Andrei Nae and Alexandra Ileana Bacalu: Toward a Reconsideration of Hypermediacy: Immersion in Survival Horror Games and Eighteenth-Century Novels
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Probably more than ever, our contemporary media ecology is engaged in an immersion race that calls for the constant upgrading of each medium’s capacity to create the illusion of medial transparency. Although the aesthetic goal of erasing mediation can be traced back to the arts of the Renaissance, the push toward heightened realism and immersion has not dwindled, despite the critique mounted against it by postmodern thought. The aesthetics of realism still enjoys a dominant position in contemporary mainstream fiction, and cinema is already normalising its 4DX technology as a standard film-watching practice, while gaming platforms are trying to integrate virtual reality gear into the average gameplay experience. Furthermore, the ideal of medium transparency that has driven art from the Renaissance onward has in the past decade exceeded the boundaries of art and entertainment and become an ideal of any communication technology, as best exemplified by the smartphone. What was at first a technology based on a symbolic control of the device that enabled the user to shuffle through menus using buttons has now turned into a seamless device that presents itself as an independent artificial world whose objects can be physically manipulated by the user via a symbiotic control scheme.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 However, as Ian Bogost points out, highly immersive technologies are very effective in concealing their ideologies (cf. 112-13). Immersion is such a strong and pervasive cultural value that we tend to regard technologies of immersion as politically neutral artefacts. Even more so, the assumption of political neutrality leads to a naturalization of the ideology implicit in these cultural products. This naturalization does not only concern the more obvious conservative ideologies pertaining to race, class, and gender that have to do with the represented (or simulated, in the case of interactive media) content, but also the ideologies embedded within the media’s very means of representation and simulation (cf. Hayse 445).
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In order to target a global audience, AAA video games usually fall back on many pre-established narrative settings which are familiar to this target group. These settings, some of which have already been popularized by other media such as comic books or the cinema, are either explicitly or implicitly linked to the United States. Whether it is a real historical setting such as the American Revolution in Assassin’s Creed III (Ubisoft Montreal, 2012), a counterfactual historical one as in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (MachineGames, 2017), or a fictional setting in the real USA, as it is the case with the eponymous town in Silent Hill (Konami, 1999), America seems to occupy a privileged position in the world of video games. Consequently, AAA video games cue players to construct a mental storyworld that is strongly indebted to the players’ knowledge of the US, but which at the same time plays an active role in shaping players’ understanding of the American context and its cultural identities. Games achieve this by providing players with a seamless gameplay experience that naturalizes these American identities and obfuscates the ideology behind them.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In the present article we hope to show that seamlessness is not the sine qua non condition of immersion, and that hypermediacy, too, can lead to immersive experiences. For example, survival horror video games reject the game design norms of more conventional action-adventure games and employ hypermedial formal features such as a highly fragmented visual representation, counterintuitive control schemes, and unpredictable game mechanics in order to immerse the player. We additionally show that these formal aspects contribute to the simulation of versions of masculinity that challenge the conservative gender construct of AAA video games which primarily cater to an intended American male audience. This alternative immersion strategy, which relies on hypermediacy rather than immediacy, is not new and can be found in another, well-established genre, such as the eighteenth-century novel, which relies heavily on digression, fragmentation, and metatextuality in order to similarly create the illusion of realism and authenticity. In making these arguments, we hope to productively complicate the dominant position held by the erasure of mediation as the means to achieving immersion, thus showing how (sub)cultures of immersion can connect across centuries.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Especially in the visual arts, immersion is associated with immediacy, i.e. the tendency of modern arts to erase their mediation (cf. Bolter and Grusin 5-6). While immediacy has been a guiding principle for modern arts ever since the Renaissance (cf. Bolter and Grusin 21), it has also been accompanied by a subaltern tendency that, instead of erasing mediation, seeks to highlight it, namely hypermediacy (cf. Bolter and Grusin 6). Although hypermediacy is seen as inimical to immersion, survival horror games seem to prove the opposite. But before looking into what specific means these games employ to immerse the player, a more general account of immersion in video games is required. Because video games are an interactive and a narrative medium, a mere consideration of the realism of its visual representations does not do justice to their complexity. In order to fully account for the affordances of video games, in this chapter we will be relying on the theoretical model proposed by Lara Ermi and Frank Mäyrä.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 According to them, immersion in video games is buttressed on three components: sensory, challenge-based, and imaginative immersion (cf. 7-8). The concept of sensory immersion is coextensive with that of immediacy because it designates video games’ capacity to use big screens and headphones to isolate the player’s senses from external stimuli and to provide her with realistic visual, aural, and, in the case of controllers, kinaesthetic input (cf. 7). Challenge-based immersion takes into consideration video games’ capacity to confront players with a variety of challenges that keep them mentally engrossed in game world (cf. 7-8). Although Ermi and Mäyrä do not explicitly refer to game mechanics and controls, these play an important part in maintaining a high level of challenge-based immersion. Easily learnable and predictable controls and efficient game mechanics facilitate the immersion of the player, while the opposite leads to the player’s disengagement with the video game. Finally, imaginative immersion refers to the ability of video games to absorb players into complex storyworlds that manage to add narrative meaning to the ludic goals of the game (cf. 9).
