there is a history of American temperance literature that Carousel slots into nicely. Temperance literature, very briefly, aimed to convert the drunkard from his destructive ways and onto a path of righteousness and bourgeois productivity. In many cases this was through tales of the (female) children of these intemperate men taking the brunt of their violence and, through the power of their innocent acceptance in the face of this onslaught, their weathering of the storm, allowing these men the chance of redemption. It would seem that a broken and powerless man is in need of an unflinching and unarguing object for his patriarchal control in order to be rebuilt as a man of action. The drunk is drunk because he has been denied, or has forsaken, the mantle of authority that a man must wear: alcohol is a way to avoid responsibility and for the family patriarch the first responsibility is ownership of the women (and the as-yet ungendered boys) of his household./.../
When, in Bioshock: Infinite, then broken drunk Booker DeWitt batters down the
doors of a castle that he himself built in another life to rescue his
own daughter, trapped there in an asexual stasis it is not the chaos of
imagery and symbolism that it at first seems, but instead a direct
descendent of the form of rehabilitation pioneered by temperance
Perhaps unsurprisingly then the piece of
Infinite fan media that most makes sense to me is Zone’s Biocock:
Intimate, which collapses the erotic tension inherent in the game and as
Maddy Myers says ‘comes … a lot closer to offering me the version of
Elizabeth that I wanted to see than BioShock did,’ one who ‘speaks,
moans and calls the sexual shots.’
In Zone’s game, the
protagonist, this time a disembodied cock rather than a disembodied gun,
as if there is a real difference, is still Booker, making explicit the
incestuous undertones of the source game while neither remarking on them
or judging them.
Ken Levine, Bioshock’s lead creator, keeps telling
people to stop sexualising Elizabeth because he views her as a daughter.
But I cannot for the life of me imagine why he thought a young woman
would neither develop or be the subject of a sexual gaze, especially
when, as I keep saying, the story that is told in Infinite is the story
of her sexual awakening and her emergence from the cloying constraints
of a father who wants to own her and use her as a replacement for his
wife, with all of the sexual labour that that implies.
a fairly common mechanism of patriarchy that violence against women is
framed as being bad, by and for the understanding of men, on the premise
that ‘you wouldn’t want this to happen to your daughter,’ that a victim
is ‘somebody’s daughter.’ Fundamentally what this says is that men can
apparently only view women as an object in relation to a man, not as a
person in their own right. The non-daughter is an acceptable site for
your sexual fantasies because she is not owned and spoken for. Female
sexual awakening is therefore posited as a process by which a man
separates the bond between father and daughter, destroying the tower and
building a new one to encase her and protect her from the sexual
fantasies of other men.
as an industry and a society we will
continue to seek our redemption in the arms of those we have wronged,
whose job it is, like the little sisters of the original Bioshock, to be
used to fuel our monstrous rages and to accept our caresses and desires
when we break down and wish for forgiveness. We will continue to expect
these women to save us with their love.
love how pieces like these can put something in a larger context and
enrich my understanding of something which didn't make as much sense
before. It's interesting how I even come to appreciate Bioshock Infinite
more in some twisted way, even if it's flawed in its execution and in
using this idea of temperance without my having seen them putting it in
brackets or providing self-reflexivity.]
we see Fragile Dreams trying to reconcile modern Japanese life with traditional Japanese thought. However, looking at the game on a
character level complicates the aesthetic. These ways of seeing the
world are not natural, as Seto (the game’s protagonist) must spend the
entire game learning to appreciate the beauty that arises from a
For Japanese aesthetes, the most beautiful
arts would blend into the greater world around them. Anything that
announced its presence was considered simple, boisterous, and to be
in terms of mono no aware, the best way to bring out something’s beauty is to remind us of its inevitable change or passing.
long as technology does not supplant the feeling of change and being in
nature, it’s capable of functioning within Japanese aesthetic theory.
the course of the game, Seto finds various broken items amid the
wreckage. When he takes those items to a bonfire, he finds out what they
are, and hears a short story regarding the item’s last owner. There’s a
consistent message running through these stories: one of unfulfilled
desire. The protagonists of these stories regret making choices they can
never fix, or they feel scared after having something valuable taken
from them. They realize that their lives are short, and Seto sees that
their worries outlasted them.
The game relays most of these
narratives through some object the owner confided in. They intended to
relieve their pain at least a little bit, but all we see is their
emotional pain; we rarely see any kind of resolution. Therefore, the
objects fail to serve their intended purpose of consoling their owners.
The cell phone’s story displays this quite poignantly: while her intent
is for the world to remember her, the tragic irony of her situation is
that she leaves us nothing by which we can identify her. We don’t know
her name or any details about her life, and it’s unclear if Seto can
even access those details. All her story illustrates is how insufficient
her possessions are for satisfying her wants, even if she can never
If Fragile Dreams uses its environments to celebrate Japanese aesthetics, then it uses Seto, the protagonist, to complicate them.
he’s so pre-occupied on his loss that he’s unable to draw a connection
between the impermanence of life and its being valued in the first
place. Any mentions of impermanence at this point in the story reveal Seto’s
negative thoughts on the matter. For example, he opens the game with the
words “At the end of a summer that was all too short” (tri-Crescendo).
