BY KAINE ENE
The pursuit of life and success for all of us as students, teachers, and staff is not worth it without good mental health. Yet, the mental state is not always easy to balance; each and every week of school tests your endurance. Double Fine Productions’ 2005 platformer ‘Psychonauts’ takes a peek into the mental state of a variety of different characters, including supervisors from a summer camp, and even patients from a mental asylum. One thing that inspired ‘Psychonauts’ is the question: “What color is the sky in your world?” Psychonauts stars a 10 year-old psychic boy who goes to psychic summer camp to become a ‘Psychonaut,’ a government organization that enters people’s minds and helps them overcome their mental struggles. The game does indeed bring a substantial amount of awareness to mental health and why people are the way they are, but the game became a cult-hit for its humor, weirdness, and unique style.
The sixteen-year awaited sequel ‘Psychonauts 2’ is no different. The game has you as 10 year-old Razputin “Raz” Aquato enter the minds of the Psychonauts themselves in their headquarters. Mostly the members of the ‘Psychic 6,’ the six founders of the Psychonauts. What the first game did well is present characters who seem straight up bizzare at first, like the characters in the mental asylum, and then flesh them out to be understandable through their mental world.
Similarly, this is done for the ‘Psychic 6,’ who split up after the devastating ‘Battle of Grulovia’ took their member and dear friend Helmut Fullbear. Each of their conflicts includes dealing with heartbreak, rediscovering your sense of being, and opening back up to making relationships. For one of the members, Cassie O’Pia, we delve into her mind to see her book-filled journey into self-acceptance.
Spoilers ahead for the level “Cassie’s Collection,” but not anything else.
Member of the ‘Psychic 6,’ Cassie O’Pia . (Image credit: Double Fine Productions)
You’re lucky if you know who you are.
Cassie has a handful of ideas about who she is. She’s worked for a counterfeiter, written a book, and has possibly been a public speaker or teacher. As Raz, we first meet Cassie in the middle of the woods called ‘Green Needle Gulch,’ in a library surrounded by ponds of honey; waves of bees guard the area like it’s everything. She came here after feeling useless after the ‘Battle of Grulovia.’ Cassie’s the only person Raz talks to who’s immediately willing to help him on his mission. Yet she’s physically stopping herself from doing it. The bees—yes, the bees—are keeping her prisoner. They’re collectively taking a similar form to Cassie herself, which shows that they’re being psychically controlled, likely by her subconscious desire to stay hidden from everyone; she doesn’t feel as though she’s doing any good for her friends. Of course, Cassie welcomes a checkup on her mental state from Raz; he attaches his PSI-portal to the back of her head, and off to the world of ‘Cassie’s Collection’ we go!
Razputin Aquato (left) looking at Librarian Cassie (right). (Image credit: Double Fine Productions)
It’s an even bigger library filled with funny characters made of paper, and probably a million references to literature I’m too young to understand. Here, we also see a representation of Cassie as 4 different paper-characters: Librarian Cassie, Writer Cassie, Teacher Cassie, and Counterfeiter Cassie. We first meet a prideful, but warm Writer Cassie, who’s willing to help Raz get rid of the bees, but the Librarian snatches up the Writer and locks her up in her cabinet. This is what the Librarian wants: to lock up all the other Cassies and “bad books” in Cassie’s life. Raz decides to play along as the Librarian’s assistant to find the “real Cassie” and get rid of the bees, which he explains to Teacher Cassie when he finds her. But, hearing Raz’s choice of words, the Teacher decides to explain what an identity is with the most eye-opening line I’ve ever heard from a game. Whether it be someone with a great sense of self, or someone who’s lost, here’s a line to keep in a back pocket.
“who is the real Razputin?” Teacher says, “The one you are with your friends? With your family? Or the one you save for your… special someone? Is that the real you? Or are you a combination of all those different identities?” she goes on to say that we can think of these different identities we make for ourselves as archetypes. “Important challenges in our lives can cause us to create entirely new identities for ourselves, sometimes summoning powerful archetypes from our unconscious mind: The Hero, The Explorer, The Shadow.” The reason why Librarian is locking up Cassie’s other archetypes is because she believes they’re no longer useful, or as she puts it, they’re “overdue.” And this is what we learn about Cassie: she’s isolating herself due to an identity crisis. She doesn’t feel as though any part of her is doing any good. The prideful writer, the motherly teacher, nor the “counterfeiter.” She’s being a librarian of identities, locking up what she thought failed during the battle where her friends needed her most.
