Digital Displacements

Posted by Stuart Lindsay on February 02, 2010 in Blog tagged with

Gothic, in its self-referential reconstruction of history, site charts the process of representational change through the mediums, and media, which carry it. Videogames, being at both the technological and imaginative limits of representation, have the ability to re-package the past to the point where any period, no matter how problematic the spectre of the real is, can be transformed by the medium for the purposes of entertainment. The hyper-reality of War Gaming has, in the last decade, transformed how soldiers and gamers are connected to the impact of human conflict. Videogame’s absorption of Gothic themes and conventions has made the immersion in war all the more real, whilst simultaneously distancing its audience from the true horrors of personal combat. Now, with the First World War a conflict that has just passed from reality into memory, the medium has become perhaps the most prevalent one in which the past is buried, reconstructed and resurrected technologically.

Games of the twenty-first century’s first decade such as Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, The Darkness and NecroVision provide the rain-soaked trenches, tinned hats and whistles of the Great War, all disseminated through history and made recognisable through the other mediums of photography, film and television. However, these games also draw upon their own medium, developing its conventions to suit the climate where the continual mechanisation of the battlefield renders its participants ever further from the death they can cause, ultimately as players of a networked videogame. Gothic in the modern videogame’s own interpretation: where the fantastical or supernatural is superimposed upon a historical backdrop, is a convention that can clearly be seen in The Darkness. The hellish imps, skeletons and monsters of earlier videogaming which were the focus of the player’s fear, are here stand-in performances of technology obscuring the absence of the true horrors of the Great War. The game takes its name from an ancient demon which manifests itself in the form of the collective nightmares of human history. Its own representation of the Great War is itself a simulation, a meta-narrative inside the game which the protagonist, and the player, can explore. The environment is further rendered nightmarish by the main character’s own supernatural powers, his personal manifestation of The Darkness, and those of his foes. The enemies, whilst decked out in the authentic period infantry uniforms of Imperial Germany, feature maniacally grinning skull faces. Their surface appearance has been altered, as if the facial features of a platoon photograph have somehow been defaced, with something added or taken away.

NecroVision, a game in the same vein as The Darkness, similarly demonstrates videogame’s hybridisation of history, where, like the soldier, the fantastical is artificially added onto the resurrected corpse of war. Whilst taking place sometime between 1914 and 1918, NecroVision quickly replaces the human German opponents with their undead variants, and like The Darkness, awards the player supernatural powers with little narrative explanation.

The twenty-first century advancement in computer technology has brought these hyper-real forays into historical settings inwards towards the level of our own personal observation and fingertip control. However, at the same time, the Gothic element of these games, those skeletons, demons and supernatural special-effects which were in mid-nineteen nineties gaming virtual simulations of violence in the face of absence, are now put to use in recreating that very absence within our perspective upon the actual past: a vortex or vacuum within history which continually distances us from and anesthetises us to the lived horrors experienced by those who engaged in the Great War. Games like The Darkness and NecroVision chart videogaming’s conservative use of Gothic themes at the turn of this century, where visions of real wars are displaced and hidden behind a veil of supernatural horror.

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