On one level, these words indicate his wishes that the summer had
lasted longer. Yet on another, they connote loss. This is a consistent
theme throughout Seto’s opening narration, implying that he can only
perceive change and passing on painful terms. We might also draw
connections between the youthful connotations of summer, Seto’s
adolescence, and the death of his caretaker.
if we interpret the old man’s death as an opportunity for Seto to
appreciate life’s transience, then we must also interpret the
possibility of survivors as an opportunity for Seto to deny that very
Seto’s denial is best illustrated through his interactions with Ren, a
silver-haired girl who appears to Seto very early in the narrative. She
runs from him the second the two meet, and he only gets brief glimpses
of her throughout the story. He follows her by the drawings she leaves
in her wake, and when the two finally cross paths, it’s only for a short
period of time. While the story uses these facts to code her character
with impermanence and uncertainty, this isn’t the meaning that Seto
reads from her. Upon first meeting her, he remarks, “On my journey
through the world, all the people I thought I saw slipped away like they
were just a mirage. But that girl… her cheek was warm to the touch” (tri-Crescendo).
So for him, Ren represents life and stability. She is the anchor
against which he can verify his own experiences as real. Yet the irony
is that is in worrying about whether his experiences are real, he fails
to appreciate them for what they are.
the time he spends with other people shows him how it’s possible to
appreciate things for their temporary nature. The first person to show
him this is PF, a robotic assistant that Seto attaches to his back. The
two grow close to each other as they explore the underground mall in
search of Ren. However, their journey together is very brief: at the end
of the day, PF’s battery drains, effectively ending her life.
Where the old man struggled to share his most intimate with regrets
with Seto after knowing him for fifteen years, PF has no problems
telling him about how much she loved talking with him, despite only
knowing him for a day.
The two themes that emerge from Seto’s time with PF — death and its relation to mono no aware —
carry throughout his encounters with other people. Chiyo demonstrates
this the best by bringing the two into focus for him. When the two
characters meet, Seto initially sees her as the ghost of a bratty little
girl who demands that he does the impossible. But as he continues to
fulfill her requests, he eventually learns the reality of the situation:
she is an old woman on her death bed. Chiyo leaves Seto with these final remarks:
"The day will come when your journey will
end as well. Your greatest adventure will be over and you will make
your way home. However, your journey will not be complete. The days will
still go on for you. One after another they will pass, until you’ve had
enough of the monotony. No new discoveries will await you. You’ll watch
the sun rise and set. That’s all your days will have to offer. That’s
the moment when you’ll realize the truth. The sunbeams, the wind rolling
over the tall grass, the idle chit-chat with friends…These were the
gems of your life. Then your heart will be carried off by the gentle,
caressing breeze and it will sparkle like a jewel, fade, and grow cold."
her own life suggests that mono no aware could be a psychological
state of being rather than something inherent in life’s experiences.
She was able to view the same natural phenomenon (sunrise/sunset) at
least twice in her life but have greatly divergent reactions to them at
different times. In her youth, she viewed the sun’s movement as a dull
monotony. It is only on her deathbed that she can finally appreciate it
as a liberating event. That realization didn’t come to her in a moment;
she had to cultivate it over an entire lifetime of thought on the
matter. In relaying her message to Seto, Chiyo helps him through the
process of appreciating life’s transitory nature, and hopes to shorten
the time necessary to learn it.
Silent Hill 2’s architecture, along with its iconic blend of fog and darkness, is its main antagonist.
enough, this unnerving dysfunction stems from the game’s sense of
order. It has an obsession with the well-ordered spaces of institutions,
taking the player from an apartment block, to a hospital, to a prison,
and finally a hotel. The symmetrical ground plans for these locations,
found on the game’s various maps, seems to have been pulled wholesale
from life, rather than created for use in a videogame. In order to
become functional spaces in a game where exploration is key, these maps
have then been hacked into, with entrances blocked off and walls smashed
through. The divisions, functions and even internal logic of the game’s
architecture is subverted, room by room. The game constantly forces the
player to turn back on herself at a dead end, to check again and again
the map, and try to connect its straight and true lines with the
decaying masonry around them.
The descents of Silent
Hill 2 are many. It is no coincidence that the game’s protagonist, James
Sunderland, begins his journey at a rest stop high above the town, and
must descend into it. This marks a preoccupation with downward gestures
that recurs throughout the game, from elevator rides, to climbing into
your own grave.
In the final third of Silent Hill 2
the player arrives at the top of a staircase. Its not the first
staircase in the game, or even the last, but it is the beginning of
something. Projecting down into darkness, it marks the start of the
game’s most exhausting descent.
