Jon Garrad deposited Endless Nineties: the perennial aesthetic of ‘grimdark’ games on Humanities Commons 5 years, 3 months ago
The early 1990s saw a kind of crystallisation in gaming aesthetics, centred on games that either squinted towards Gothic or outright claimed a place in the culture and tradition: Warhammer 40,000 and Vampire: the Masquerade on the tabletop, Alone in the Dark and Wolfenstein on the PC. These games are genre-defining, persistent, and – to varying degrees – pretty damn Gothic. They’ve lasted for twenty, twenty-five years, and have carried their core aesthetic projects into the twenty-first century. Why? What is it about the Nineties ‘grimdark’ aesthetic that makes it last so long? To answer that question I look at each of these titles and establish its core ‘negative aesthetic’, establishing how Gothic shaped gameplay during the early 1990s and beyond. I approach each in terms of aesthetic theory, following in the footsteps of Graeme Kirkpatrick by establishing literally how the games make us feel, and go on to collectively place them in the context of a recurring fin-de-siecle cultural moment which has previously seen the flowering of the Gothic novel and Decadent art/writing.