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On the 50th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons (1974) -- A dark turn in the pop-culture? (Part Six)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted February 19, 2024

The 1990s have featured a plethora of ever-darker RPG worlds. There have also been parallel developments in other genres, notably science fiction and fantasy writing, film, and television; and the comic-book genre. The comic-book genre is indeed known for its pioneering embrace of various forms of the macabre. It has also been characterized by a "dark turn" in the portrayal of superheroes such as Batman (typified by the breakthrough graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns) or even Superman (where Superman, for example, was subjected to death). The Spiderman comic also went into a period of "gritty realism," where its lead figure was plagued with doubt, and afflicted with substance abuse. Horror writing, film, and television, have also intensified, probably far beyond what the older writers and directors would have countenanced. All these tendencies are magnified across not infrequently blood-soaked video, computer and interactive Internet games.

Indeed, computer and Internet games (played by modem or wireless), have become a huge, burgeoning area, partially eclipsing the dice, pencil, and paper-based games that are played face-to-face. These computer and Internet games can be characterized in terms of several genres – notably, arcade-type games, including so-called First Person Shooters (FPS's) like DOOM; MMPORGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games) which can often accommodate virtually unlimited individual characters (these were originally called MUSH – Multi-User Shared Hallucination, or MUD – Multi-User Dungeon); historical, fantasy, or space empires and empire-building games (such as Civilization); strategic/historical games (straightforward portrayals of military conflict), and so forth. Arcade type games can usually be divided into aerospace combat; ground combat; "abstract" (such as TETRIS); or comic (PAC-MAN) subgenres. Combat games can usually be divided into "mecha" (futuristic war-robots); aerospace; air; tank; and larger-scale historical battles and campaigns subgenres. There can also be identified a subgenre of "art" games, such as MYST, which are characterized by little violence and elegant settings. There are also online CCG's (collectible card games) where the participating players are randomly dealt a set of cards.

It may be noted that there is occurring across the Internet gaming culture, a decrease of interest in straight historical games, in favor of FPS's and sci-fi/fantasy. Many games which are ostensibly based on a science fiction background are in fact dark space fantasy, dark fantasy, or horror.

One of the interesting aspects of media structures today is the vertical integration in pop-culture industries. Thus, electronic videogames may produce books, television series, or even films based on the game, films may produce games based on the film, and so forth. This vertical integration is a factor strengthening "the gatekeepers" of the media industries, as it is always the same image (whether in film, game, toy, or clothes media) that is being replicated. This replication of images places so-called "border-dwellers" – those persons who try to introduce more idiosyncratic images, in a weaker position. "Border-dwellers" typically have to spread their message across various eclectic media. However, what one finds is that many persons simply replicate the main images of the media giants in somewhat less-well-crafted form.

It could be pointed out, for example, that there has been the relentless replication of the tendency of the vampire emerging as one of the central icons of the 1990s and today, called "the ultimate unattainable sexual fantasy" and the focus of numerous subgenres, including "vampire romances" and "vampire erotica." Among the more successful vampire television series was Forever Knight, which portrayed the half-shaded figure of a "vampire-cop." More recently, there have been the Twilight book and movie series, and the True Blood, and The Vampire Dairies television series (both also based on book series). Admittedly, the portrayal of vampires today ranges across a very wide spectrum.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.


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