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There Are No Heroes Left In Man: How The Protomen Create a Video Game Turned Orwellian Dystopia to Mirror Mankind By Berry Giezen

The Protomen are an American rockband from Tennessee. Their discography includes two concept albums in which they have reworked the story of the Mega Man videogame franchise. The games follow a rather linear plot of good versus bad, despite some twists and elements that have also found their way into the two albums analysed here,  but the band has reworked this into a dystopian narrative of Orwellian proportions. The surprises and twists don’t stop there though! Dystopian narratives often feature a totalitarian regime or corrupt form of government, and there is often some criticism of these political regimes or society in the narrative or sub-narrative. The (social) criticism that the story on the albums offer, however, does not seem to solely lie with Wily’s regime over the city. But if it’s not the one who’s ruling the city, who might then be in the iron sights of criticism? And what does this mean?

The Story

Chances are that you are not familiar with the music of The Protomen and the story on their albums, so a summary is in order. The story analysed here is told on their debut album Act I: The Protomen, which was released in 2005, and on Act II: The Father of Death, which was released in 2009. The story is a continuing rock opera, and while a good bit of story happens through the lyrics, much of the story is also told through the booklets that accompany the CDs. In terms of chronology, the second album, Act II: The Father of Death, is the prequel to the first album, The Protomen.

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Act II (The Father of Death)

Dr. Thomas Light has had to witness his father work himself to death in the mines, which inspires him to build robots to create a better world. Together with Dr. Albert Wily he works on this project, but the two of them get into an argument about their goals for the project. Wily aims to use the robots to take over the city and lead mankind on to technical advancement. The two have a falling out, because Light just wants to aid mankind and make work easier for them.[1] Wily goes to Light’s house and is going through his drawers when Light’s girlfriend Emily walks in. He tries to persuade her to join him. She stays loyal to Light, and he has his robot kill her. Soon after, Light finds her and is struck with grief and guilt. The police find him with her body, and he escapes, knowing how things look.[2]

Wily, in the meantime, has been planning this all along; he spins the story and talks to reporters, pinning the murder on his former partner Thomas Light.[3] Light is arrested at the cemetery, an hour after Emily was buried there. Light is put on trial and Wily whips it up into a media circus. After the trial, Light is sentenced not guilty. Wily entices the crowd against the justice system that allowed a monster like him to live, and gets the crowd on his side.[4] Light is escorted to a railroad station and flees the city, which is in Wily’s hands now.[5]

 

As Light lays low, Wily gets on with his project of developing the city. The mining sector and factories are completely replaced and staffed by machines. Wily clears the homeless and the criminal. For a while, it seems perfect and the people live in fear, for it can all too easily be taken away from them. A new generation grows up in the chokehold that Wily and his robots have over the city. Joe is one of these people. He distrusts the robots and disagrees with the state the city’s in.[6] He sees that the city is chained. He visits his old home, and finds his late father’s motorbike. He takes it and leaves for the outskirts of the city.[7] Here he finds Dr. Light. Together they kill a robot assassin sent to kill Joe for his thoughts of rebellion.[8]

The two men hatch a plan to detonate a bomb on the transmitter on Wily’s tower, so that they might inspire hope and show that Wily can be touched.[9] Joe races over to the tower and runs up the flights of stairs to the roof of Wily’s tower. From a distance, Light sees the flames erupt from the tower and watches a body drop from the tower. As he gets closer to the tower, he finds that it is indeed Joe. The transmitter and the telescreens are down. But then they switch back on again, and Thomas understands that Wily had backups for everything. There was a second transmitter, and Joe had died for nothing.[10] Wily uses the situation to spin this as a “threat to the safety of the city” and uses this as a possibility to deploy his army and completely crack down on the city. Thomas witnesses what happens, and while he is overcome with grief and more guilt, he also finds that it fuels his rage and determination to fight Wily: “Joe, when you see Emily \ tell her to wait for me, \ ‘cause I still have work to do.”[11]

protomen-album2

 Act I (The Protomen)

Dr. Light has worked on his revenge for many years, and in the year “two-thousand-x, Protoman was born, a perfect man, an unbeatable machine.” Protoman is sent to fight Wily and his evil robots. Protoman is defeated in the fight, and when Wily orders the final attack, none of the spectating citizens comes to his aid.[12]

