Let’s play two truths and a lie, this is a folk game people normally play when they want to get to know each other. It’s kinda got a bad rap because it’s usually sprung on people in a work setting between coworkers who may be meeting for the first time which is exactly when you don’t want to open up about your creative pathological lying streak. So you’ve gotta come up with truths and lies about yourself that are creative but not too mythologizing. Just something real cool and normal that sets you up as memorable but not overwhelming to strangers. Maybe like: 

  • I’m originally from Boise, Idaho
  • I’m fourteen years old
  • I’m a part of the elite fighting unit known as the X-Slayers sworn to protect the world from Sykos.

Now obviously I’m not fourteen years old, I’m a thirty-eight year old man who just found a copy of my old video game in a dusty box that I thought was lost until now. Maybe that was too easy. 

Two truths and a lie is a funny game because it dangles objectivity in front of you, but there is no way to independently identify and prove what is actually the truth and the lie or even how truth-y or lie-y each statement is, you just gotta trust. And what’s more, you want to trust the other person! It’s in your interest as the other player to trust 2/3rds of what the person is saying about themselves. Most games feature a single fiction where they lie pretty to you and sell you on a world, the characters, and the interaction of playspaces within. I often relish in the escapism of many games. But an unrivaled joy inside of Slayers X is how it balances the layered realities within its fiction. Zane the X-Slayer, Zane_Rocks_15 who made the game (even though he’s 16), and @Zane_Rocks_36 who gave us a key to review the game with. Two Zanes are truths, and one of those Zanes is completely artificial, and the Liar Zane is entirely dependent on which Zane you are right now.

Slayers X is rich with text to help us unpack all these Zanes and the most important place to start is through his bu**hole. In the above screenshot you can see Zane the X-Slayer talks about shoving terds into bungholes over a wired landline telephone while referencing a “hotline”. There’s particle-board table slabs and wood paneling everywhere. We’re choking on the late-90s kitsch filtered through the point of view of a kid who so desperately wants to be an adult. Zane the X-Slayer is foul-mouthed and cool; he can talk on phones to strangers about his supermodel girlfriends while holding guns. But he’s limited by Zane_Rocks_15’s level of discourse. Zane_Rocks_15 can’t say shit piss fuck cunt cocksucker motherfucker or tits, not only is he not old enough, he doesn’t have access to youtube yet to watch old George Carlin clips.

We can see in the screenshot, loads of diegetic text written directly by Zane_Rocks_15 (not @Zane_Rocks_36) full of misspellings – ‘insumbordination’ – as well as one of the greatest institutional acts of justice a 16-year-old kid in early-00s Boise could know: kicking your boss in the nards like you’re Stone Cold Steve Austin. This textual battle between Zanes drives the plot to help the player suspend disbelief as they battle living piles of shit and clowns through all the rhetorical spaces a middle-school kid would know best and desire to defend: department store, theme park, cul-de-sac, Burger King. But if you look a little deeper into the screenshot, this veneer is challenged by @Zane_Rocks_36 as well. That’s the Zane who doesn’t speak with words, but shows up in a button tastefully tucked behind a desk leading to a secret room. Stuck next to a skull bong and bottle of pills. The architect Zane that can’t exist but still does. The false liar Zane.

I’m looking for the artifice to slip, I’m looking to expose this game as fraudulent, I’m a bastard who wants to prove this game wasn’t made by an actual 16 year old and yet instead I get signs of an even funnier Zane who cares even more about my relationship with this game as a player. Throughout Slayers X, they constantly play with rhetoric to get the player to question an authentic voice. It’s so annoying and appropriate, not just because Zane is annoying and immature but because it goes in so many fascinating directions. I’m coming through the other side of this bu**hole to find it goes so much deeper than I could’ve expected. @Zane_Rocks_36 should not exist. But also I guess neither should a 00s Boomer Shooter (as Doom-type games had fallen out of fashion by 2002)

I think what freaks me out while playing Slayers X is this one single anachronism that the entire aesthetic is built on. Hearing 00’s Korn or Linkin Park type nu-metal while playing a 90’s boomer shooter doesn’t actually make sense. Wrong eras, wrong aesthetics, wrong nostalgia… It’s all so wrong to me? A viscerally unpleasant cacophony of sound, visuals, and playstyles. When you get the power to shoot energy blasts out of your hands while floating through the sky? It’s fucking crazy! Are we anime now?? Whose authenticity is this anyways?? But that’s the thing… It’s all Zane. Zane is a punk kid trying to understand this crazy world through video games and nu-metal and The Matrix. You don’t get Linkin Park or Korn without Trent Reznor (who worked closely with id to do the soundtrack for Quake). Zane is an avatar that all these connective tissues run through. Zane_Rocks_15 is a kid from Boise, ID who comes from a broken home and generally fears shitty step-dads, burning out, and working a normal job in the middle of America… Which is the exact same profile that Limp Bizkit connects most with when he’s “looking to justify ripping someone’s head off”. Zane the X-Slayer doesn’t need a job in the post-apocalypse, he’s an elite computer hacker, he lives for his mom, and he subsists entirely off of floating burgers and soda. What more could he possibly want from a 16-year-old’s perspective?

