The Gothic “one element which[…] crops up in all the relevant fiction, and that is fear.” [The Literature Of Terror, David Punter] “A Gothic novel usually takes place […] in an antiquated or seemingly antiquated place […]Within this space, or a combination of such spaces, are hidden some secrets from the past (sometimes the recent past) that haunt the characters, psychologically, physically, or otherwise at the main time of the story.” [Intro to The Cambridge Companion To Gothic Fiction, Jerrold E. Hogle.]
“ I think that a generation’s weird fiction [...] gives us valuable information about the society in which it appears. If you show us what terrified a generation […] then nine times out of ten a great many other decisions that were made during the time that fiction was being published- legal, moral, economic, even military- come into perfect focus. ” [Steven King, Intro to Michel de Houellebecq’s Against the World, Against Life.]
“ A mode which reflects its current society’s suppressed fears and/or desires by constructing fantastic scenarios (utilising recurrent tropes) that elicit an emotional response from the audience.”
The Interactive Narrative Many types of interactive narrative exist. Forms include hypertext fiction, visual novels and video games. The problem is: more choice= less cohesive message, which impairs the form’s ability to include a social dimension. However, video games are capable of utilising the actions the player is required to take to support complex themes and concepts. This then led me to posit a theory of game narrative; the binary narrative system.
Having established a definition of Gothic, a focus within the interactive narrative and an approach to analysing these texts, the next step was to apply these within selected case studies. In order to be considered for inclusion in the study, games had to fulfil several conditions. Secondly, it had to be possible to link the game’s contextual narrative element to an existing Gothic work, or the existing Gothic canon. Finally, the game’s action narrative had to make some attempt to engage its players in a deeper or more complex way than in a typical game. First and foremost, they had to possess a context narrative and be ‘narratively designed’- actively attempting to tell a story in addition to functioning as a game.
From this, it may be extrapolated that the Gothic of the interactive narrative is dependant on both action and context narrative elements. It can only occur when these two narratives intersect or support one another. A Gothic theme constructed or suggested by the context narrative can be extended or developed within the action narrative. The ‘emotional appeal’ of the Gothic can be defined as the attempts of the action narrative to place the player in the same contextual emotional state as the protagonist. In order to illustrate this, I will conclude with a brief discussion of two of the games I have studied.
Case Study 1: Amnesia: The Dark Descent This title is heavily based within the Gothic tradition. Trauma and guilt, something endemic to twentieth-century Gothic, form the game’s thematic core. The setting combines core thematic tropes; the torture chambers and medieval prisons of the eighteenth century are combined with laboratories and secret passages of the nineteenth century. The game’s villain is an amalgam of various archetypes; sadistic scientist, unearthly vampire, charismatic seducer.
This Gothic construction is aided by the action narrative, which makes the player vulnerable, fragile and relatable. Simple effects, such as having to physically manipulate the mouse to open doors, create a greater sense of empathy between player and avatar. This empathy in turn heightens the impact of the game’s core social fear: the problematization of learning. The game creates a scenario where we are made curious, then traumatised by both the process and results of learning; a representation of core fears and desires of the Information Age.
Case Study 2: Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem The game’s context narrative is heavily inspired by the writing of H.P. Lovecraft. The plot spans centuries, following various individuals discovering a sinister plot surrounding terrifying extra-dimensional entities. Insanity is a major theme of the game, in line with the genre of ‘cosmic horror’.
The action narrative reflects and supports this by actually simulating errors, glitches and misleading gameplay in line with virtual ‘sanity’ levels. The player is given a sense of the emotional state their avatars are placed into contextually by the design of the actions they are asked to undertake. This in itself brings up a host of fears relevant to modern society, including…
‘System Malevolence’- the idea that the system we’re engaging with is able to feign error undermines our trust in the computerised systems that we have recently come to rely on. ‘Virtual Unreality’- the player’s sense of objective reality is undermined by this simulation of a potentially real event. ‘Cosmic Horror’- given a modern-day update; the context narrative’s horrible entities are able to transcend the limits of the (game) universe itself! It is my hope to extend these theories across further case studies, arriving at a definitive blueprint for the continuing function of the Gothic in the modern day.