In his grief for his son and his rage against Wily and the citizens, he builds Megaman.[13] Knowing that he will find out anyway, he tells Megaman of his older brother Protoman and his fate, and how he thinks mankind deserves the cruel oppression from Wily and that Protoman had carried a weight no single man could and should bear. He tells Megaman this to protect him and teach him, but instead, Megaman is furious and wants to avenge his brother.[14] He visits his brother’s grave, a monument in the city, and then rushes on, frenzied, to fight Wily and avenge Protoman.[15] Before he can get to Wily, he has to defeat a great army of his robot henchmen, led by Wily’s second in command. When he reaches Wily’s gates and the commander of the robot troops, he finds that the one in charge of Wily’s forces is none other than his brother Protoman himself!

Protoman tells him that mankind is doomed because they will not stand up for themselves:

“Do you see that the truth is they don’t want to change this? They don’t want a hero. They just want a martyr, a statue to raise.”

Protoman kills the remainder of his troops to make it an even fight, and the two brothers face each other, about to decide the fate of mankind.[16] Megaman refuses to fight Protoman, who says he must. He tries to win back his brother, saying that they “both know they’ll never fight”, but fails to convince his brother. The crowd is pressuring Megaman into killing his brother to save them, and he gives in. Protoman falls, and Megaman finally understands, and walks away. Without commander, Wily’s robots don’t know what to do, and they look to Wily’s tower. With a single gesture, Wily gives them new orders, and the machines march and massacre the gathered crowd for their thoughts of rebellion.[17]

hqdefaultThe two sons fighting, as envisioned in the 2003 MegaMan NT Warriors series.

Analysis

 The Dystopian Elements

 It’s quite difficult to write such a comprehensive story within the textual confines of lyrics, even with the added textual notes. Yet the two albums offer two full narratives that share many elements with other dystopian texts. Quite like other dystopian texts, this particular dystopian narrative starts “in medias res, within the nightmarish society,”[18] which is true for the Act I album, which was released first. Tom Moylan notes that this causes “cognitive estrangement by the immediacy and normality the location.[19] Cognitive estrangement is a theory coined by Darko Suvin, which is defined as the “factual reporting of fictions,”[20] describing unfamiliar things, values, concepts, and worlds as if they are familiar. Through this “distancing or by the unfamiliarity of science fictional worlds, we are estranged from our assumptions about reality and forced to question them.”[21] This mindset is also invoked and required for the story by The Protomen. By the end of Act I, the estrangement works to get the audience to reflect on themselves and society.

It is interesting to note that, while dystopian narratives often feature an immersed main character who is slowly opening his eyes and starting to question the state, the story by The Protomen does not share this. This can easily be explained, however, by the fact that the Dr. Light in this narrative facilitated the development of the world into this dystopian state and even witnessed it change. This is another remarkable feature: the fact that we also get to hear how this dystopia came to be, in the form of the second album as the prequel.

There are other dystopian and Orwellian elements as well, for instance in the way that a regime is established. Moylan notes:

“To be sure, the official, hegemonic order of most dystopias rests […] on both coercion and consent. The material force of the economy and the state apparatus controls the social order and keeps it running; but discursive power, exercised in the reproduction of meaning and the interpellation of subjects, is a complementary and necessary force. Language is a key weapon for the reigning dystopian power structure.[22]

Wily works his way into his position of power from within; he reforms the city with his robots and makes it a place with better work environments and less crime. He cunningly sets a trap, and when it is sprung by Light, he can deploy his army for the safety of the city and take the city without losing the loyalty of the citizens. So, Wily greatly boosts the economy and eventually becomes the state apparatus by himself, and thus in the position to control the social order.

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Dr. Wily and Protoman as envisioned in the 1994 cartoon series.

In terms of language, there is a small number of instances in which Wily is described using his telescreens and loudspeakers as propaganda, rallying the citizens or ensuring them that everything is under control: in “The Will of One” it reads:

“The rusting metal loudspeakers mounted at intervals on the side of the stone wall are humming, chanting now words to settle the stir created by a new hero. Words to quell a potential uprising. Words to inspire fear. Words to drive back the idea that freedom is within the grasp of one angry mob headed by one unstoppable leader.”