This is where Silent
Hill 2’s architecture reveals itself as a psychological construct. Up
above, in the town, ordered spaces stand in a struggle with the onset of
decay, but here, as you tread ever deeper, the subconscious takes over.
the beauty of P.T. is not in its basic looping structure, but they way in which it plays and experiments within that structure.
In semantic terms, the game’s corner is analogous to the classic ghost-story phrase “and then.”
It is the architectural equivalent of the shock reveal, articulated
through a 90-degree turn. It’s an ancient story-telling trick, holding
information back until the last possible second, but P.T.’s twist on it
is to do so without speaking a word, performing its repeated reveals
through the clever manipulation of space. Sometimes these reveals are
red-herrings, showing you the corridor you expect to see, but in the
world of P.T. even this is a cause for concern—if the corridor hasn’t
changed, then something else has. It’s worth nothing that almost
everything that happens, from bloody fridges to generic horror graffiti,
happens on the other side of that corner. After every repetition the
first task is clear—walk. This is the way the storyteller has you in her
grip. “She entered the corridor,” P.T.’s storyteller says, “walking
cautiously, unsure of what might be waiting for her. As she reached the
familiar corner she paused … and then …”
the phone and the radio, all three sources of information, are carefully
spread, each given its own alcove. The front door is the only door that
never opens, an escape to an outside world hinted at but never allowed.
At the end of the corridor lies a short set of steps, meaning that for
each loop you must descend a little further down. This descent is
carefully offset by the balcony that hides in the darkness above the
entryway, imbuing in the player the distinct feeling of being watched.
These precise architectural features, twisted through an elegant play of
light and shadow, are laid out with precise intelligence.
is non-existent—instead, choreography reigns supreme. P.T.’s scares may
follow well-worn horror iconography, but they don’t require it to
function. Instead they rely on the corner and the corridor, the room and
doorway, the bright and the dark. This—the idea that horror exists as
little more than a series of spatial arrangements, presences and
absences—is truly P.T.’s greatest trick.
Eventually, every genre, every media, has its Ulysses. I don’t know if Kentucky Route Zero is Ulysses. It’s certainly allusive: a structurally
complex, confusing, the brilliant and beautiful episodic point and click
game by Cardboard Computer in which a host of characters embark on a
seemingly meaningless and mythical journey through the finance and
poverty ravaged landscapes of rural Kentucky. Regardless, writing about
KRZ is not “easy”. Partly because of its episodic nature, and partly — I
think — because of its dense and almost Beckettian allusiveness, its
semantic density, KRZ seems to escape ready comprehension and
understanding. Its mechanics (the word we often descend on to describe a
technical process) are both simple (literally, “point and click”) and
alarmingly diffuse (navigating, by symbols, the Zero itself). Meanwhile,
its ‘story’ – the fabula itself – is slippery, and the formal framework
around which it is arranged is complex. It’s perhaps the hardest ‘text’
– not simply ‘game’, but text, product, artefact (see? Even finding the
right category word is tough) – that I’ve ever tried to write about.
we’re not properly equipped to write long-form about video games —
especially those games which excel in their own obscurity and
strangeness — and are not used to it, or are standing in the primordial
sludge of it.
For KRZ, and games like it, it might be best to think with the rhizome in mind. You build your theory as you go.
These days, when we talk about being
human, we’re more preoccupied with defining humanity in opposition to
machines and advanced AIs. We want to reassure ourselves that we have
something more than an uncanny android who looks like us, acts like us,
speaks like us, and is better than us at almost everything. It’s as if
we know our feeling of superiority is dwindling. Taking the Aristotelian
definition to its extremes, perhaps we could say that modern-day
machines, as purely rational creations, are even more human than us.
In trying to preserve the core of what
it means to be human, it’s easy to forget that this core immediately
changed when coming into contact precisely with what we’re defining
humanity against. The very existence of machines has already changed our
concept of what it means to be human.
/.../attachment to the body as an
imprescindible part of one’s identity, both in a positive and in a
negative way, is one manifestation of that excess that is unique to the
human. We also have have
Catherine, the exception who accompanies the player for the best part of
the game but who lives in a chip attached to Simon’s Omnitool. I don’t
think the game explicitly says why she doesn’t go mad like everyone else
who suffered a similar fate, but I believe the answer may be found in
her strong sense of purpose. /.../
Catherine is the most liminal figure
in this world in which every barrier is being broken. A human mind in
purely mechanical hardware, she is driven by a very specific purpose,
and, like a machine, she evaluates the world purely in terms of utility
towards that purpose. But what she wants to achieve is precisely the
recovery of a space in which to be human. As such, she is driven by a
concept of what human life means as opposed to the mere survival of
biological functions, a concept that the WAU never understood.
The machine ends when there is no clear objective left to achieve.
The human, as we have seen, begins with the excess: the reality of being
left behind when the objective has been achieved and disappears. It’s
the reality of being alive when there is nothing left to do, a reality
in which the body remains in its irreducible, useless materiality.