This project was created, filmed, written, and presented by Jon Garrad. Jon is a freelance writer and independent researcher. After graduating from the University of Manchester he taught English and Drama in FE colleges and pupil referral, moonlighting as a convention panelist, reviewer and occasional essayist. His work has appeared in Mythopoeic Society publications, including a chapter in Baptism of Fire: The Birth of the Modern British Fantastic in World War I. His research interests include participatory Gothic (digital, analogue and live-action gaming in the genre), thanatology, education theory and practice, and the fiction of E. R. Eddison.
You can also read the full transcript of the critical playthrough here.
This is an attempt to mash up the academic paper with the commentated playthrough, and explore some possibilities, successes and failures in videogame gothic.
Specifically, it’s about the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG to its friends). These games are set in huge persistent worlds with hundreds of active player characters, where the narratives curated by game developers have to stay broad and open enough for a huge range of reader responses and investments. World of Warcraft – the epic fantasy property which has dominated and defined the MMORPG since 2004 – creates a temporary Gothic space in which the genre’s codes awkwardly co-exist with the accessible epic fantasy and convenient player experience of the modern MMORPG – but does this awkwardness undermine the game’s attempt at Gothic storytelling?
This paper is basically an answer to Tanya Krzyswinska’s 2015 piece ‘The Gamification of Gothic Coordinates in Videogames’, which issues a call for deeper and more sustained engagement with individual games, rather than the broad generalisations which have characterised the rush toward workable theories of computer games. Kryzwinska calls for a move away from pure ludology, and the polemical entrenchment between narratology and ludology, towards a more diverse and focused reading of game texts.
Borrowing from Matthew Tyler-Jones’ concept of “narrative atoms”, and his reading of game stories as either authored or emergent, I attempt to do away with the idea of “ludonarrative dissonance” and view Gothic videogame storytelling as a series of practical challenges. As far as I’m concerned, the conflict isn’t between game mechanics and storytelling techniques, but between different kinds of storytelling which aren’t always working in harmony. Mechanics are a storytelling technique, albeit one that isn’t well harnessed and often – as in this case study – work against the attempt to curate a particular ‘headspace’ for the player. The key idea of virtual space as coordinated between mechanics, aesthetics, ethics and attitude is essential to understanding the architecture of videogame Gothic – videogame storytelling as a whole, really – and this presentation serves as a first attempt at drawing a set of these coordinates.
I’m enormously grateful to Reimagining Gothic for entertaining something which pushes the envelope like this, and for allowing an independent scholar into the fold. The Reimagining project excites me greatly because it has this potential to be interdisciplinary and multimedia and also… inter-community, for want of a better word, drawing in artists and musicians and photographers and subcultural scenesters, as well as whatever it is I am. Gothic may be a refined aesthetic but it has a broad and diffuse cultural presence; it takes a project like the Reimagining to come to terms with that presence and work toward a holistic understanding. After the 2017 event I had over a dozen ideas for new videos and I felt I understood my medium in new ways; I know I’m not the only one, as so many attendees remarked to me that they finally understood video games, or haunted house tours, or the BBC Gormenghast. Unless that was just me.