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 In what follows we would like to show that, although in terms of sensory and challenge-based immersion survival horror video games would not qualify as immersive, they manage to compensate for the hypermediacy of the aural and visual representation and the cumbersome gameplay by evincing a high degree of imaginative immersion. This is mainly achieved through a process of narrativization (cf. Fludernik 25) which presupposes that players are encouraged by the storyworld to invest incoherent ludic or diegetic elements with a narrative meaning. In the particular case of survival horror games, the mechanics that fragment and encumber gameplay are narrativized as consequences of the protagonist’s vulnerability.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Survival horror games are action-adventure games that balance combat with puzzle solving. In opposition to more conventional representatives of the action-adventure genre, survival horror games feature a set of ineffective and clunky core mechanics that are governed by cumbersome control schemes. This already complicated simulation is further obstructed by a highly fragmented representation of the game world. One of the first hypermedial elements of the games that players are faced with is the movement mechanic. Most survival horror games such as Alone in the Dark (Infogrames, 1992), Resident Evil (Capcom, 1996), Dino Crisis (Capcom, 1999), Silent Hill and others employ tank controls. This control scheme presupposes that playable characters can move only forward and backward and that, in order for the direction to be changed, the playable character must be turned to the left or the right before the forward button is pushed. While such a control system may be functional and intuitive in a first-person view or a third-person view with a tracking camera (as it is the case with Resident Evil 4 (Capcom, 2005), or Gears of War (Epic Games, 2006)), this is not the case when used in combination with fixed camera angles. All the games mentioned above (with the exception of Silent Hill during some parts of the game) use fixed cameras that cut to a new angle when a new room or location is accessed. The angles do not only vary but are also placed in positions that make movement counterintuitive (cf. Rouse 23): often the camera is positioned in front of the playable character in a medium or even close shot, sometimes the camera is placed on one of the sides, and it is only very rarely that the camera is placed behind the playable character in the intended direction of movement. The variation which characterizes the use of angles has an important bearing on challenge-based and sensory immersion.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 As far as the former is concerned, the angles and cuts make movement counterintuitive and unpredictable. The player’s p-actions are no longer in keeping with the player’s intention, thus leading to a thwarting of the player’s sense of extended embodiment (cf. Gregersen and Grodal 67). This affects the game’s balance in the sense that apparently simple tasks (judging by the standards of mainstream action-adventure games) such as defeating a first-level adversary become abnormally difficult. The confrontations of survival horror games usually take place in small rooms and tight corridors filmed in close and medium shots which leave the player’s adversaries off-screen. Due to the scarceness of ammunition and the ineffectiveness of the shooting mechanics, the player must often evade her adversary once it appears on-screen. This task is hampered by the absence of an evasion mechanic and by the counterintuitive movement controls, which can make the player unwittingly move directly into the arms of the adversary instead of moving away from it.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Challenge-based immersion is also obstructed by the inefficient shooting mechanics. Survival horror games differ from more conventional third-person shooters in that the aiming system does not rely on the movement of the mouse which maps the movement of the gun’s aim in the game world. Instead, survival horror games either employ a manual aiming system that does not graphically mark the gun’s direction, or an automatic aiming system. In both cases, however, the aiming and shooting mechanics are not very functional. The manual system is once again encumbered by the camera angles, the close/medium shots, and tank controls. Not only is it difficult for the player to establish where the adversary is, but the unconventional third-person view makes it difficult for the player to point the gun in the desired direction. Furthermore, in a manner similar to the problem of moving, determining the right button to push in order to move the gun’s aim can become a real challenge because of the tank controls and the camera angles. Issues of functionality are characteristic not only of the manual aiming system but also of the automatic one. Contrary to the player’s expectation, by pressing the ‘aim’ button the playable character does not always aim toward an adversary, as it is the case with Silent Hill. Although there is an adversary in the playable character’s proximity, Harry Mason (the protagonist of the game) does not always aim in the required direction, which leads to the wasting of precious ammunition.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Sensorial immersion and challenge-based immersion are also impeded by the system used by survival horror games to manage the items carried by the playable character. If more conventional action games use the heads-up display in order to enable players to select a particular weapon or item, survival horror games employ an inventory which, when accessed, pauses game time and switches to a new screen. This new screen resembles that of a menu and offers important ludic information such as the level of health, and it allows players to equip weapons and investigate or combine items. Although this mechanic is more functional than other core mechanics, it fails to contribute to the immersion of the player. In the case of sensorial immersion, the seamlessness of the aural and visual input is fragmented, thus adding to the segmentation of the gameplay experience determined by the use of fixed camera angles. As far as challenge-based immersion is concerned, the fact that any change or equipping of an item has to be operated in the inventory has significant consequences for the simulation of combat. Action games require that players show good hand-eye coordination in order to quickly react to approaching threats. Players must swiftly move, aim, and shoot any potential danger present in the game world. In order for this to be achieved, a continuous representation of the game world is necessary so that players may always know where the threat is. Although survival horror games have a strong emphasis on combat, the inventory can further complicate the already cumbersome gameplay generated by their clunky combat mechanics. As if the close shots, sight-limiting camera angles, and inefficient combat mechanics were not enough, on some occasions the player must also exit the screen and access the inventory during combat. This can be determined by the player’s need to switch weapons, combine ammunition clips, or restore health. During battle, these changes of screen further disorient the player and make it more difficult for her to successfully deal with her assailants.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Survival horror games seem to do their best to prevent players from being immersed in their respective worlds. While most action-adventure games strive to offer the players a seamless gameplay experience, survival horror games prompt the player with a fragmented and frustrating one. Nevertheless, in the next paragraphs we would like to show that, in spite of all of the above, survival horror games do manage to immerse the player by narrativizing the otherwise hypermedial elements of their game designs. Therefore, instead of relying on sensorial and challenge-based immersion, these games focus on imaginative immersion in order to diegetically salvage their encumbered gameplay.
- ¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0
- Fiction implemented in rules: The most straightforward situation, where the game rules are motivated by the game’s fiction. […]
- Fiction not implemented in game rules: When fiction suggests a possibility that is not accessible to players. […]
- Rules not explained by fiction: When rules are difficult to explain by referring to the game’s fiction. (175)
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 In the case of survival horror games, it is the first kind of relationship that is foregrounded. These games manage to assign a narrative role to game mechanics that might otherwise be considered a result of bad game design and technological limitation. Survival horror games simulate the experience of vulnerable male or female characters who, in opposition to the protagonists of more conventional action-adventure games, are disempowered and incapable of summarily defeating their foes. This is why the protagonists of such games are usually American (or Japanese) everymen and -women who lack the skills of the genetically engineered supersoldiers so often encountered in the leading roles of AAA action-adventure games. The helplessness of these characters narrativizes the counterintuitive controls and inefficient core mechanics as manifestations of their vulnerability.
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 When playing video games, players extrapolate their knowledge of the real world and apply it to the storyworld of the game, with the exception of those aspects where the conventions of the genre and the particularities of each storyworld prompts them to do otherwise (cf. Ryan 51). As a result, after the game has begun, it is easy for the player to infer from the identity of the characters that they are unlikely to be capable of efficient melee and firearm combat. In games such as Silent Hill, Fatal Frame (Tecmo, 2001), Haunting Ground (Capcom, 2005), Clock Tower III (Capcom, 2003), Outlast (Red Barrels, 2013), Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (Capcom, 2017), and others, the playable characters are average middle-class men or women, and the core mechanics confirm the expectation of helplessness raised by the name of the genre and the identities of the protagonists. For example, in Silent Hill, the male protagonist is governed by a set of highly unpredictable core mechanics that, even when activated, lead to a set of moves and combos that are nowhere near the action spectacle that video games often borrow from action films. In Clock Tower III, the female protagonist is almost never capable of fighting her opponents, while Resident Evil 7, which departs from the classical formula and uses first-person shooter mechanics, features a set of aiming and shooting mechanics that are below the standards of average first-person shooters.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 By means of narrativization, the disruptive game mechanics that fragment representation and gameplay become congruous with the storyworld of the game, and instead of thwarting immersion they become constitutive of it. The alternative means used to achieve immersion seem to tie in with a set of alternative identitarian politics. While AAA action-adventure video games usually pay tribute to conservative gender politics that reassert the supremacy of white masculinity, survival horror video games immerse players into a verisimilar interactive storyworld which is populated by alternative versions of white masculinity. In a manner similar to representations of masculinity in crisis in cinema (cf. Chaudhuri 106), these versions of masculinity distort the conservative gender construct of the active, heroic white man.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Besides the clunky mechanics and controls, the storyworld of survival horror games sometimes feature elements which are apparently incoherent with the rest of the narrative and have the potential of breaking the sense of realism and immersion. Therefore, in order to maintain a high level of imaginative immersion, narrativization in survival horror games also functions on the level of the scripted narrative, whereby implausible pre-established events are turned natural and made consistent with the rest of the events. For example, the storyworld of Silent Hill is a supernatural one that demands of players to suspend a part of their knowledge of the real world in order to be able to immerse themselves into the game. However, one of the endings manages to naturalize the otherwise supernatural elements of the game. Silent Hill simulates the story of Harry Mason who, while driving with his daughter beside him, has an accident near the town of Silent Hill. After regaining consciousness, he realizes that his daughter has disappeared and goes into the town to look for her. In his attempt to find his missing daughter, Harry Mason faces a series of supernatural challenges in the form of monsters and a town that sometimes takes a nightmarish shape which makes the protagonist’s progress more difficult. The game’s ‘bad’ ending manages to naturalize the supernatural elements of the storyworld by playing a cut-scene that shows Harry Mason in his derelict car with a bloody wound to the head. This suggests that the events of Silent Hill are, in fact, the hallucinations of the dying protagonist who has never left his car in the first place.
