Behind the mythical cryptids of Disco Elysium
This entire piece is a spoiler for Disco Elysium.
If there’s anything real-life cryptids like the Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti have in common, it’s their massive size. They are creatures that have long captured our collective imagination – even becoming part of folklore in some cultures – because of what they represent: the monstrous unknown. The Yeti, for example, is often described as a massive bipedal ape, while the Loveland frog is said to be about 1.2 meters tall. Even the giant squid, which is a real aquatic monster once considered a cryptid, can measure up to 12-13 meters in length. In fact, Bernard Heuvelmans, a researcher who is also widely known as the father of cryptozoology, suggested that for animals to be considered cryptids, they would generally have to evoke some type of emotional response; such a mythical animal should at least have a single trait that is “truly singular, unexpected, paradoxical, arresting, emotionally overwhelming, and therefore capable of mythologizing”.
Likewise, Disco Elysium’s cryptids elicit the same kind of awe and wonder, even if they’re mostly dismissed as nonsensical bullshit by your cop pal, Kim Kitsuragi. You will first learn about them from Lena, a kind old lady married to a cryptozoologist named Morell. Passionate about cryptozoology herself, she will tell you more about the different cryptids she has heard of, including the one known as the insulindian stick insect. This cryptid is particularly poignant for her, as it was her alleged discovery of the stick insect that brought her closer to her husband. Yet her once steadfast belief in the existence of this cryptid would crumble when a later quest to hunt the stick insect proved fruitless, with Lena becoming skeptical and concerned if she had imagined the creature in her early years.
This disbelief is mixed with a sense of mysticism in Disco Elysium. At times, the world of Disco Elysium seems almost dreamlike, even hallucinatory. Your character, Harry, woke up earlier in a stupor and amnesiac daze, completely unaware of his surroundings. He has a chorus of voices talking to him in his head, one of which is his ghastly, outlandishly colored tie screaming at him with mostly ghastly advice. The city itself is surrounded by an encroaching phenomenon known as The Pale, which devours all matter and life, leaving behind only echoes and past memories. In a place that still seems to harbor so much mystery, it seems only fitting that cryptids are a lingering presence in the capital of Revachol, a subject that continues to enchant and mystify its people. At one point, you even thought you heard Col Do Ma Ma Daqua, an incorporeal bird with an imperceptible cry.
But even if the existence of most cryptids has not yet been proven, at least one does exist: the insulindian stick insect. At the end of the game, you finally see it: it’s a huge stick-shaped beast that has hidden among the reeds. He exists, though he can be easily missed, and he’s as real as Harry, as real as Kim, as real as Lena. It turns out that Lena and the cryptozoologists were right all along, and suddenly the nonsense and the absurd seem to make so much sense. Cryptids are often said to be built on exaggerated truths, but the stick insect is, in fact, even bigger than cryptozoologists expected. Even Jean, your clinically depressed former partner whom you completely forgot about, was so impressed by the picture of the stick insect you took that it temporarily brushed aside his sadness. Thus, the presence of the Cryptids leaves an otherworldly tinge to Disco Elysium’s hard-boiled detective fiction, deftly blurring the line between the absurd and the sensitive.
In real life, folk cryptids will always exist, perhaps as a projection of our primal fears – our reptilian brains – of the unknown. But among the people of Revachol, cryptozoologists, and even Harry, the cryptids become a source of calm and wonder, even routine for Harry, if you decide to meticulously run through all the stick insect’s traps in a single quest. Just as the game twisted the meaning of truth behind its case, the cryptids also twisted the meaning of mystique. They have become more than just unknowable or legendary beasts; they are now part of the natural and substantial world of Disco Elysium.
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