Wily is using language to control and play the citizens and reduces language to a tool for mind- and crowd control. So, through a combination of language, military force, control over technological and economical advancement that he created and can take away again, Wily establishes his dominion over the city.

Some of these elements are typically Orwellian and are very similar to the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Most significantly is Wily’s telescreen on the tower from which he rules that he uses to broadcast his propaganda. Quite like the state in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Wily uses fear to keep people in control, and has an assassin who makes criminals, homeless, and people who seem to disagree or rebel, disappear. Wily’s regime is totalitarian in an Orwellian fashion.

Indeed, Wily even seems to have control over people’s behavior, and even ideas that are forbidden:

“Ideas forbidden in Wily’s society
The society for which he worked,
The society in which he lived
The society he would set free.
And so Light worked, far into the night, when the watchful eyes of Wily’s robots weren’t upon him.”[23]

The lyrics also illustrate that Wily is monitoring people in his society, similar to what happens in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The Meaning of this Brave New Dystopia

 It is interesting to see that the focus of social criticism that often comes with dystopian settings and stories has shifted: usually, dystopias are created to criticise certain political concepts or regimes. In these cases, the inhabitants of the regime are the oppressed and painted as the victims. In the story of the two albums by The Protomen, the criticism is aimed at these people who do nothing and bide their time, hoping for change to come somehow. As Moylan notes, “most dystopian texts offer a detailed and pessimistic presentation of the very worst of social alternatives.”[24] This is definitely true for the city in the story told by The Protomen, but whereas other texts base their social criticism on these extreme social alternatives, The Protomen do not; it’s not Wily or the city that leads them to social criticism of a tyrant or an oppressed state. Instead, they criticise the inhabitants and their behaviour, their lack of rebellion and activity.

So, now we’ve established that the narrative in these albums by The Protomen shares many elements with traditional dystopian texts, and even with the classic Nineteen Eighty-Four. Not only do these albums paint a very grim and haunting image, via the disconnection with our own world and values (the cognitive estrangement), the music moves the listeners to question their own world and its values. The lyrics of The Stand (Man or Machine) and Sons of Fate, the crux of the story, (can) fill in the answers to these questions, as they focus on the fact that mankind won’t stand up for themselves.

This shift in focus also causes a shift in meaning. The social criticism that can be read in the albums can be summarised along the lines of standing up for yourself, not waiting for others to do your job for you, and not to tolerate oppression, and perhaps even that there is strength in numbers. This new message coming out of a dystopian narrative fits the modern times, in which society has grown individualistic, where many tasks and responsibilities are taken away from us by others or by machines, and where we sometimes seem to forget that the power lies with the people, not with the people who represent (or rule) them.

In short, The Protomen took the linear good versus bad-plot from a videogame franchise and spun it into a dystopian narrative. Remarkable as this is, even their dystopian narrative differs from other dystopian tales in the way it the focus of its implied criticism has shifted from a criticism of the state and political system to a sense of socio-criticism that well fits the modern era.  On top of that, the music is amazing and diverse and worth a listen! There may be no heroes left in man, but fortunately for us, we have The Protomen.

[1] The Protomen, The Good Doctor. Act II: The Father of Death. Sound Machine, 2009. CD.

[2] The Protomen, The Father of Death. Act II: The Father of Death. Sound Machine, 2009. CD.

[3] The Protomen, The Hounds. Act II: The Father of Death. Sound Machine, 2009. CD.

[4] The Protomen, The State vs. Thomas Light. Act II: The Father of Death. Sound Machine, 2009. CD.

[5] Give Us The Rope. Act II: The Father of Death. Sound Machine, 2009. CD.

[6] How The World Fell Under Darkness. Act II: The Father of Death. Sound Machine, 2009. CD.

[7] Breaking Out. Act II: The Father of Death. Sound Machine, 2009. CD.

[8] Keep Quiet. Act II: The Father of Death. Sound Machine, 2009. CD.

[9] Light Up The Night. Act II: The Father of Death. Sound Machine, 2009. CD.

[10] The Fall. Act II: The Father of Death. Sound Machine, 2009. CD.

[11] The Protomen, Here Comes The Arm. Act II: The Father of Death. Sound Machine, 2009. CD.