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Similar strategies are employed by other installments of the franchise such as Silent Hill 3 (Konami, 2003) and Silent Hill: Homecoming (Double Helix Games, 2008). Silent Hill 3 begins with the daughter of Harry Mason, Heather,entering the otherworld version of Lakeside Amusement Park. After a few minutes of gameplay, the game coerces the player to walk up along a rollercoaster track where the playable character is inevitably killed. The inability to avoid death defies the expectations that players have with respect to video games (which, no matter how difficult, should offer the player at least one way to win), yet this aspect of the game is soon naturalized by a cut-scene that shows the protagonist waking up from a dream. This cues players to interpret the previous events as unreal relative to the fictional storyworld, thus rendering the inability to avoid death natural and consistent with the norms of video games.
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Silent Hill: Homecoming uses both strategies of narrativization in order to frame events that may encumber the player’s suspension of disbelief. The game begins in medias res with Alex Shepherd, the protagonist, being carried around on a stretcher in an insanitary hospital where the patients are submitted to a variety of torture methods. As in Silent Hill 3, Alex Shephard’s attempt to escape the hospital ends with him being killed in an elevator, upon which the game cuts to a scene of Alex suddenly waking up in the passenger seat of a truck. The game narratively frames the hospital level as the protagonist’s nightmare and, in doing so, resolves its puzzling setting and events. However, like Silent Hill, Silent Homecoming uses one of its endings in order to render the events of the game as figments of the protagonist’s imagination. The game’s ‘bad’ ending features the protagonist strapped to a stretcher in the same hospital of the initial dream and being subject to shock therapy. This ending reverses the initial narrative framing: the hospital scene had been real all along while the rest of the events had been a fantasy of the protagonist under shock treatment.
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 The emphasis on imaginative immersion compels survival horror games to make their storyworlds as realistic as possible, which is why these games attempt to narrativize potentially disruptive elements. This tendency, however, also yields important aesthetic results in the sense that survival horror games end up relativizing the status of the world in which the playable character finds himself or herself. When playing survival horror games, players can never be sure whether they are immersed in the storyworld’s reality or in the vision/hallucination/dream of a traumatized character.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Despite the efforts of art and entertainment to fully immerse their audience, the immersion ideal is yet to be reached. Even those media that are considered the most immersive feature a set of artificial traits that make it hard for the user to suspend her disbelief. In the case of survival horror video games, we have shown how formal aspects that defy the dominant norms of the action-adventure genre are, in most cases, deliberate aesthetic choices that have the role of reflecting the vulnerability of the often white middle-class male protagonists. However, not all formal traits lend themselves as easily to narrativization. While the inefficient core mechanics governing the player’s control over the playable character can easily blend into the storyworld, players may find it difficult to narrativize the redundancy of the level design.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 In order for games to be immersive, they must prompt players with ever new challenges so that the player may remain cognitively engrossed in the game (cf. Murray 126). Despite featuring difficult combat and complex puzzles, survival horror games also require players to repeatedly backtrack through many previous locations whose challenges have already been solved. While initially the need to revisit the same location was a strategy aimed at prolonging game time due to the limited data storage capacity, after the turn of the millennium this became more of an aesthetic choice than the result of a technological limitation. For example, the designers of Resident Evil Remake, which was released in 2002 for the Game Cube and later for other consoles and platforms, were making a game for platforms that were significantly superior to the PlayStation (the first console for which the first Resident Evil released). Nevertheless, instead of adding more variation to the gameplay, the remake coerces players to revisit previous locations more often than the original did.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 The novelty responsible for this additional backtracking is the crimson head. Unlike in the original Resident Evil, in the remake zombies do not die immediately after being killed. After a while they rise again, but this time in a faster and stronger version called the crimson head. Because crimson heads are more difficult to kill than average zombies, the best way to prevent their appearance is to burn the zombies shortly after they have been killed. However, in order to do so, the player must carry a fuel canteen filled with gasoline and a lighter. Given the limited inventory slots, players must repeatedly travel back and forth to item boxes, where the player stores her items, to pick up the canteen and the lighter. Additionally, if the canteen is empty, the player must make her to way to another room where it can be filled. All this wandering around the mansion amounts to a very repetitive gameplay that involves revisiting over and over again the same rooms that have already been cleared of any danger.
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Similar examples of repetitive level design can be found in Silent Hill 4: The Room (Konami, 2004) and Forbidden Siren (Sony, 2003). In the former, the player must go through each level twice and, in-between levels, return to his apartment through the hole in his bathroom. In the latter, the player must complete each mission at least twice, but with different playable characters. This type of redundant tasks affects not only challenge-based immersion, since familiarity with the level makes it easier for the player to progress, but also imaginative immersion. By walking the player through the same levels repeatedly, survival horror games undermine the sense of progression that is relevant both from a ludic and a diegetic perspective. Players can be confused by the apparent formlessness of the games and, in light of their previous experience of games and narratives, can no longer tell whether they are actually making progress, or if they are regressing to previous stages and locations. This confusion subverts the perception of sequentiality which is a prototypical feature of any narrative (cf. Herman).
