“Everything is True”: Urban Gothic meets the Chthulucene in Multiplayer Online Game, The Secret World.

Krzywinska, Tanya ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0744-4144 (2019) “Everything is True”: Urban Gothic meets the Chthulucene in Multiplayer Online Game, The Secret World.

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Abstract / Summary

This paper argues that there has been a shift in the representation of Gothic in games away from its earlier forms towards a far more edgy and contemporary Urban Gothic. This is a feature that has only been possible in the context of multiplayer online games with the advent of easily accessible high-speed broadband along with faster and more efficient computation. These are the conditions that have given rise to new articulations of the Gothic in games. I begin the paper by first locating the Urban Gothic in games within their relatively short history. I will show that there has been a movement away from the historic literary Gothic found in early text-heavy games such as Frankenstein (1987, CRL Group). An additional shift is also evidence away from the space-based Gothic games that hitched a ride on Science Fiction, such as the formative Doom series. It is to the Urban Gothic that games now look with those that locate their ludic design not in a fantasy realm nor on an alien planet but in a realistically rendered world that calls on our own time and space. Horror games have regularly called on the real world as a means of electrifying the gaming experience, but it is within the multiplayer online game The Secret World (Funcom, 2015-present) that the properties of Urban Gothic play out most fully, vocalising its aesthetic as a Weird tale.

The game operates on the premise that all urban myths and conspiracy theories are true and the game uses many and diverse devices to soften the boundaries between the confines of the game and what exists outside within the non-diegetic, real internet. Players might gain superpowers devised to fight the invading forces, but there is no overarching winning condition wherein the ‘alien thorn is successfully removed’, as Clive Barker puts it in his introduction to Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comics (1990). As a multiplayer game, a player shares the urbanised spaces of The Secret World with other players; each player thrown into a world of competing factions, cults and realities, but always set in locations that exist in the real world (London, Tokyo, New York, Providence, Hungary, Egypt) and inhabited by people who we might regard as plausibly real and as such all the more monstrous. Places and people are however, as in life, filtered through numerous intertextual references that work to thicken the game’s spiralling narrative and breakdown the assumed boundaries between reality and fiction. The result is a psychoactive blend of Urban Gothic and Myth, the aim of which is to create for the player a strong sense of the vertiginous nature of the Weird that has hitherto not been achieved within populist games. As I will show, players may gain physical mastery over the game's interface but in the context of this weird and urban context where factions, histories and interpretations constantly slide, there is forever a spiralling sense of uncertainty that makes for a rich and Gothic means of overturning the usual certainties and predictabilities found in games.

Item Type: Article
Identification Number: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748699124.003.0015
ISBN: 978-3-030-43777-0
Subjects: Technology > Digital Works > Digital Games
Courses by Department: The Games Academy > Digital Games
Depositing User: Tanya Krzywinska
Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2019 13:47
Last Modified: 11 Nov 2022 16:27
URI: https://repository.falmouth.ac.uk/id/eprint/3320


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