[12] Hope Rides Alone. Act I: The Protomen. Sound Machine, 2005. CD.

[13] Funeral For A Son. Act I: The Protomen. Sound Machine, 2005. CD.

[14] Unrest In The House Of Light. Act I: The Protomen. Sound Machine, 2005. CD.

[15] The Will of One. Act I: The Protomen. Sound Machine, 2005. CD.

[16] The Stand (Man or Machine). Act I: The Protomen. Sound Machine, 2005. CD.

[17] The Sons of Fate. Act I: The Protomen. Sound Machine, 2005. CD.

[18] T. Moylan and R. Baccolini, Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print. p.5.

[19] Idem.

[20] P. Nodelman, “The Cognitive Estrangement of Darko Suvin.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 5.4, 1981. Project Muse. Web. 23 June 2016.

[21] Idem.

[22] Moyland, T. Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia. Boulder: Westview Press, 2000. Print. p.147.

[23] Hope Rides Alone. Act I: The Protomen. Sound Machine, 2005. CD.

[24] T. Moylan and R. Baccolini, Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print. p.6.

Neoliberalism Dupes You Twice: Suffering Agency in the Telltale Games By Coco Clements

As most of you may be aware, we live in a troubled time. The twenty-first century has barely seen its first decade but Man already suffers the yoke of world-wide violence, economic crises, and a fierce digitization which some of our grand-parents still try to brand the greatest insult to individuality since Karl Marx. We live in an era in which all your money vaporizes into taught degrees which then leave you completely equipped to not get a job. Not to mention the cost of housing or houses!

It seems the only realm where Generation Y still has the advantage on the elder generation in terms of skill, experience, and opportunity, is the ever-developing World of the Game. Our ability to freely make our own choices and create our own futures is not lost; in fact, a recent development in Virtual Reality offers the opportunities working life has never been able to offer us before. The interactive point-and-click game, especially those created by the remarkably modern and interestingly agile Telltale Games productions. For those among you unfamiliar with the different styles or genres within the gaming industry, the birth of the point-and-click game stretches even beyond the Lucasarts Monkey Island legacy.[1] However, in our new liberal or neoliberal society, the freedom these games offer may not be all that beneficial to our human condition.

Continue reading Neoliberalism Dupes You Twice: Suffering Agency in the Telltale Games By Coco Clements

Making a Believer: Discourse Construction in “Making a Murderer” and the Formation of Audience Allegiance By Bonnie van den Bergh

When first released by Netflix in December 2015, the true crime documentary Making a Murderer sparked a tidal wave of interest in the case of Wisconsin resident and murder convict Steven Avery, whose story lies at the heart of the series. The documentary follows the thought provoking tale of Avery’s wrongful conviction and eighteen year incarceration, followed by his exoneration and a subsequent murder charge, which now sees Avery back in jail for life. Focusing on the ambiguous facts surrounding Avery’s supposed second crime and highlighting suspicious elements of the police’s investigation of the case, creators Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos seem to be questioning the American justice system, and even more so, questioning Avery’s guilt.[1]

Continue reading Making a Believer: Discourse Construction in “Making a Murderer” and the Formation of Audience Allegiance By Bonnie van den Bergh

XCOM 2’s Orwellian Echoes By Kevin Swijghuizen

XCOM 2 is one of several games that have been released in the past few months that has taken a dystopian approach to the world building and storytelling aspect of their narrative.[1] For instance, November 2015 saw the release of Fallout 4, a game whose dystopian nature is defined by the post-apocalyptic world that the player explores.[2] Furthermore, Tom Clancy’s The Division was released on the 8th of March 2016 and is another excellent example of a game that features a dystopian setting, in this case caused by a virus instead of atomic weaponry.[3] XCOM 2 is a surprising addition to this roster of dystopian games, considering its predecessor did not have any dystopian qualities. XCOM 2takes its narrative in a different direction in order to create a dystopian world and it does this by leaning heavily on Orwellian themes. This article will take a closer look at the world that Firaxis Games, the developers of this game, have created and the myriad of ways in which XCOM 2 uses themes and ideas that occur in George Orwell’s 1984.[4]

