Player’s Perspective: Emma Lookabough

Fourth year studio art major Emma Lookabough.
Photo by Zhixuan Lyu.

WARNING! The contents of this article contain gameplay concepts which may spoil parts of the video game “Nier: Automata.” Read at your own discretion.

What is the Lawrence Difference?

As a student, I have heard this question many times. I would say a big part of my Lawrence experience is my expanding curiosities. One of those curiosities is with reality. The nature of reality has been explored over the ages with early thinkers like Plato examining the allegory of the cave. Today though, we have curious thinkers like Emma Lookabaugh, a senior studio art major, who explores reality using their art.

Lookabough has always been drawn to questions relating to existence in this world and society. Lookabough explained, “My experience with my mental illness has given these sorts of questions a presence and weight in my mind. It’s been something that has been with me a long while.”

Lookabough talked about when they had first come to Lawrence, these ever-present questions were somewhat given light in their Freshman studies Seminar: “I remember going into Freshman Studies, I had not engaged with any proper philosophical work. Plato’s “The Republic,” which I know has all sorts of problems, gave me the opportunity to process and understand why we think the way we think, examine alternative ways of living, and examine why we have the values that we have.” “The Republic” allowed Lookabough to engage with questions and started developing their own understanding of these questions.

Another piece of media which allowed for these questions to blossom for Lookabough was the video game “Nier: Automata.” Lookabough stated that “[“Nier: Automata”] helped establish a close-knit friend group [at Lawrence]. The game posed these philosophical questions through its characters which speaks to my experience here at Lawrence… [“Nier: Automata”] helped me in pursuing these questions in my own work as well.” 

“Nier: Automata” is an action role playing video game which takes place on Earth during a proxy war where androids and other technological warfare is used. 

In this video game, in order to get all the possible storylines, you must go through several playthroughs with different androids. Each playthrough evolves the story with the conclusion of having to delete your save file, an ultimate sacrifice.

A lot of the story-driven questions in this game are based around concepts of death, afterlife, religion and other complex philosophical inquiries. This was a big draw for Lookabough and their friends. Explaining the games importance, they said, “The shared experience of being together and experiencing this game together really solidified our relationship together… I find these philosophical questions engaging and they did so there was stuff to talk about even when they were not playing.” 

This bonding experience has created relationships Lookabough still has today, even though both the other members of this group have since graduated from Lawrence.

Another set of questions Lookabough enjoys exploring are questions based around relationships between people. Questions like, “How do we relate to each other; how do we love each other; how we can hate each other?” In “Nier: Automata,” androids and machines are able to express love and hatred as well as desires for things such as closeness, family and friendship. Many of the characters bring harm to the ones they love though which they struggle to reconcile. “I feel that, in some way, these experiences parallel human ones,” Lookabough said. 

The creators of this video game wanted to explore these emotional concepts after removing the human side of things from the picture — can robots learn to love, more or less.  

These questions have also been highly influential on the artwork Lookabough produces here at Lawrence. As a studio art major, Lookabough has and continues to explore these deep questions through their medium of art. 

“I like to use my art to start conversations about what it means to exist in this world and this society,” Lookabough explained. “The idea that our existence and our work is not going to be remembered forever, each of us is going to fade from memory. There is nothing that is forever on this Earth.” 

“Nier: Automata” gave Lookabough the groundwork for thinking about these questions and art has given them a way to express their journeying with these questions.

Lookabough’s story continues with thinking about these questions. Their curiosity has taken hold within their art as they push on through their last year at Lawrence. Keep an eye out for their pieces around Wriston. Maybe you will get to start a conversation about these long thought-over curiosities.