Geographies of the underworld: the poetics of chthonic embodiment and game worlds
Fletcher, Kathryn DeWitt
MetadataShow full item record
A concept of underworld runs through many cultures. These realms of spirits and the dead generally share several key characteristics, despite their varied and separate traditions. The commonalities among these different mythological places make it possible to generalize certain characteristics as chthonic for descriptive and analytical purposes. The underworld has appeared widely in video games throughout their history. I argue that the remarkable prevalence reflects a formal relationship between the underworld and video games; specific elements in mythic underworlds comprise a chthonic poetics that resonates with video game worlds and affordances. Video games uniquely support the spatial, thematic, and narrative elements that characterize underworlds and the philosophical questions they engage. Embodiment binds these elements together; they are unintelligible without this core perspective. The body sits at the axis of experience in mythic underworlds like the one described by Dante in the Divine Comedy and in game worlds like the one in World of Warcraft. It provides the medium through which we can experience these simulations as worlds rather than mere information structures. Other formal elements give context and direction to that embodied experience, and exploring how these interact with embodiment can expand our understanding of chthonic embodiment and the experience of space in virtual worlds. Three primary forces acting on the agency, subjectivity and control of the body structure that experience, which in turn reflects the ways of being that emerge from chthonic contexts. By incorporating these forces into their gameplay and narrative structure, games provide more direct access to the mythic power associated with the underworld than previous media forms.