There’s a section in one level where you go into a computer and you just straight up have infinite power like Keanu Reeves (The S-blade has a hackblood charge!) One of Zane’s core truths comes from this nostalgia. Zane, the 16 year old, is inspired by his childhood, which happened in exactly 1999 (and a Boise 1999 was culturally akin to a Seattle 1997) so this anachronism builds a what-if scenario! What if DOOM Clones didn’t fall out of fashion by 2002? Who is to say they didn’t in Boise, Idaho? Zane_Rocks_15 does, duh! The sheer density of allusion inside of Slayers X builds bridges between all three of these Zanes. But there is one specific allusion that is much louder than the rest…

Zane the X-Slayer knows what sex is. And that’s kinda weird because Zane_Rocks_15 does not. Which is also kinda weird because @Zane_Rocks_36 only kinda probably does. I assume, at least? Can an unknowable god know the human domains of sex? There are two references to coital affairs in Slayers X that really drive this divide home. Mevin Raniels, Zane’s evil rival and ex-boss, threatens to have a side thing with Zane’s mom, but he’s also a proud cheater and the top of his to-do list at work has an item about going to a hotel room to meet a prostitute. Zane the X-Slayer can go to this room where a blacklight is flashing, novelty hand-cuffs are packaged on the side of the bed, and a psyko is lying on a bed seductively beckoning you over to be with them. You can’t interact with this psyko sex-worker in any direct way but no matter where you stand in the room they will point at you and loudly grunt towards you. This is one of the rare moments in the game where Zane does not comment in any way. The scene is left as it lies in a strangely impactful moment of maturity and un-easy peace. You can jump on the bed and shoot your guns and do whatever you want, but the scene does not change in any way. This is a psyko, but it is not an enemy because you can’t shoot it.

All three Zanes here are in direct communication with Duke Nukem. Zane the X-Slayer is obviously the embodiment of Duke Nukem (except that he respects women I guess?) @Zane_Rocks_36 is relying on the player to underestimate this entire “2002-era” revival project, by relating it to the poorly-aged Duke Nukem games. Most importantly, Zane_Rocks_15 needs us to know that he knows what sex is. He SO knows what sex is. But he’s not going to tell you. Slayers X is full of innuendo and suggestive humor about balls and holes, and like all 16-year-olds he desperately needs the player to know that he knows how those all go into each other to make a sex happen. And the moment he puts real, tangible sex into the game? Zane is completely silent. It’s silly, but it’s also incredibly effective at evoking that authenticity. Kids love talking about sex, loudly. If you’ve ever had the “pleasure” of organizing groups of middle schoolers on trips across the country, you’d quickly find they treat the performative discourse of sex with the belabored effort of an olympic athlete. They try to hush it up when they know an actual adult is in ear shot but holy shit it is all they talk about online, in apps, and in person with each other. But it’s also incredibly important because to teenagers, sex is an unimpeachable truth that defines what an Adult is (which they want to be) and they need to check in with their peers in this weirdly competitive way to figure out the limits of what is ‘weird’ and what is ‘normal’ (since they largely can’t ask adults directly about it without getting a frustratingly censored answer). So both Zane and Duke Nukem can be dismissed by some bullshit goody-goody adult as “acting out” with “indecency”, but that severely reduces the genuine identity searching happening here. We all do it, even as adults, have you looked through your friends’ likes lately? (You have. We all do.) Slayers X looks at sex the same way it does everything: from a self-censored point of view of what an adult remembers of how 16-year-olds look at sex, and as an unwilling expert in the field, honestly? I’m looking through one of my ex-students NewGrounds accounts (yeah 16-year-olds are still looking towards NG to learn about sex – and it’s better than learning it through Steam tbqh) and yeah they nailed this stoic reverence and complete misunderstanding of sex dead on. Zane is so Duke Nukem.

Oh right, I mentioned a second time that the act of adult sex is mentioned in Slayers X! There’s another motel room later where you walk into it and there is a steel-link fence clipping through the center of the bed. This also isn’t commented on by Zane, and I don’t need to go deep into it, but it’s so funny. Christian marriage ass bed. 

I think there’s one core way we can pierce the veil and find the most authentic Zane bwl. Slayers X gives us tools to identify all of these different Zanes at the same time through the very rules of the universe as they were designed and built. The systems in Slayers X give us a very specific lens to identify the genuine hackblood-filled heart that beats throughout. Boise, Idaho is packed full of secrets that build patterns. Every level has a piece of cheese that you can give to rats for support. There are destructible walls that lead to weapons and health dumps. There’s always a weird screaming baby doll that if you shoot at it, it haunts you for the rest of the level. I have no idea what this is here for, but it’s damn freaky. The backbone of this world is built on discovery and then finding safety in that discovery. The psyko-infested streets of Boise are only dangerous to those unwilling to look deeper, and shows how every Zane finds strength in a predictable discovery loop.

