How NieR Automata Distills its Thesis Into a Single Line of Dialogue

Spoilers follow for NieR Automata.

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When I think on what the overall meaning of NieR Automata might be, or my reaction from playing it for the first time, or what the authorial intent of Yoko Taro and the team over at Platinumgames had in making this experience, I often come back to a particular dialogue line. 

The screen is filled with that distinct storm dust brown as Adam “speaks” to 9S through text, getting under his skin, poking and prodding, before dropping it. It’s the only line on the screen, the only break from that basic background colour.

“You’re thinking about how much you want to **** 2B, aren’t you?"

What comes to mind when you read this?

What do those 4 stars represent?

For many, the snap assumption would be the word fuck. When an English written word is censored, swearing is often what’s hidden.

It makes sense. Even before the game was available to play, a good amount of the attention it received was focused around 2B’s battle attire - a dress style that the more modest describe as promiscuous, and the less so as straight up "sexy maid". Regarding the perceived sexual nature of 2B's appearance, Yoko Taro has been quoted as saying he “just likes girls”, and at one point tweeted a request for fans to send him a folder of the now infamous fan art of the game. Sex sells, the fanbase is thirsty, it’s an anime game, easy to dismiss.

So, 9S wants to fuck 2B. Ok, sure. That’s one explanation.

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At this point in the game, we're a decent chunk of the way through route B. Adam has been captured by 9S, but 9S’ priorities aren’t focused on himself - he’s unclear and worried about what has happened to 2B. His role as a support unit so far has been to assist 2B in her combat operations. Already multiple times through the game, he has come to 2B’s aid - from the opening prologue, to their Amusement Park fight with Simone, to the the Forest Kingdom battle with A2 and to the epic Flooded City cinematic sequence of bringing down Grun, 9S has been throwing punches in 2B’s defense the entire way.

Fuck is a 4 letter word, sure; but so is “save”. 

To the player however, we’re already aware that 2B is a badass killing machine. 2B is clearly not someone who needs saving. She’s not the princess in another castle. She is just as (if not more so) capable than him. Despite this being a game released into a world where equality across gender is not a reality, with the notion that men need to come to the rescue of women still existing. Even in the year 11945, 9S feels the need to be 2B’s saviour. 

This piercing piece of text is then followed by a quick cutscene of something we already know as the player has happened, because we’ve not only seen it, but we’ve played through it - 2B has fought off Adam, pierced him through the gut, and is carrying off 9S in her arms.

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Late game revelations and further digging by those intrigued reveal more uncomfortable truths around the tragedy of 9S and 2B’s relationship. 2B is not a (B) battle android - she is an (E) execution unit, designed to kill 9S every time he comes too close to uncovering the truth of YorHa. She has performed this task dozens, possibly hundreds of times over the years they’ve spent working together. His memory is wiped every time, leaving 2B with the knowledge of his past selves, but with 9S as a fresh unit - mostly. “Nines”, who’s nickname was “given to him by his friends”, never remembers who 2B is upon re-meeting her - despite her being his only actual friend. 

9S was always fated to be the one to push the final pieces into place for YorHa’s end. He always tends to know more than he lets on to 2B unless prompted. He’s a curious android - he learns things, pokes around and makes discoveries. He rarely lets it slip out loud, but 9S knows about 2B’s true nature, as well as her past with him, at least in some fashion. 

“You’re thinking about how much you want to **** 2B, aren’t you?"

When you’ve lost track of how many times you’ve been murdered, by the same person, that rage doesn’t just dissipate. Kill is also a 4 letter word.

Twice through Route C, at various stages of 9S’ breakdown, 9S faces off against 2B - both in a virtual space (as a representation of his own memories and thoughts) while destroying one of the three pillars safeguarding the tower, and then physically (as a group of clones created by the tower) while ascending the tower itself. In his rage, he not only cuts 2B down inside the pillar, he unleashes an unrelenting rage and stabs her repeatedly. In the tower, he slaughters every 2B he sees, before taking the arm from a 2B clone to replace his recently destroyed one.

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“You’re thinking about how much you want to **** 2B, aren’t you?"

The screen prior to this key line of text presents a set of statements.

“You do not trust anything."

“You want to destroy everything."

“You have lost hope in everything."

“You want to obtain everything."

“You want to be loved by all."

You want to be loved by all. 

From the jump, a bar is set pretty rigid for the androids - emotions are forbidden. It’s obvious as an audience that this is a line that will be crossed (or never really existed), but it’s an important line. In context of the game, 9S is an android created to fight in the 14th Machine War in the year 11945. That is a jumble of jargon that immediately distances the player, speaking volumes by what it’s not saying more than for what it is. This is some difficult to grasp distant future, during a war that’s number signals it’s meaninglessness in time. It’s a way of distilling down what matters in context - it’s about the endless fight, and that’s all there is. Love has no place on the battlefield.

Yet much like the robots they face, the androids can’t help but emulate human behaviour and desires. Despite the nature of their relationship, 9S shows through his actions that he doesn’t just follow protocol when it comes to combat alongside 2B - he cares for her. Deeply. He goes above and beyond in every situation. He discusses the idea of the war ending, and of spending time with 2B post-war, of buying T-shirts and hanging out. He discusses personal things with 2B, sharing a back and forth with her that only two beings so close together can do.

Love is forbidden; wanting it is not. 

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Maybe the line isn’t directed at 9S at all.

NieR Automata is a game that is aware of the player. The line is blurred - it’s aware that it’s world is a construct, made by a team of game developers, artists, designers and writers. It messes with player expectations - it speaks to the player. Pod’s 042 and 153 want to break the cycle by the end of the game, as Ending E takes the player out of the game and into the credits sequence. The game is aware that you are a character in this story, and involves you.

“You’re thinking about how much you want to **** 2B, aren’t you?"

What do you, the player, think of 2B?

Have you been looking up her skirt as you play as her, running through this world fighting robot lifeforms? Maybe you have used the self destruct move to blow her clothes off, running around in just a leotard? Have you “earned” the trophy for attempting to look up her skirt 10 times?

As much as Adam is calling out 9S’ thoughts, the game is calling out the player for theirs. Not judging them; but not ignoring them either.

Do you see 2B as a sex object? Or is she more than that, more than appearances and reactions deem her to be? Despite her being a digital construct, does she mean more to you than just a simple avatar of game interaction?

Maybe, you want to be her saviour from this tragic world?

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“You’re thinking about how much you want to **** 2B, aren’t you?"

Fuck, Save, Kill, Love. All possible, all plausible. You can see this line one way or another, directed in game or out and meaning what you feel it means. NieR Automata never explicitly decides how you’re meant to take it - that’s not up to the game.

How you interpret it is entirely up to you. It is just one line of text from a silly game after all.

This article is part of a larger project. If you’re a fan of NieR Automata, please stay tuned for more!