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Although this aspect of the game design is contrary to the dominant conception of narrative as a sequence of events, it can, nevertheless, be narrativized in keeping with the norms of the horror genre in the sense that the redundancy of the level design contributes to the sense of entrapment that is exploited by horror across media. Under the influence of cinema, conventional action games often set their events in a variety of exotic and lavish locations that offer the player voyeuristic pleasure, which accompanies the ludic pleasure drawn from gameplay. Through the use of large angles and wide spaces, these games offer players the illusion of freedom of movement, which encourages them to explore the surroundings, do side quests, and gather resources. In opposition to conventional action games, survival horror games set their events in twisted, narrow, maze-like environments that engender a sense of claustrophobia and entrapment (cf. Kirkland 64). In survival horror games, exploration is not encouraged by the enticing scenery but rather by the need to gather resources, which are generally very scarce. The protagonist of such games is overwhelmed by the complexity of the maze, which ties in with the sense of helplessness and vulnerability simulated by the controls and mechanics.
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 So far we have argued that survival horror games employ an alternative immersion strategy that manages to turn fragmentation, a cumbersome control of the playable character, confusing aspects of the scripted narrative, and the repetitive nature of the level design from hypermedial elements to immediate ones. Survival horror games herald an aesthetic discourse that contests the dominant view in contemporary arts and entertainment according to which seamlessness lies at the heart of immersion. As evinced by the success of many of the games referred to in this chapter, this alternative aesthetics has obtained social validation in a gaming subculture that deems survival horror games to be valuable and their methods capable of achieving immersion. In what follows, we would like to show that this alternative aesthetic code is not new, and that it can be linked to aesthetics of realism endorsed by the eighteenth-century novel, a genre which immerses the reader by using a series of means which, judging by the dominant standards of novel writing and novel reading from the nineteenth century onwards, would count as hypermedial.
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Only a brief look at the early English novel of the eighteenth century reveals a tension between the pursuit of realism and immediacy, on the one hand, and ever-increasing self-reflexivity and experimentation with convention, on the other. Although the early novel departs considerably from the anti-mimetic genre of the romance, it goes against the readerly expectations that have since been established in reference to the paradigmatic nineteenth-century realist novel and its tradition of narrative effacement, transparent representation, or stylistic objectivity. Perhaps unexpectedly for readers accustomed to this dominant realist tradition, the early novel exhibits a vast array of formal features and narrative strategies that we normally associate with hypermediacy. Any attempt at neatly classifying these is not only thwarted by the variety of sometimes diverging novelistic innovations at this time, but also by the overwhelming increase in printed materials that were involved in the ‘rise’ of the new genre. Nevertheless, several salient directions can be traced. Our focus is on two of these, derived from the last couple of features that Paul Hunter includes in his definition of the early novel, namely: 1) “self-consciousness about innovation and novelty” and 2) “inclusivity, digressiveness, fragmentation” (Before Novels 24-25). The former can also be related to Michael McKeon’s discussion of the self-reflexive impulse involved in the epistemological attitude shared by many early novels, which he identifies as “extreme skepticism” (cf. 47-64). These, we argue, represent the main contributors to the early novel’s hypermedial quality.
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 The first of these sets of features may be broadened to include all forms of self-reflexivity and metatextual commentary that the early novel engages in, promoted not just by the ongoing critique of the emerging genre and its need to acquire legitimacy, but also by the age’s ideals of sociability and polite conversation, which warranted direct address to the reader. Such self-referentiality can be found primarily in the novels of the mid-century onwards, with Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne coming to mind first. We may think of the narrator of Tom Jones, who constantly comments upon the literary devices that he employs. The title of chapter six, for instance, informs its readers that “Mrs. Deborah is introduced into the Parish with a Simile” (Tom Jones 62), which is followed by the narrator clarifying his intentions and explaining the device. It goes without saying that Tristram Shandy constitutes an even more robust example of the early novel’s penchant for commenting upon and overturning its own emerging conventions. One need only recall the Shandean dash or the notorious black page to get a sense of such strategies. Nevertheless, unlike previous work conducted by Christina Lupton and Peter McDonald on the parallels between eighteenth-century novels and contemporary video games (cf. 158), our interest does not lie with their mutual reliance on metatext as a means of interrogating or simply poking fun at their own artificiality. Rather, we would like to emphasize the second body of hypermedial features and stress that, although it might seem counterintuitive, these work in such a way as to enhance the novel’s realism and its immersive effects. In other words, we will explore the ways in which some of the features included under this second head support “the air of complete authenticity” (Watt 24) or “the claim to historicity” (cf. McKeon 45-47) that is prevalent in eighteenth-century novels—the claim that these represent collections of authentic documents that have been found and published by various editors with little, if any, emendation. We thus join the efforts of Watt and McKeon, who have shown how many defining features of the new genre are directly designed to strengthen this claim. We add that these are hypermedial features which can be equally used to subvert or enforce claims to realism and immersion.
