An Essay on Sasha Nein
I am a Psychonauts fan. It is about my favorite game on the planet. Funny, witty and insanely creative, this game is something I would love to have made. And, fan that I am, I'll openly admit Sasha Nein is my favorite character. From that deep German accent to the daringly suave suit and sweater look, top to bottom, I was in fan love.
I'm also well aware that I am not the only Sasha fan in the world. The off-the-wall art style and relatively short plot made the bishounen-quality pickings relatively few, and Agent Nein is thoughtfully afflicted with both an angsty back story and accessibility to young males, two elements modern fangirls typically enjoy.
I pride myself on being a different breed of fangirl. I don't want to date Sasha, hardly, I would rather see him hook up with Milla than anything else. At least there are hints in the game that the two of them are a couple. I am well aware of his past through the memories provided in the game itself, but I also notice his behavior in the present. My point is that I am an analyst. An over-analyst in most respects. And I like to think a lot about my fandom. I pride myself in trying to understand every character in a game to the extent of their personality provided canonly. I feel like the authors of media knew what they were doing and, generally, I approve of and prefer anything provided within the realms of a particular universe.
Which leads to my point. There are a couple things I've noticed about Sasha Nein that I would like to share with everyone. Facets I'm always sorry to see other, often well-meaning fanfiction authors gloss over. Feel free to comment as you please on my observations. This is spoiler-laden, of course, just to warn you.
To begin, I shall address the angst factor. Yes it is sad that Sasha's mommy died, and it has apparently affected the way he reacts to people, but, frankly, I do not see the deep-seeded ever-present masochistic angst my fellow authors tend to focus on. I base this strongly on one aspect of his character. He smiles. A lot. He actually smiles through most of the game, he laughs, he even jokes a bit or at least as best he can.
His first line in the game, when he chides Oleander for over-dramatizing the ins and outs of his summer camp, is reprimanding, but sounds amused at his comerade. At the end of the game he jokes about Mory's off-kilter tendeances again, this time followed by a totally campy laugh-out-loud moment that gives them all a bit of an emotional release. It is apparent that they all know and enjoy each other the way friends would. It seems to me that although Sasha and Milla are "special guests" at Whispering Rock, it is obvious they've been "speacial guests" for some time now. Sasha has a firmly established subterranean lab and there is a complex underground transit system leading to a hidden base where their leader issues additional missions to them on top of jobs assigned by Psychonaut command. Therefore, although it is Oleander's boot camp, both Sasha and Milla are permanent fixtures who take it upon themselves to train and mentor students. It is hard to believe a man so tightly sealed that he wears-his-sunglasses-at-night-to-hide-from-the-demons-that-live-in-his-dreams would stoop so low as to call himself a camp counselor and teach brain-shooting classes. Additionally, it took him no time at all to warm up to Raz. At the end of the opening movie, after Raz has completed his speech about Whispering Rock and moved Oleander to letting him stay, Sasha stands smiling in his direction. The agent tilts his head, I read respectfully, toward this new student and decides pretty much instantly that he wants to explore Raz's exemplary abilities further. He adopts Razputin as a sort of protégé after that, and its apparent that Aquato is not the first to receive this kind of attention. Oleander calls them 'gunea pigs' but Sasha seems to enjoy selecting students for the 'speacial class' as Bobby phrases it, and teaching a sort of gifted course for particularly talented psychics.
His goal is to explore the depths of the human psyche, and make more psychonauts while he's at it, but Sasha Nein doesn't want to impose on anyone. He gives Raz an invitation. He doesn't force the kid to comply, and he is ready to stop his brain-tumble experiments the minute Raz is in danger. When our hero runs into a monster in his mind, Sasha sees a problem and works to safely extract his subject from the situation. Admittedly he gets a little distracted with the unusual readings he finds there, but that's a character flaw. I'll address those in a moment. The point is, once Raz is out of the tumbler, he says flat-out that he's pretty much over the whole 'fighting toothy badguys' thing. Sasha doesn't get mad or stony. Instead he encourages and offers to teach Raz what he needs to know to conquer his own demons. This leads to my next observation.
Sasha allows Raz full access to his thoughts. If he were cripplingly scared of sharing feelings or details about himself, letting students run around training in his mind would be the least intelligent action to take. Instead he rolls out the welcome mat, sounding, dare I say it, excited about teaching psyblasts, and prepares an elaborate lesson involving losing a grip on his own mind and letting Raz explore and fight in some of the more well-guarded portions of his brain. This release is very brave of Sasha, and very trusting. In the end Sasha admits that he identifies a bit of himself in Raz, again wearing a smile. Similarly, at the end his level, when he and Raz face off against the Mega-censor, Sasha shoves Raz out of the way when the stamp is coming down, resulting in his unfortunate situation throughout the boss battle. He's lost all control of his mind at this point, its up to Raz to save him from himself. Obviously he trusted the boy a little too much, something that a self-absorbed and tightly controlled character would never let happen.
Taking responsibility for weaker persons and sacrificing himself for his student are both traits I am particularly drawn to in Sasha. It is not the last time he throws himself between an enemy and those he's responsible for (a scene with Lili in the Thorny Towers lab room comes to mind here). This scene also proves he is low on the pride factor and willing to give credit where credit is due. After pretty much failing his mission, Sasha doesn't hesitate to thank Raz for all he's done, even though the psycadet is only ten years old and working with a very brief training session. A more reserved and protected man would most likely avoid admitting any kind of weakness on his own part, especially to the boy who's risen above him, but Sasha is a confident guy who knows the length and breadth of his own ability and is proud of Raz's strength like a father for a son or a master for an apprentice. When Raz gets official psychonaut status it is Sasha who presents him with his uniform, smiling pretty obviously the whole time. He seems very mature about himself and caring toward those he's adopted as his new family, Raz and his fellow psychonauts included.
