This is a little series of posts which will be titled, “The Medium.” This medium can be anything from newspapers, magazines, to television, music, and beyond. Marshall McLuhan, a communication theorist, is most well known for his quote, “the medium is the message.” Hence the medium in which we receive information is also the message itself. Hearing the words, “I love you” in a song has different effects on us compared to reading it in a book. The medium itself invokes different forms of thoughts and feelings.
This edition of The Medium focuses on video gaming as a means to tell a story about a man named Issac Clarke. For those of you who’ve never heard the name, he is the main protagonist of one of 2011’s best gaming experiences: Dead Space 2. This blog will detail the story arch of the Dead Space series and analyze video gaming as an effective means of storytelling. Going further into how this medium invokes feelings of guilt in the protagonist and those (players) experiencing it.
WARNING: Huge spoilers involved; if you’re interested in ever playing the Dead Space series, then read at your own risk.
Or just read on.
In a distant future, the independent countries of the world have consolidated into a worldwide federation known as EarthGov. Following post 21st-century armed conflicts and the rise of Global Warming, the global economy took severe damage at the cost of dwindling resources and overpopulation. With humanity’s home falling apart, Earth looks to space as a means to save its race. With the development of planet cracking, large vessels are able to rip worlds apart as a means to extract a planet’s essential resources. The invention of space travel opens up new opportunities to live on ships and colonies.
A religious revolution also occurred, which is integral to Issac’s story, two-hundred years before his time. Researchers in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico discovered an ancient alien artifact; simply known as the Black Marker. It was concluded that an asteroid had carried the marker to Earth, which in the impact had also led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Researchers were baffled by the marker, as they failed to analyze its alien inscriptions and were psychologically affected by its powers. Head researcher, Michael Altman, was ultimately killed by EarthGov to create a martyr for a religion known as Unitology.
Unitology became the fastest growing religion in history, with Altman being a spiritual figure to its followers. Unitologists believe that the human race was developed through a divine alien influence. That the Marker would reunite followers in Heaven after death. While scientists fail to interpret the Marker’s alien writings, many believe that this code holds the key to the origin and meaning of humanity. Cracking the code hopes to aid Unitologists in understanding their role in Paradise. In order to be unified after death, the Marker would hold a Convergence Event for the souls of true believers. Everything about the religion is modeled after the Marker its believers seek.
The reality is that after the death of Altman, the government attempted to recreate the coding and DNA recipe of the Black Marker. This ended in failure, with the creation of abominations simply known as Necromorphs.
Necromorphs are reanimated corpses of the dead, who have been revived and transformed into terrifying creatures through extraterrestrial infection. The sole purpose of these creatures are to attack any uninfected creatures on sight, and spread the infection. In conjunction of the failures associated with the Black Marker, a Red Marker was still created to better understand the viral DNA coding. This marker was transported to planet Aegis VII for further study, but resulted in another Necromorph outbreak. Contained but forgotten, the Red Marker remained on the planet for many years.
Two hundred years later, enter Issac Clarke. A systems engineer who worked aboard various ships and colony installations, pushes his girlfriend Nicole to work aboard a planet cracker. The oldest of its kind, the USG Ishimura was to be decommissioned in a year’s time. Nicole Brennan accepts the opportunity, agreeing to maintain a long distance relationship with Issac.
An illegal mining colony developed on Aegis VII discovers the Red Marker, finally bringing credence to many Unitologists. With its excavation and removal from containment, causes increases of depression, dementia, and insomnia among colonists. This removal also results in a high-frequency scream, in which fifty Unitologists commit mass-suicide. In a related psychotic incident, an engineer is brought into a frenzy and goes on a shooting spree. The USG Ishimura was orbiting the planet during the incident, and institutes a no-fly zone between the colony and the spaceship.