¶ 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 This second group of traits has to do with the early novel’s display of its own medial or generic specificities and limitations, which often lead to its perceived formlessness and fragmentation. As has already been argued by critics of the ‘rise’ of the novel, this tendency primarily stems from the romance-novel dialectic and the latter’s rejection of the traditional literary conventions represented by the former, in terms of both style and plot (cf. Watt 9-34; Hunter, Before Novels 22-28; McKeon 25-64). Thus, the regularity and predictability that such conventions entail no longer finds its way in the emerging genre. Instead, the sense that the early novel lacks structure and cohesion is generated by a wide range of recurring features: the almost indiscriminate abundance of physical and factual details (cf. Watt 15-25), its constant slippage into digression (cf. Hunter, Before Novels 24), or for instance its generic heterogeneity and inclusiveness which sees the novel draw on a variety of both fictional and non-fictional writings, such as letters, diaries, memoirs, periodicals, natural histories, conduct manuals, and so on (cf. Hunter, Before Novels 167-356). To this we may also add features related to the novel’s materiality, such as the occasional inclusion of graphic particularities, maps, diagrams or sketches inside its pages, not to mention its often unprecedented length. In order to explore these features and illustrate the manner in which they strengthen the early novel’s claims to realism, we shall briefly examine the diary episode of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Our choice is guided by several considerations: the paradigmatic status of Defoe’s novel, its early publication that prevents a metatextual questioning of the genre’s not yet established conventions, and its well-documented reliance on the genres of history and natural history, which speaks of its engagement with epistemological questions. At the same time, we may also think of certain thematic similarities between a novel like Defoe’s and contemporary survival horror video games, which similarly stage ordinariness and vulnerability.
¶ 36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 The first third of the Defoe’s novel, which precedes the diary episode, takes the shape of a retrospective first-person narration which provides the reader with the protagonist’s biographical details and recounts his first travels at sea, his capture by pirates and subsequent escape, his brief success as a plantation owner in Brazil, and finally his shipwreck on the island. The narrator, Crusoe, then recalls his initial despair and fear of death, the days in which he salvaged the many goods left on the ship and built a raft for this purpose, as well as the time he spent constructing his shelter, fence, and first tools. It is at this point that Crusoe informs his readers that he was also able to start a diary by finding ink and paper on the ship, and the novel briefly and somewhat abruptly assumes the shape of his private journal.
¶ 37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 The first thing to notice is that the former half of Crusoe’s diary has little narrative use and does not do much to help drive the story forward. The first pages of the diary spanning roughly from September 30 to January 3 merely recapitulate what was narrated before, from the shipwreck to the erection of the fortress, in succinct diary form. Some of the entries even make use of the same vocabulary or sentence structure of the preceding corresponding paragraphs, mirroring them almost exactly at times. The only new information that the reader is offered amounts to additional circumstantial detail joined to previously narrated events. The following is a brief example of such mirroring paragraphs:
¶ 38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 When I wak’d it was broad Day, the Weather clear, and the Storm abated, so that the Sea did not rage and swell as before: But that which surpris’d me most, was, that the Ship was lifted oﬀ in the Night from the Sand where she lay, by the Swelling of the Tyde, and was driven up almost as far as the Rock which I ﬁrst mention’d […]; (42)
¶ 39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Oct. 1. In the Morning I saw to my great Surprise the Ship had ﬂoated with the high Tide, and was driven on Shore again much nearer the Island, which as it was some Comfort on one hand, for seeing her sit upright, and not broken to Pieces, I hop’d, if the Wind abated, I might get on board, and get some Food and Necessaries out of her for my Relief; (61)
¶ 40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Thus, on account of the diary, the main events that follow Crusoe’s shipwreck are narrated twice in similar wording, thus resembling the repetitive structure of survival horror games. Crusoe himself warns his readers that “in it will be told all these particulars over again” (60) but does not do anything to avoid it. What is more, the literature on Defoe’s novel has recorded several inconsistencies and contradictions between the first part of the narrative and the diary. McKeon, who notes this recapitulation, also gestures at a number of discrepancies between the two versions that have to do with time sequence (cf. 315-18). One of the examples that he provides is that, in the first version, the rain stops after Crusoe’s first night on the island, while in the second it continues several days after (cf. 316). Another one of the inconsistencies he points out is that the second version inverts the narrative chronology of two events, the completion of the chair and the construction of the shelter (cf. 316). Only the latter half of the diary, which details the sprouting of the barley, the hurricane, Crusoe’s sickness, his dream and subsequent conversion moves on to events that have not been previously related.