There is also a salacious penchant for destruction. Zane LOVES to break glass. It’s the most important thing to Zane to break glass. All glass in the world is breakable, collectible, and fills the backbone of every zombie-fighting arsenal: Glass Blasta (Shotgun). Windows, glass bongs, cars, computers, mirrors – it’s all harvestable. What is Zane’s obsession with broken glass?

Breaking glass is objectively bad at a societal level; dangerous, messy, useless, unfixable. So it’s undeniably cool. Zane barehands fistfulls of glass sharts into his barrel to fire at terds, thus subverting the uselessness of broken glass. This shows us how thoroughly Zane’s desire for punk wanton destruction is actually an ingenious tool for finding usefulness in the useless. The rats are friends, the glass is most desirable when broken, and the strongest shape in the world is the cool-S. It’s all so punk at a systemic level bwl. This all drives home a core connection between our different Zanes; these whimsical discoveries. But in the opposite direction there is one thing that sticks out as the farthest stretch towards absurdity. The biggest thing that wedges every Zane from one another is the FMV-styled cutscenes.

Long ago, FMVs were the watermark of a high-budget production and here Slayers X has to convince the player that Zane_Rocks_15 is able to tell a coherent story about the X Slayers with twists and turns through tastefully dither-dripped claymation. It’s any of these moments where the kayfabe is dropped in favor of a new idea: @Zane_Rocks_36 is the one who remastered the game from the ground up. We know this directly from the bonus levels where Zane speaks to us about limitations from publishers, cut levels, and inspirations from his uncle groverhaus. But the FMVs themselves carry tons of high quality swagger that punches way above the weight of a teenager’s production style in a way that challenges the authenticity of the production, while simultaneously giving it credibility and quality. These FMVs walk the line of being true to yourself, while also selling out towards a certain level of respectability. The mask falls in favor of getting sick 90s cred for telling stories about carrying on a legacy and revenging your mom. This is that weird line that is a truth to the perspectives of Zane the X-Slayer and @Zane_Rocks_36, but to have these rich FMVs you must sacrifice the authenticity of Zane_Rocks_15. A fascinating death to the inner child!

Zane’s aggressive immature posturing throughout Slayers X forces you to explore your own authenticity. Every time the S-blade has a hackblood charge or Zane calls someone a terd or a claymation FMV begins, the player is forced to investigate their own history with these forms and reflects that onto Zane. Maybe that becomes grating and annoying or comically whimsical, but either way you have Zane in front of you challenging your world as much as their own. It’s the point of view of some kind of homunculine 16-year-old, a 36-year-old, as well as the real life team of game designers trying to convince you that something completely artificial is genuine and important. The multi-layered realities in Slayers X as well as Hypnospace Outlaw represent the struggle with navigating online authenticity. You can spend so much time and effort online accusing things of being ‘real’ or ‘fake’ and in doing so completely miss how perspective changes that reality for everyone.

Log in to VRChat and you can find a 16-year-old kid right now listening to nu metal (the golden oldies), investigating their gendered performance, and driving for the authentic divide between their real world and the online world while trying to look hella cool sick nasty. This is a core of the human experience that transcends time. It’s why we love and hate teenagers so much, and to capture that in a game like Slayers X takes an incredible amount of perspective. Zane the X-Slayer, Zane_Rocks_15, and @Zane_Rocks_36 are extremely real to one another – they build a feedback loop of authenticity and, just like scrolling through the newest TikTok memes, we have no choice but to deal with it. It’s nostalgic, intergenerational fun that drives at the core of being a kid; it’s being cringe and recognizing that that’s when you were the most free. It’s reconnecting with your younger self, recognizing your childhood oeuvre, and realizing how authentic you were all along even though you felt like a weird fake kid-adult the entire time. It’s about giving yourself grace and then pointing outward from there. The most important truth that has been staring me in the face this whole time is that at the end of it all? Zane Rocks! Maybe it was a 16-year-old front, but 20 years later? We have published proof that, nah, that dorky kid? You rocked the entire time.

The only truth I [as a writer] can understand or express is, logically defined, a lie. Psychologically defined, a symbol. Aesthetically defined, a metaphor.

Ursula K. Le Guin – introduction, The Left Hand of Darkness

I’ve got one last two-truths-and-a-lie for you:

  • When I was 16 I designed a computer game in this notebook…
  • …And it was AWESOME!
  • But then… It got lost… OR WAS IT? [Seepage intensifies]

As Alice falls through the looking glass, don’t forget that the world she came from is also a fictional place, just as yours is to her.

About Solon

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