Real, Symbolic and Imaginary

The words “Real”, “Symbolic” and “Imaginary” (RSI) appear a few times surrounding the story, but they’re never elaborated on. In this post, we’ll dig into what this concept means for Remember11.

Mentions

These words appear in TIP 092 (Final Level):

When it is executed——
The transient world—— “Imaginary” is lost…
The bridge of the world—— “Symbolic” is crossed…
The true world—— “Real” will reveal its shape.
Together with the awakening of the “Third Eye”————

And in the opening cinematic for the PC and PSP versions.

pc_op_rsi pps_op_rsi
And finally, as scene titles in Satoru’s chapter on the 4th and 7th days.

Basics

The concept of RSI developed by French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. To help us understand this concept, imagine the following:

An empty cup rests on the table.

In the Imaginary realm, we have categories and labels. The “cup” and “table” are two distinct concepts. When you read “table”, that should conjure an image of a flat surface held up by legs. You can make further sub-categories by making distinctions between 4-legged and 3-legged tables, or wooden and glass tables.

The Symbolic realm deals with language, logic and order. The Symbolic connects Imaginary labels together using concepts like above/below, before/after, and presence/absence to make sense of the Real world. The cup is “empty” (ie. missing something, like water) and is positioned “on” the table.

The Real is the objective reality without labels or categories, before the Symbolic tries to make sense of it. In the Real realm, there is no distinction between the cup and table. The only things that exists in this realm are elementary particles and their physical interactions with each other.

The three realms are distinct from each other. The Imaginary is composed of many fragmented labels, while the Real is a single unfragmented whole. And the Symbolic concepts of “empty” or “absence” don’t exist in the Real since the Real only talks about what is actually there. The Real only describes what is, but the Symbolic can discuss what isn’t or what should be.

But even though they’re distinct , they are inseparable.

The Mirror Stage

The RSI concept can be used to describe how an ego or sense of identity arises. Imagine a child that was just born into the world. At this point, the baby exists solely in the Real realm because it can’t categorize sights and sounds. The baby simply exists and believes it is one with everything around it.

With time, it learns patterns and creates categories for different objects. It can distinguish its mother from random strangers, or the difference between a teddy bear and a ball. But there is an even more important category it learns. When the baby looks in the mirror (literally or figuratively), it finally makes the distinction between “me” and “the rest of the world”. It learns that it is a separate entity from everything around it, and a sense of identity/Ego is formed.

The Self

Returning to Remember11, SELF is initially not aware of its existence and merely experiences the events of the game. It exists in the Real realm. After reasoning about the events of the game, SELF discovers that its actions have an impact on the world. The mirror has been brought up. At this point, SELF realizes that it is a separate entity and begins to form its own identity.

TL;DR

  • Real = Reality
  • Imaginary = Categories used to simplify reality and make distinctions between different objects or concepts.
  • Symbolic = Language and logic. By structuring the Imaginary categories using language, a person tries to understand reality

An individual will learn that “me” is separate from “the world”. Once the person understands this, an ego/sense of identity is formed. By the end of the game, SELF discovers its own identity in exactly this way.

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