Finding Her Voice: Red’s Agency in Transistor

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Finding Her Voice: Red’s Agency in Transistor


Leticia Rodrigues




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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: there’s this girl, see—a pretty little thing—and she’s supposed to be the hero of the story. But everything she does is by the men around her. She lacks agency in her own story. She’s not acting independently. She isn’t free to make her own choices.

Like, say, a woman without a voice, and the sword who’s there to fill the silence?

That’s the glaring red flag that comes with Transistor: it sure looks like a game where you’re not supposed to project yourself into the character of Red as much as want to protect her. If Red doesn’t have a voice, then it’s really the sword’s story, isn’t it?

It’s so glaring that it seems like Supergiant Games wants you to think that going in, because the first thing they do is turn that impression on its head. Red doesn’t just have agency within the world of Transistor—the game itself is an exploration of what that means.

We’re going to dive deep into spoilers (right through to the game’s end), so stop here if that’s a problem.

See, Red may be silenced (literally, when silencing women is usually a figurative act), but that doesn’t keep her quiet. She doesn’t listen to Transistor, as we’ll call her sword-bound companion, who wants her to keep her voice down. Not out of any desire to crush her or keep her contained—he just wants to keep her safe. There’s a lot between Red and Transistor, and it’s important to him that she do the sensible thing in reaction to being targeted by dangerous enemies. He wants her to get out of town. Lay low. Be quiet, and mourn her voice (and everything that’s been taken from her) in safety and silence.

So he guides her as best he can, leading her to the bike she can take out of town. Leading her to the exit. And that’s where it becomes clear that Red has all the agency she needs, because she leaves that exit in the dust. She’s heading into town, and the little voice in her sword can’t do anything to stop her.

He’s still there to help her, though. To fight the Process that are slowly devouring the city of Cloudbank, to find the reasons why the mysterious Camerata killed him and took her voice. She wields him like a tool, and keeps him close for comfort. She’s the one doing the acting, though—Transistor can only react. She’s a woman without a voice, but she still has her body. He just has his voice.

Even once it’s clear that Red holds the agency in this game, it’s not as obvious that the game is about agency. The game is restrained with its text. It’s slick as hell, beautiful, overwhelming, and more than a little aloof. There’s a lot of game to play, but sometimes it feels like you’re sightseeing in Cloudbank rather than plumbing its secrets. All that glitz settles atop the game’s emotional heart, the relationship between Red and Transistor, leaving little need for much deeper reflection. It’s so pretty. So romantic. You might think you shouldn’t ruin it by overthinking anything.

Until the game’s final moments.

Here’s the big, giant spoiler: when everything is said and done, Red doesn’t take the action anyone expects her to. She doesn’t try to fix the city, to make the best of what’s been done, even though the power is explicitly hers. She literally holds the key to remaking Cloudbank in whatever image she’d like. Instead of doing any of that, she repairs only what she needs to find the body Transistor was pulled from, the body of her lover. Then she sits down and ignores his pleas from within the weapon as she turns it on herself.

That moment is a record scratch, even as the lovely strain of Paper Boats begins to play over the credits. It’s Transistor forcing you to pay attention to the meaning, the message, because it’s just far too awful otherwise, isn’t it? Romantic, in a Romeo and Juliet sort of way, but brutal. Red was supposed to fix Cloudbank. She was supposed to defeat the Camerata and save the day.

Because… Because that’s what we wanted, and what the sword said she was doing.

Transistor isn’t an external narrator, omniscient and infallible. He’s a character in the story, talking to fill the silence. He has no special insight into Red’s actions, so he frames them as best he can from his limited perspective. Red is hurt, she’s lost her lover, she’s scared—she should flee. But then she doesn’t, so maybe she isn’t that scared. Maybe she wants what any good woman would want: to fix things. And that’s how he explains everything she does from then on out. He believes that together, they’re trying to find the answers. They’re trying to solve the problems, to fix what’s been done to Cloudbank. And maybe (desperately) to fix what’s been done to him.

But at some point along the way, Red decides that she isn’t out to fix things. Three men try to direct her: Transistor, and two members of the Camerata, Asher Kendrell and Royce Bracket. They all expect her to do the right thing, instructing her and assuming she’s not only listening but agreeing. Transistor tells her to leave, and when she doesn’t, he talks about all the ways they can still save the day. Asher wants her to understand, and tells her to fix his and his husband Grant’s mistakes. Royce tries to lure her in with the truth, and leaves her in a position with nothing to do but the right thing: give up the Transistor so they won’t all be utterly destroyed by the Process. And with no other choice, she does.

The moment she’s given a choice between giving up or destroying Royce, on the other hand? She does what she has to do to protect herself and her lover.

Red doesn’t get much of a voice in the game, but she isn’t as silent as she seems. Her actions speak volumes, of course. She doesn’t run—she goes for the Camerata, destroying the two she can get her hands on and walking over the corpses of the other two. She also speaks through the terminals scattered around town, leaving her own comments on the news and voting in polls. Window dressing most of the time, but at key moments she uses them to communicate just how dedicated she is to this fight. “I’m going to find the thing that’s doing this and I’m going break its heart,” she tells Transistor as he’s addled and weakened by the Process.

And then there are the songs. Red’s a singer whose voice has been stolen. Poetic, yeah, but also important. We see next to nothing of her history, learn little about her character, but the songs on the Transistor soundtrack are a textual, canonical part of her. There’s no doubt they’re supposed to be taken this way. As her database entry says, “when asked about her past and influences, [she] would often say her work spoke for itself.

The song that gets the most attention in-game is In Circles, and it’s telling.

I hear you buzzing, a fly on the wall In through the window, and up through the hall Flying in circles, just trying to land I see you hurting, I do what I can

But I won’t save you I won’t save you

Not the words of a fixer or a savior. Red’s not going to solve everyone else’s problems. She makes that extremely clear.

In We All Become, she tells the world she’s not sticking around for its ending:

When you speak I hear silence Every word a defiance I can hear, oh I can hear

Think I’ll go where it suits me Moving out to the country With everyone, oh everyone Before we all become one

Again, Red’s having none of anyone else’s plans. She’s the type to act. Once she might have thought she’d run and leave everything behind if the world fell to pieces, until it happened and took everything from her before she could.

And as the final credits roll, Red’s voice carries us through Paper Boats:

I will always find you Like it’s written in the stars You can run but you can’t hide, try

A romantic sentiment, couched in rather threatening terms.

Access Date

2015-10-30 01:21:58



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Finding Her Voice


Finding Her Voice: Red’s Agency in Transistor


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