One day prior to Aegis VII’s planet cracking, a blackout occurs on the colony. The corpses of the Unitologists are brought back to life through Necromorph infection, with spread of the pandemic across the colony. Ships attempting to flee are destroyed in flight accidents. Shortly thereafter, the Marker’s removal causes a Necromorph outbreak on the Ishimura. The crew descends into chaos. Massive hysteria leads to suicides and executions, all while the infection spreads. Nicole Brennan sends out a message to Issac during the Ishimura’s final hours.
Issac is chosen as the key engineer for the emergency response team sent to check on the Ishimura’s mysterious silence. Aboard the USG Kellion, his team crashes aboard the quiet ship and begins to investigate. Promptly, Necromorphs attack and most of the team is slaughtered. Through fights across the ship, Issac struggles to make an escape. Only to learn that he needs to return the Red Marker to Aegis VII to end the outbreak. Betrayed by his team, who secretly worked for EarthGov, Issac is abandoned to handle this task alone.
What Issac realizes during his transportation of the Marker, is that he had succumbed to its psychological influence. Upon returning the Marker to containment, he plays the entire message which Nicole had left prior to his arrival on the Ishimura. The entire message was a video log, left by her to explain the circumstances of her suicide. After escaping the destruction of Aegis VII, Issac’s cold realization haunts him through twisted apparitions of his dead girlfriend.
In the continuation of Dead Space 2, Issac is haunted by hallucinations of Nicole. She constantly blames him as the reason for her death, eventually attempting to hinder his progress after another Necromorph outbreak strikes.
What Issac begins to realize, is that these delusions (and the harm which befalls him) are exacted upon himself by himself. On the progress of his realization, the twisted hallucination says, “I will only ask you one more time before the end, Issac…Who am I?” Issac eventually confronts Nicole toward the end, and admits that he feels guilt for letting her work aboard the Ishimura. Acceptance. Nicole stops haunting his mind, and he converses with a pure visage.
Without spoiling any more of the plot of the Dead Space series than I already have, I’ll now discuss this game as a medium. Video games have developed into multi-million dollar blockbusters; and like major motion pictures, invoke similar feelings toward characters and situations. What gaming does especially, is let us assume the role of characters in order to connect and better understand perspectives. If something happens to Issac, it affects us. When he’s attacked by a Necromorph we feel fear. When we discover that Nicole is dead, we feel sorrow. Gaming is an effective medium and in this case, works to discuss the concept of guilt on a personal level.
Guilt is the feelings of responsibility associated with the commission of an offense. We have all been in situations in which we have wronged others to some degree. The feelings of regret and that we impacted someone or something fosters guilt. It’s a feeling that can last a matter of seconds, or a matter of years. It can be a sensitive topic to discuss guilt, but we all can understand the ultimate goal of acceptance. Coming to terms with our faults and what we have done, is crucial to feelings of comfort and peace of mind. This could be learning to let go of the past, or to resolve an issue with someone. We all have our own issues, and acceptance can sometimes be a difficult goal to attain.
In Issac’s story, gaming acts as a great medium to express how difficult it can be for us to admit acceptance. Unlike a movie, we’ve assumed the role of Issac throughout the series and can understand why he fails to move on. As some form of punishment, he feels guilt and attempts to destroy himself over it. When it comes down to the end of his life or stopping another outbreak, he learns to move on. As he says to his hallucination of her, “I never wanted to let you go.”
The effects of this medium can invoke our own feelings of guilt, and things which may be haunting us. It’s possible to think about the things which we have done, that we may feel unable to move on from. Much like Issac’s guilt, possibly sans horrifying hallucinations, you can actually see from this analysis that guilt can ultimately destroy us. In the story of Dead Space 2, we follow a man who is distraught by the loss of his love. Someone who believes that he is the cause and would rather end himself than move onwards. When we have finally come to term with things and learned to accept facts or resolutions, we find relief. Relief and the ability to put the past behind us.
“The medium is the message.” Dead Space 2 happens because we play it, and we assume the role of the character. The message is the feelings which we experience in that role. On the base level, video games seek to entertain. On a rhetorical level, games are pieces of art that invoke thoughts and feelings for us to ponder.
This has been The Medium, and I hope you enjoyed this piece.End Transmission