¶ 41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Another feature of Crusoe’s diary to examine is the frequent intrusion of digressions. In fact, the diary is even introduced by means of a parenthesis. Crusoe tells his readers that he did not take up his private journal until after his first few days on the island, since he was extremely distressed and occupied with gathering and making provisions. Otherwise, he claims, his diary would have been “full of many dull things” (60), yet he still insists on digressing and providing his readers with an example of what his first entry would have sounded like. Needless to say, the imagined sample that he provides rehearses yet another previous passage, in which he recounts the desperate cries and confused motions he made during his first day. However, the digressions do not stop there. As McKeon also points out (317), while reading Crusoe’s entries we discover that this is not in fact a rough copy of the initial diary he penned on the island, but an edited version that includes annotations, clarifications, and digressive sequences which serve to retrospectively complete the narrative or make sense of events in terms of punishment and providence. Many entries are overtaken by such lengthy retrospective digressions without any notice, and the unaware reader is informed of this only at the very end of the parenthesis, through Crusoe’s many repetitions of “But I return to my journal” (78). The following is an example of such a retrospective note that is much longer than the diary entry itself:
¶ 43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 N.B. This Wall being describ’d before, I purposely omit what was said in the Journal; it is sufficient to observe, that I was no less Time than from the 3d of January to the 14th of April, working, finishing, and perfecting this Wall, tho’ it was no more than about 24 Yards in Length, being a half Circle from one Place in the Rock to another Place about eight Yards from it, the Door of the Cave being in the Center behind it. (65-66)
¶ 44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 These frequent digressions and intrusions make it increasingly difficult for the reader to follow the diary, make out the sequence of events, and distinguish between the distinct styles of the original journal and Crusoe’s retrospective comments.
¶ 45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 In addition to the mere inclusion of repetitions and digressions, it is worth noting that these do not seem to follow any consistent pattern. Although Crusoe does warn his readers that his diary will repeat some of the events he has already narrated and provides annotations claiming that he has omitted some sections in order to avoid this, as we have noticed, most of his journal remains a mere recapitulation. Moreover, there is no apparent rule as to the balance, proportion, or sequence of old and new information. At the same time, we have seen that the diary section is highly fragmentary and eclectic. Not only does it combine two related yet distinct genres, i.e. the memoir and the diary, but it abruptly and insidiously alternates between original diary entries, retrospective digressions, and notes. It is not clear what the principle that guides Crusoe’s choice between the latter two is, since both seem to serve a similar purpose.
¶ 46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Even if we take into account the new genre’s use of simple and strictly denotative language, its rejection of opaque literary conventions, or the disappearance of the heavy typographical ornamentation that used to overwhelm the pages of books (cf. Keymer 17-18), novels still found ways of challenging the sense of seamless transparency and immediacy. In her recent study, Natalie M. Philips has shown that, in fact, many later eighteenth-century novels labored to encourage complicated modes of attention and distraction in their readers, thus dismantling the flawed narrative of readerly absorption that we associate with the age (cf. 1-28). In our case, the fragmentation and inconsistency present in Defoe’s novel and heightened during the diary episode emerge as vexing, poses difficulties of reading and comprehension, and draws attention to the act of writing and its medial and material constraints. After all, the shape(lessness) and brevity of Crusoe’s diary is accounted for by the frequently asserted fact that he had only found a limited amount of ink on the ship that would soon run out, which manages to narrativize the formal traits of the dairy but, at the same time, sheds light upon the book’s complicated materiality and the fact that we are dealing with a mediated narrative. Yet these strategies, together with the metatextual commentaries that often accompany them, are not designed to stress the artificiality of the acts of writing and reading and to subvert the novel’s realism. On the contrary, all the features we have examined are in fact aimed at strengthening “the claim to historicity” that is famously found in Defoe’s preface. Rather than striving to reveal the artificiality of representations that are mediated through one’s consciousness and the impossibility of circumventing this, the novel attempts to faithfully capture Crusoe’s individual subjectivity, which, as we have seen, is confused, digressive, and constantly struggles to scrutinize his experience on the island for signs of grace and salvation. As McKeon states: “And yet in the first-person narration of Defoe, the effect is less to throw the historicity of the travels themselves into question than to sensitize us to the personalized veracity of Robinson’s experience, which is all the more authentic for having this subjective volatility” (317). It is telling that the diary episode occurs at the beginning of Crusoe’s isolation on the island and precedes his conversion. Scholars have argued that Robinson Crusoe shares the generic conventions of the age’s treatise on the passions, aimed at diagnosing and prescribing cures for maladies of the soul (cf. Sill 69-85; Corneanu 183-95). The novel’s survey of the disordered and passionate state Crusoe finds himself in just after the shipwreck and during his sickness can thus be understood as a brief natural-philosophical inquiry which aims at epistemic accuracy and has an authenticating role.
¶ 47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 In light of these observations, even a novel like Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, which is often anachronistically said to predict postmodernist metafiction, can in some respects be understood as improving upon the authenticating techniques used by Defoe. If historical Lockean notions of selfhood lie at the basis of Sterne’s project, then the novel’s profuse digressions and constant use of metatextual commentary can be understood as reflections of a distracted and irregular psyche dominated by the laws of association and, most importantly, by the inherently self-reflexive nature of consciousness. This dimension of the novel can very well coexist with other, satirizing uses of metatext.