Continue reading XCOM 2’s Orwellian Echoes By Kevin Swijghuizen

Cyborgs as Resistance: Masculinities in Captain America: The Winter Soldier By Esther Adema

Superhero films have been omnipresent in the past few years and Marvel Entertainment in particular has been very prolific ever since it established a cinematic universe, starting with Iron Man in 2008. So far, all of these films have starred white men as the titular superheroes; the first Marvel film led by a person of color is scheduled to be released in 2018, while the first female-led film will not be released until 2019. As such, there are many representational issues in these films that potentially deserve our attention. For now, however, this article will focus on masculinity, specifically as presented in the character of the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Continue reading Cyborgs as Resistance: Masculinities in Captain America: The Winter Soldier By Esther Adema

The History Behind Iron Maiden songs By Berry Giezen

The career of the British heavy metalband Iron Maiden is long and extensive, seeing as they have recently released their sixteenth studio album, and they have a number of live albums and compilations beside those. Their songs cover various topics, personas, and situations, and many of the songs have been inspired by famous people and battles in history. So could you reasonably replace revising for your History exams with listening to Iron Maiden? Perhaps not, but to make things easier for you, we’ve made a list of their songs about historical events and people right here.

Continue reading The History Behind Iron Maiden songs By Berry Giezen

Anonymous Dismissed: Why Shakespeare Isn’t Shakespeare but Might Turn Out to Be Shakespeare Anyway By Coco Clements

Introduction to Anonymous and the Oxfordian theory

In 2011, director Roland Emmerich brought the controversial film Anonymous to fruition. This project had been on hold since John Orloff’s 1998 script had been coincidentally rendered unpopular by its subject’s counterpart, Academy Award favourite Shakespeare in Love.[1] These conflicting interpretations of Shakespeare’s authorship mirror the literary conflict based on that same question: Who was Shakespeare? In contrast to Madden’s image of a romantic and fragile Stratfordian Bard, Anonymous suggests that the true “soul of the age,” was Edward de Vere (1550 – 1604), the 7th Earl of Oxford. As counter-argument to the generally accepted theory that it was Will Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the renowned thirty-eight plays, two long poems, and more than a hundred short poems, Anonymous visualizes the Oxfordian theory. This theory supposed that it was in fact De Vere and not the Man from Stratford who wrote ‘Shakespeare.’ Emmerich’s film offers us a cinematic execution of the Oxfordian hypothesis. This article will therefore analyze Anonymous as a hypothetical take on Shakespearean authorship in relation to the Oxfordian theory and will show that the film fails in more ways than one when it comes to giving it credibility.

Continue reading Anonymous Dismissed: Why Shakespeare Isn’t Shakespeare but Might Turn Out to Be Shakespeare Anyway By Coco Clements

Undertale: Metamodernism and Player Agency Fill You With Determination By Kevin Swijghuizen

Disclaimer: this article features some spoilers.

Undertale is a kickstarted, turn-based, story-driven RPG developed for PC by Toby Fox, which was released last September.[1] The game was received with great critical acclaim and has made an impact on the RPG landscape. It made such a large splash because it is a fairly unique game in a genre that has stagnated over the course of the years. The RPG genre consists of a multitude of different types of RPGs and for the sake of making relevant comparisons, this article will only look at turn-based RPGs, like the famous Final Fantasy games.  RPGs tend to revolve around a hero, mostly male but sometimes female, who is usually destined to save the world. There tends to be a damsel in distress plot woven in the narrative and the combat usually revolves around people taking turns in hitting each other with the occasional spell being used. The protagonist will then travel the world, or corridor in some of the more modern games, to either chase the villain or to figure out how to save the world. In a world in which games seem to become more and more twitchy and focused on mobility, some RPGs followed suit and added more real time combat as an “innovative” feature. Whether or not that actually improves the genre I’ll leave for other people to decide. Finally, some RPGs have taken a page out of the old MMO book and started using the same kind of quest system that you encounter in MMOs, i.e. kill ten rabbits and gather twenty carrots,  to try and innovate the single player RPG genre. Whilst this ‘grinding’ adds to the -potential- longevity of a game, it doesn’t necessarily make it more fun nor does it add anything to the narrative.

