts he doesn't want. I don't need anything to write anymore – I tried recently with some Buckfast and the piece was f**king awful. I still smoke on occasion and have a dastardly desire for caffeine, but these things take time, I'm told.

I didn't play Disco Elysium until after I'd secured my degree and lived broke as a freelancer for a while, but it reminded me of the pressures to be that idealised heavy-drinking writer and the toll on my mental health that came as a result. 'Even the most absurdly busted people out there can overcome hurdles without resorting to that stuff'. That's the truth it hit home. Be it grabbing a necktie from a ceiling fan, or catching a murderer. A good message I think, for would-be superstars.

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