Sasha's family is his only real weakness. He lost his mother at an early age, and her death left him with many questions. These questions he tried to pry out of his less-than-attentive father, who never once looks happy in any of his slideshows. At let's say about eleven or twelve he uses clairvoyance on his dad to learn more about his late mother and taps into memories he really really didn't want to see. Afraid that he can't control his psychic abilities and horribly embarrassed after witnessing his own conception (omg sick), he takes off for parts unknown to craft his skill and learn more about brains. Leaving home so early, he was on his own most of his life, haunted by the memories of the past and probably very lonely. Present day, he has his partner Milla, who is warm and open and very attractive. Apparently Nein and Vodello are one of the top partnerships of the Psychonauts, chronicled in True Psychic Tales and issued some real fancy missions (like undercover at the Kremlin (joke) and rescuing the president's brain (no joke)). The two of them seem very married to me; they aren't, but they're the kind of couple that just know they'll be together forever so there's really no hurry to do anything about it. Its apparent in Milla's memories that she's got a crush on her partner, and while Sasha's memories are focused more on his coming-out as a psychic, the concept art included in his section has a full-page spread of he and Milla posing together so I'll read that clue any way I please. Their relationship as I see it is kept very private, mostly because of the situation that they are in. As camp counselors they are required to set moral and social examples for their kids and rampant displays of intimacy, aka snogging in public, isn't very parent like. As psychonauts they face off against psychic villains, and any kind of affection they had for each other above and beyond the professional attitude they take when on a job would be an obvious weakness against them. An enemy that can read your mind is a dangerous thing, so it's wise to keep all your soft spots well hidden. Milla's got a secret room for hers. Sasha's got a rubix cube of a mental map with pockets and shelves and alternating cores where he can store all sorts of stuff. I get the feeling his emotions toward anyone and everyone are safely tucked away in there, present, but not accessible to intruders.
Speaking of the man's mind… I'd like to point out that just because he's pale and dressed in black doesn't mean he's unexpressive, he just has sophisticated taste. His brain is nothing less than a cube of modern art. His lab is designed with an aesthetic appeal complete with modern furniture and various colors. I agree with The Most Awesome Comic Psychonauts website in their assumption that Sasha likes poetry. Thinkers like poetry because of the complexity and careful word choice involved in its composure. He also obviously enjoys modern art - a thinking craft, and I wouldn't doubt he likes classical music. Anything thought provoking that provides him a window into himself as he studies it would most likely draw his eye.
Sasha has earned a reputation for being a scientist, mathematically minded and endlessly complex. He's like me in that he enjoys reading deeply into just about everything and sometimes enjoys thinking so much that he loses track of what he's actually supposed to be doing. He's the group's strategist and carefully considers nearly every action for relative importance and execution. He is famous, but according to the official character bio he cares very little about it and is too busy to even notice the campers regarding him like a hero or an idol. This lack of interest in his own success proves he's modest, the fact that he chose the Geodesic Psychoisolation Chamber as his home base proves that he's careful, and having a straight-shot to Ford's sanctuary makes him practical. Milla doesn't even have a decent walkway to her house. Of course a master levitator needs no bridges.
All this mush and emotional rambling aside, Sasha admits that he prizes control above all things, at least when it comes to his psychic powers. This probably stems from the aforementioned Mommy does Daddy sequence that undoubtedly scarred the poor man for life. Its what makes him a psyblast master, since emotional (anger) control is vital to being a good marksman. Even so, while his head is well organized and packed away, his office seems to rely soely on randomly placed cardboard boxes and stacks of paper for an organizational system. I'll use myself, again, as an example. If anyone saw my pc they would be amazed at the complex nesting system of folders I've established on my hard drive. Everything can be organized into a smaller folder and/or placed into a sub-category of some sort, either simplifying or confusing the user experience. Knowing this, anyone would be appalled when they walked into my room and saw crap all over the floor, stuff piled on tabletops and nearly every surface coated in clutter and loose paper. I love knowing where everything important is on my computer, but I'm too busy to do the same thing in my room. Sasha's a normal guy like anyone else, this fangirl included. I think the state of his house proves he's not so anal retentive as to obsess over control, he's just learned its benefits and enjoys thinking about how to drag and drop a certain mental file into another cranial folder. He also doesn't like being taken off-guard, and when he can call up certain information instantly from the depths of his cube he feels prepared. Much like me knowing where to click to find the term paper I'm pretty sure the server accepted when I uploaded it the night before.
So, in summation, Sasha is a learner not a dweller. He's anxious to pass on his knowledge to the privileged up-and-comers and very proud when his charges find success. He's also a priority setter who sees the value in a good control system and likes the safety of being able to lock himself down when he has to. When it comes to social settings he's far from inept, talking freely, joking somewhat and carrying weight enough in a conversation to speak for the crowd. His past follows but does not incapacitate him, and his present provides him with family and friends any normal person needs. My point is that I think he's normal, not troubled, and behaves so.
So I say sure, he wears his sunglasses at night, but I'm betting that they're not a mask... they're probably prescription.