Continue reading Undertale: Metamodernism and Player Agency Fill You With Determination By Kevin Swijghuizen

Until Dawn: a Modern Gothic Horror Game By Kevin Swijghuizen

Disclaimer: this article features plot spoilers.

Until Dawn is a horror game recently released for Playstation 4. The game leans heavily on a variety of gothic elements in order to give its story the necessary tension and scary atmosphere that a modern  horror game needs.[1] Naturally, Until Dawn isn’t the first medium to be using gothic elements in order to create a horror story. The gothic genre was used by authors as far back as the mid-1700s and elements of it have been used ever since. For instance, Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto in 1764 and is considered to have supplied the foundation for other gothic narratives. This article will take a closer look at the various elements that are part of the gothic in order to analyse which elements are used and how they are used in Until Dawn to create an effective horror story.

The Gothic
First of all, it is important to establish what elements are part of the gothic trope in order to be able to accurately identify which elements of Until Dawn can be considered gothic. The setting of a gothic story is key for setting the tone of the narrative. For this reason gothic narratives tend to feature a large, isolated  mansion of some sort. Originally the authors would have used castles in their narratives, like in The Castle of Otranto, but that shifted relatively quickly, in for instance Wuthering Heights, to also include manor houses and the like.[2]

Untitled

Furthermore, a mysterious and suspenseful atmosphere is also a key aspect of the gothic genre. During the entire narrative the reader, or player in the case of a video game, has the idea that something is not quite right. This usually manifests itself into elements of the supernatural and inexplicable events being interwoven into the narrative. This results in a suspenseful  atmosphere in which the reader is kept on edge because they are unable to anticipate what is going to happen next.[3] Another aspect of the gothic genre is that it usually features, in one form or another, a woman in distress. Unfortunately, this form of stereotyping the female characters as being weaker compared to the male ones is an aspect that is often used in gothic narratives. Said female will find herself in a precarious position and it is up to the, usually male, character to help her out of her predicament.[4]

Overwrought emotions are another trope that is a big part of the gothic genre. The characters go through great paroxysms of, amongst others, fear and terror throughout the narrative. This naturally works in conjunction with the frightening and tense atmosphere to really set the tone of the narrative and cement it as a gothic work. [5]

Terror vs Horror
Furthermore there is a division that can be made in the gothic genre, namely that of Terror and Horror. Both words conjure up terrifying images but in the context of the gothic both terms relate to different aspect of the gothic narrative. Horror in a gothic narrative refers to the very overt ways in which narrative tries to scare or unsettle its audience. Terror on the other hand is, in a way, far more sinister because it refers to the way in which the atmosphere of a gothic narrative tries to scare the audience without really showing anything that is out of the ordinary. As D. P. Varma explains: “The difference between Terror and Horror is in the difference between awful apprehensions and sickening realization: between the smell of death and stumbling upon a corpse.”[6] In other words Horror is, usually, the natural progression from Terror as the unsettling atmosphere abruptly switching to some form of horrific discovery or event.

Finally, as mentioned before, the supernatural also plays a very large role in the gothic genre. The inclusion of something that is beyond the scope of human comprehension really lends itself well to enhancing the frightening atmosphere that is already established by all the other elements. [7] The addition of the supernatural helps intensify the emotions that the gothic narrative conjures up in its audience because of the fact that it is so far removed from the average normal human experience.[8] Naturally, the gothic genre isn’t constrained to just these elements. However, the aforementioned elements are part of the key gothic tropes that define Until Dawn as a modern day horror game and solidly cement it in the gothic tradition. Moreover, as Keech points out: “The term ‘Gothic,’ as I see it, consequently means a response, or effect, of fear characterized by foreboding and intensity rather than a set of traditional stock devices.”[9] Thus, whilst all these aforementioned elements are very much part of the gothic genre, at its core the gothic genre is more about the feelings of fear and dread that it evokes in its audience than it is about these literary tropes.

