Blood and Love

Posted by Stuart Lindsay on May 22, 2009 in Blog tagged with

Blood and Love: The Romance of Nihilism in Mid-Nineties Action Videogaming

by Stuart Lindsay

The Gothic often acts as a telling indicator of our times. Subculture reflects upon mass culture, low art upon high moral values. Videogames, as Gothic perspectives on society, have occasionally fallen beneath the academic eye. However, they too have the power to reflect, albeit in an often simplistic manner, the times their players are living and growing up in.
In the mid-nineties, due to the rising number of home computers with their leaps in 3D technology and processing power, the First Person Shooter genre attained a cultural significance from beyond the world of PC gaming that developed it. The pinnacle of this era was a game simply and rather aptly called Blood. Blood’s design reached beyond the conventions of videogaming with visual and verbal cultural references: scenes and quotes from famous eighties Hollywood action movies such as Die Hard, The Terminator and Predator let gamers know that Blood incorporated, through mimicry and parody, culture ‘outside’ of gaming. However, its attitude towards blockbuster violence inherent in action movies was one reflected widely throughout the nineties: where the hybridisation and feminisation of action cinema in more emotionally expressive films like Face/Off and Gladiator made the ‘dinosaurs’ of the last decade’s masculinity marginal and consequently, ever more self-indulgent. Blood’s ultraviolence, rendered humorous through deadpan irony and dread killings of monks and axe-wielding zombies, depicted the displacement, disenfranchisement and distortion of raw masculinity. This masculinity, outdated, isolated and thus not now bound by context or rules, became for teenage gamers in darkened rooms, part of the collective voice of their dispossessed identity.
Sharing the nihilistic traits of other nineties developments of youth culture such as the Grunge and Rave genres in music, Blood’s brand of devil-may-care gonzo violence and live today, die tomorrow heroism reflected upon and added to the notion of isolated youth. Indeed, the game was set up by the press as a magnet for troubled youth and an object of vilification as much as any other contemporary scapegoat, including Marilyn Manson or the Chucky films. Unlike previous First Person Shooter games such as Doom and Wolfenstein which placed the player in sanctioned military roles and gave them standardized weapons such as shotguns and machine guns, Blood granted access to the power of violence through homemade weapons such as flamethrower aerosols and voodoo dolls, or tools such as pitchforks and flare pistols which took on new violent, destructive possibilities. The concerns of the newspapers, then, were that anybody could become a killer, and could make, or might already possess, the necessary items to carry such a notion out. Through their notorious press publicity, Blood, and a similar slew of ultra violent comedy shooters including Duke Nukem, Shadow Warrior and Redneck Rampage, courted the papers and authority figures of the nineties through their own brand of twisted humour, with the idea that the dispossessed youth was brooding, breeding and bleeding contempt.

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