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]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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The Skeletons of Stories: An Analysis of Trending Two-sentence Horror By Berry Giezen

Horror is a genre that is found in many forms, from long novels to films, and from poetry to short stories. A while ago, a number of posts circulated on social media that were compilations of horror in another, new form: two-sentence horror stories. This new form poses a challenge for the genre of horror and the people writing it, since within two sentences, a writer can’t rely on building suspense or describing gloomy castles, eerie situations or scary figures to create a sense of horror. This raises the question; how short can a short story be? Moreover, can a two-sentence narrative be considered a story at all, and if so, how can it function like a story?

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The (Dead) Body Politic: How In The Flesh Mirrors Modern Society By Berry Giezen

Disclaimer: this article features spoilers.

Zombie flicks and films seem to go hand in hand with social criticism. Romero’s films about the ‘Living Dead’ have often been interpreted politically. Night of the Living Dead, for example, is a zombie film that came out in a time when America was divided and in social turmoil, with various figures and movements, such as Martin Luther King, seeking equality for minority groups. The hero of the film is an African-American man, Ben, who hides in a house, trying to outlive the roaming zombies outside. He rescues a woman, initially a very silent and catatonic character, who hardly manages to help out – this in contrast with other women who do their best to help out. Another illustrative passage is the interaction between Ben and Harry Cooper, a white, middle-class man, as they clash over the best way to survive. The government is broadcasting news updates and researching the phenomenon, but is too slow in rallying its forces to help the survivors.[1] It takes the posse of a local sheriff to help the local survivors, yet instead they shoot the only survivor when they mistake him for a zombie. Here, Romero already introduced the idea that the government will not always be there to save people, and broke away from the solid belief in the government as man’s saviour.

A very recent series with a similar theme and message  is In The Flesh, a drama mini-series by the BBC. The premise is that there has been a rising of the dead: some of the recently deceased have come back from the grave. In their hunger for human flesh, they have attacked humans. Mankind has been fighting them off, and in the meantime, they have also invented a drug through which they have been able to ‘save’ some of the zombies. The drug suppresses the neurons responsible for the hunger-frenzy and allows their personalities to return to their former selves. They are then observed for a period of time in a high-security facility whilst being given therapy to prepare them for their re-assimilation and re-immigration into society. They also need to come to terms with what they have done in their ‘untreated state’.

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The Construction of a World of Nothing: The World in Mad Max: Fury Road By Berry Giezen

Disclaimer: this article features spoilers.

This year, the new Mad Max film took the world by storm, and presented us with a world of its own. Not much is said about how exactly the world became this apocalyptic, but it is caused by nuclear weapons and wars. The world has turned to dust and sand. This primitive and savage world revolves around three things: food and water to survive, bullets to protect what they have to survive –or to take it, and gas to move around. Vehicles here are not only a way of escape, but they are also weapons

In some (post-apocalyptic) works, the world and environment function as a mere setting or decor. It is the background for a story about people surviving and overcoming obstacles and enemies. One reason for this is that all the social structures of the old worlds are literally dead or broken, and it is hard to write a dynamic world when there is so little going on compared to what we are used to in our world. It is often reduced to a free-for-all sandbox. On top of this, in case of films, there is just too little time to work in a detailed and vibrant world when you’re also trying to fit in an action-packed narrative. TV series are more suited for building dynamic worlds, since they have more screen time and can feature gradual and more detailed build-ups. In The Walking Dead, for example, there are a few settlements of people banding together in settlements to increase their chance of survival. The post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max is surprisingly dynamic and alive, which is especially surprising considering the fact that it is brought to us in (four) films.

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