Until Dawn´s Gothic Elements, the setting
Now that the relevant gothic characteristics have been established, it is time to see how these characteristics  come together to shape the narrative of Until Dawn. As mentioned before, the setting is one of the main identifying features of any gothic narrative and Until Dawn is no exception. The entire game is played out on top of a mountain. The eight protagonists, a group of friends who go on yearly excursions to a mansion built on this mountain, are effectively cut off from civilization due to the remoteness of their mountain retreat. This results in a rather large part of the game being set in a remote mansion which fits the gothic cliché of a large, spooky and isolated building. However, the narrative of the game does not merely restrict itself to the mansion. Two of the protagonists remove themselves from the greater group and hang out in an, even more, isolated log cabin. As the narrative progresses even further the protagonists also explore an old abandoned sanatorium and a defunct mining complex. All of these locations fit perfectly within the gothic: although they aren’t quite the castle setting that the original gothic narratives used, they fit well within the atmosphere that is so quintessential for the gothic experience.

until-dawn spooky location

Atmosphere
The atmosphere of the story is the single most important part of the gothic narrative. As mentioned before, the Terror part of the gothic heavily influences the atmosphere and ensures that the audience is kept on edge and scared of what might come next. Until Dawn channels this Terror in two different ways due to the way in which the narrative consists out of two different parts. The early part of the game very much revolves around the premise that there is a psychopath on the mountain together with the eight protagonists who is hell-bent on murdering them. The other half of the game revolves around wendigos that roam the mountain, preying on humans in order to still their hunger for human flesh. A wendigo is a creature that, according to Algonquian -one of the native American tribes- legends, humans turn into after they are reduced to cannibalism.

Golem's creepy brother

Until Dawn combines these two threads to weave together a truly gothic narrative. Both antagonists are gradually introduced as the narrative develops. At first it is unclear who or what is the true antagonist of Until Dawn. Near the beginning of the story, our protagonists split up and both groups are pursued by what appears to be, at first, the same antagonist. It is not until later that it becomes clear that there are both a psychopath and wendigos on top of the mountain. When the characters sense that something is amiss, they radio in for help, only to be informed that help cannot come until dawn. Thus, throughout the entire narrative the characters have to try and stay alive until help can arrive. This, combined with the eerie set pieces in which the narrative is played out and because it is very possible for all eight protagonists to die, horribly, at any point during the story the atmosphere of Until Dawn is both very tense and fearful. Thus, the Terror part of the narrative leans heavily on the feeling of the characters being pursued by something that is more than human. Be it the psycho who shrugs of a stab wound inflicted by one of the characters or the wendigos which are quite literally more than human.  Naturally this shifts towards gothic Horror whenever the wendigos, or the psycho actually appear on the screen. Furthermore, the potentially brutal deaths of the protagonists are also very much part of the Horror aspect of the gothic narrative. All these elements combined lead to an atmosphere that is very much befitting of a gothic horror story.

Damsel in distress
The damsel in distress trope is also something that comes back in Until Dawn. Several times throughout the story, one of the female characters has to rely on one of the male characters to come to their aid. Thankfully, there also moments when female characters act independently from the male ones in order to, for instance, save themselves . The clearest example of this is when two of the characters, Mike and Jessica, are separated from the group and Jessica is abducted by one of the wendigos.

jessica abducted

It is up to Mike to come to her rescue and it is even possible for Jessica to die a gruesome death if Mike is unable to come to her aid swiftly enough.

heroic mike

While the inclusion of the damsel in distress trope might be a bit antiquated for modern standards, it still has its place in the gothic genre and therefore it does help establish Until Dawn as a game that is part of the  gothic tradition.

Emotions
The inclusion of overwrought emotions is another classic sign of Until Dawn being part of the gothic genre. Due to the nature of the narrative, all the characters find themselves in a terrifying and highly stressful situation. After all, if they are not able to avoid the wendigos, they will most certainly perish before help can arrive. This leads to some, for both the characters and the player, terrifying moments when the characters come face to face with their supernatural foes. It is this overwhelming fear that the game instils in its characters that very much contributes to the gothic experience. If the characters, for instance, would take everything in stride and not show any fearful emotions what so ever that would instantly detract from the gothic atmosphere that a horror game needs to be convincing and scary. As Keech points out:

“In order for the abbey, tower, tomb, skeleton, or ghost to activate the imagination and evoke the sense of fear, an appropriate atmosphere must be created. This atmosphere is   primary to the necessary effect. With the proper atmosphere a child’s playhouse can be chillingly terrifying and a castle safe, warm, beautiful, and romantic.”[10]

Therefore the emotions that the characters portray also play a key role in establishing the atmosphere that is sorely needed for a game like this to be a proper gothic horror game.