¶ 49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 In this chapter we have analyzed two genres, survival horror video games and the eighteenth-century novel, in order to challenge the dominant status enjoyed by the erasure of mediation as the cornerstone of immediacy and immersion. The two genres discussed adopt similar aesthetic codes which, despite their rejection of seamlessness, present themselves as alternative means of achieving immersion. Both genres make their reception difficult for the player/reader in the sense that, while gameplay in survival horror is hampered by counterintuitive control schemes and unreliable mechanics, in eighteenth-century novels the events are often conveyed by a disorganized and digressive narrator who constantly comments on his or her own technique. Although such formal aspects stress the materiality of the two media, in both cases they end up contributing to the immersion of the player/reader. In survival horror games, the cumbersome gameplay can be construed as a simulation of the vulnerability of the protagonist, who is usually an average white middle class American man with no experience in combat. In eighteenth-century novels, the digressiveness and fragmentariness of the narration become signs of authenticity which strengthen the genre’s realism. In the particular case of Robinson Crusoe, the narrativization of these formal traits is aided by the protagonist’s vulnerability, which sanctions the digressions and inconsistencies of the novel as the manifestation of a distempered mind which has to survive under extreme conditions—shipwrecked on an island in the middle of the ocean.
¶ 50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Our investigation of the two genres has pointed out that hypermediacy is not necessarily inimical to immersion, and that across modernity various aesthetic discourses pertaining to various genres have managed to accommodate hypermediacy within immersion. The eighteenth-century novel and survival horror games pay tribute to a conception of immersion that defies the centrality of seamlessness. In doing so, these genres question the dominant status of the erasure of mediation as the only means of achieving immediacy and call for a reassessment of the idea of hypermediacy as the marginal aesthetic other of immediacy.
¶ 65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 Corneanu, Sorana. “Devout Affections: Theology, Medicine, and the Novel.” Imitatio-Inventio. The Rise of ‘Literature’ from Early to Classic Modernity, edited by Mihaela Irimia and Dragoş Ivana, Institutul Cultural Român, 2010, pp. 179-97.
¶ 70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 Ermi, Laura, and Frans Mäyrä. “Fundamental Components of the Gameplay Experience: Analysing Immersion.” Changing Views: Worlds in Play. Selected Papers of the 2005 Digital Games Research Association’s Second International Conference. edited by Suzanne de Castell and Jennifer Jenson, 2005, pp. 15-27.
¶ 74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 Gregersen, Andreas, and Torben Grodal. “Embodiment and Interface.” The Video Game Theory Reader 2, edited by Bernard Perron and Mark J.P. Wolf, Routledge, 2009, pp. 65-84.
¶ 82 Leave a comment on paragraph 82 0 Juul, Jesper. “On Absent Carrot Sticks. The Level of Abstraction in Video Games.” Storyworlds across Media: Toward a Media-Conscious Narratology, edited by Marie-Laure Ryan and Jan-Noël Thon, U of Nebraska P, 2014, pp. 173-92.
¶ 83 Leave a comment on paragraph 83 0 Keymer, Thomas. “Novel Designs. Manipulating the Page in English Fiction, 1660-1780.” New Directions in the History of the Novel, edited by Patrick Parrinder, Andrew Nash, and Nicola Wilson, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 17-49.
¶ 88 Leave a comment on paragraph 88 0 Lupton, Christina, and Peter McDonald. “Reflexivity as Entertainment: Early Novels and Recent Video Games.” Mosaic: An Interdisciplinary Critical Journal, vol. 43, no. 4, 2010, pp. 157-73.
¶ 106 Leave a comment on paragraph 106 0  We are mainly referring to critics such as Jean Baudrillard and Frederic Jameson, who maintain in their different ways that in the postmodern age representation has become more real than the object of representation.
¶ 107 Leave a comment on paragraph 107 0  According to Gordon Calleja (63), control in video games oscillates between two poles: a symbolic pole whereby the physical manipulation of the controller does not reflect the movement of the playable character or entity, and a symbiotic one in which case the physical movement of the player maps the movement of the playable character or entity. This account of the control in video games is relevant for understanding interaction in other digital technologies as well, such as the smartphone.
¶ 108 Leave a comment on paragraph 108 0  Both immediacy and hypermediacy are to be construed from a historical perspective (cf. Bolter and Grusin 67). Formal traits of media and aesthetic norms of genre may fluctuate between immediacy and hypermediacy across time. For example, one might argue that while in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997) the breaking of the fourth wall is a metacomment on the narrative formula of horror films, in Deadpool (2016) the same aesthetic choice does not seem to dispel the illusion of immersion.
¶ 109 Leave a comment on paragraph 109 0  In keeping with Chris Crawford’s distinction of video game genres based on the player skills required (The Art of Computer Game Design), survival horror games can be subsumed to the more encompassing action-adventure genre.
¶ 112 Leave a comment on paragraph 112 0  This is not to say that there are no soldiers or other such characters whose identities are consistent with the norms of the action genre. However, in this case survival horror games undermine the stereotypical representation of action characters and end up yielding a parodic effect.
¶ 113 Leave a comment on paragraph 113 0  This difference is particularly conspicuous when playing the DLC mission “Not a Hero” in which the player assumes control of Chris Redfield, who, unlike Ethan, is a professional soldier.
¶ 118 Leave a comment on paragraph 118 0  This is not to say that the first traits we have discussed, namely the use of metatext and other self-reflexive strategies, might not serve to strengthen the eighteenth-century novel’s claims to realism and authenticity or coexist with the second group of features. However, we have chosen to focus on the second set of novelistic characteristics in order to depart from existing studies and focus on a relatively neglected commonality between early novels and video games.