This is where we find in Cassie a part of ourselves some of us have: the part that says we’re not good enough. The part that says no one else needs us, even though we see that all of our archetypes that make us unique are still there, but we’re afraid. Afraid that no one is able to accept them. But Cassie’s story of course doesn’t end on that note. No. Once all of the other Cassies are brought to the Librarian, she locks them away, and Raz, claiming it’s a place he’ll feel completely safe from the bees. I see this as a way of cementing Librarian’s obsession with control in the name of safety. Once Raz is locked up with the other Cassies, Teacher reveals it was all part of the plan to get the three original Cassies together, for nothing is impossible when they are.
For us, this means that while we do create different archetypes for different challenges and relationships—the tired student, the quiet son/daughter, the energetic best friend—it’s best for us to be open about the fact that we’re all of those things put together. I think the inner librarian splitting them all up in the first place represents our urges to hide certain aspects of ourselves from others. Once we put them all together and accept that it’s okay to be 3D, we can head out into the wild, make new experiences and friends, and captivate them with who we are. It’s a story of self acceptance, one of the many different kinds of mental growth shown in the Psychonauts universe.
However in this case, the Librarian isn’t quite tamed yet. When she sees the Cassies’ get-together, she voluntarily sinks into the sea of ink formed around the Library,
One of the game’s bosses, Die-brarian, almost overwhelmed by Cassies. (Image credit: Double Fine Productions)
“I’ll show you how we fight off a foreign invader!” she proclaims, before transforming into a gargantuan “Die-barian” (because this game likes puns.) This is a game after all, so this is where we’re faced with a boss fight as Raz against Die-brarian. The “foreign invader” line further cements Cassie’s inner desire to keep others away from the real her. It shows the resistance we all face from opening up our real selves to others, which is scary, but I believe that it potentially builds strong relationships and better mental health in the long run. I don’t think anyone is a true introvert, because we bizarre humans are a social species. The way you, the player, beats the boss fight is clever, because it involves you opening up the Die-brarian’s head whenever she’s weak and faints on the ground, so that one of the other Cassies can enter her head and become one with her. This repeats until all Cassies are unified. Since Die-brarian can’t handle all three of them at once, she gets overwhelmed, defeated, and turns back into the regular paper Librarian.
There’s something interesting about the cutscene that follows Die-brarian’s defeat. First off, it’s something the Librarian says, devastated that her plan has been foiled. “I can’t believe I’ve failed! Again!”
Again? Has Cassie locked up her other archetypes before? Is this referring to her splitting them up in the first place? I’ll settle on saying what happens next is beautiful: all four Cassies, including the Librarian, accept themselves each as “the real Cassie.” They join hands, and transform into the real, physical human form of Cassie. Raz and Cassie leave the mental world; they leave the library in the physical world, and Cassie is free to help Raz on his mission. Free to be Cassie O’Pia.
Does the Librarian still being part of Cassie mean she’ll be splitting up and/or punishing her archetypes once again? It could possibly show that there is no immediate happy ending, and that mental growth is a journey. I really hope Librarian only represents Cassie’s disciplinary side, now. Being disciplinary, a warm writer, a motherly teacher, and tough like a counterfeiter doesn’t sound bad to me. A good sign is what you see if you use the ‘Brain Tumbler’ to revisit the level: all four Cassies trying to decide who cleans the library. I think it’s a subtle nod to Cassie being willing to organize her life and get her goals straight from here on out. And so concludes one of the many mental growth stories within Psychonauts 2: the story of self-acceptance. Accepting every part of you; every archetype, every flaw and strength within’ them.
Raz may be a psychic boy, but if he can spend a little time on someone else’s well-being, so can you. Everyone you encounter in your day-to-day rehearsal for life is only showing you one archetype of themselves at a time, whether it be another student, a friend, or a club member. What color is the sky in their world?
You can be a psychonaut today.