The supernatural
Finally, the inclusion of the supernatural is what firmly cements Until Dawn as a gothic horror game. The wendigos in the narrative fill the role of a supernatural adversary admirably. Not only do they function as an antagonist who is, in many ways, superhuman but their wily nature also serves to keep the player on edge as they progress through the game because he or she can never be sure when a wendigo will rear its, quite literally, ugly head. The terrifying nature of the wendigo is only enhanced when it becomes obvious that these creatures were once human themselves. As a matter of fact, one of the wendigos is the sister of one of the main characters, who was presumed dead after she and her sister fell into one of the abandoned mine shafts. Her being a wendigo also indicates that she was forced to cannibalise her own sister, which adds a whole new disturbing layer to the narrative. Because the wendigos are beyond the realm of normal human understanding, they are very effective in adding to the terrifying atmosphere that is so very crucial in a gothic narrative. Furthermore, they add much needed Horror moments to the story due to the gruesome and hideous nature of their appearance and the horrifying way in which they mutilate their victims.

Conclusion: gothic roots
Thus, via its use of these various gothic elements, it is obvious that Until Dawn is very much part of the gothic tradition. It uses classes characteristics that have been used by writers of gothic fiction for hundreds of years. The setting of Until Dawn, the isolated mountain mansion,  is properly gothic, and the supporting creepy structures might not be a proper gothic castles, but they definitely serve to provide a proper scary atmosphere for the game. Furthermore, the inclusion of women who are in dire need of rescue and the presence of a creepy psychopath and terrifying wendigos only intensify the fearful mood of the game. The atmosphere is the culmination of all these other elements combined and is crucial for setting the tone of the work and is arguably the single most important element of a work of gothic fiction. Without a sufficiently scary and tense atmosphere the entire concept would fall flat on its face. Thus, it is the Terror in a gothic narrative that is crucial in setting the right tone. Whilst horror games wouldn’t be horror games without the use of gothic Horror the Horror elements would fail to leave much of an impression if they aren’t combined with a suitable amount of Terror. Dawn manages to walk to the fine line between keeping a sufficiently scary atmosphere that is regularly spiced up by proper Horror moments like a wendigo appearing out of nowhere to maul someone or by having the psycho chase one of the characters. The feeling that death can be around any corner helps to cement the Terror aspect of the game and serves to intensify the terrifying Horror moments when they occur. It is this balance  between Until Dawn’s Terror and Horror that is instrumental in creating a convincing scary gothic horror game.

 

Works Cited

[1] Fessenden, Larry and Graham Reznick. Until Dawn. Supermassive Games. 25 August 2015.

[2] Harris, Robert. “Elements of the Gothic Novel”. VirtualSalt.com. 15 June 2015. Web. 9 November      2015

[3] Harris, Robert. “Elements of the Gothic Novel”. Idem.

[4] Harris, Robert. “Elements of the Gothic Novel”. Idem.

[5] Harris, Robert. “Elements of the Gothic Novel”. Idem.

[6] Varma, D. P.. The Gothic Flame. New York: Russel and Russel (1996): 130. Web. 9 November                2015

[7] Harris, Robert. “Elements of the Gothic Novel”. Idem.

[8] Keech, James M.. “The Survival of the Gothic Response”. Studies in the Novel 6.2 (1974): 130–             144. Web. 9 November 2015.

[9] Keech, James M.. “The Survival of the Gothic Response”. Idem.

[10] Keech, James M.. “The Survival of the Gothic Response”. Idem.

Blurry’s the One I’m Not: Analysing Twenty One Pilots’ Blurryface By Irene Theunissen

If you’re familiar with their music, you will know that twenty one pilots make the happiest saddest music. Their latest album, Blurryface, is no exception to this: try to sit still to Tear in My Heart, We Don’t Believe What’s on TV and Ride and you’ll see what I mean. The reason this music is so happy is to offset the message of pain and darkness that lies beneath them, and most of it is caused by the title character: Blurryface. So the question here is: who is Blurryface and how does he show his influence throughout the album?

Continue reading Blurry’s the One I’m Not: Analysing Twenty One Pilots’ Blurryface By Irene Theunissen