James T. McCrea
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The graveyard level
Anachronism, Anglo-Japanese semiotics and the cruel nightmare of resurrection in early horror video games
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In the form of an environment within video games, the graveyard behaves as a treacherous landscape populated by malevolent supernatural creatures. These associations originate in horror-themed arcade games in the 1980s with medieval settings featuring graveyards that more closely resemble those of eighteenth-century Europe. Such graveyards invert their typical role as a resting place by inflicting constant resurrections upon their monstrous inhabitants as well as players themselves. Notoriously difficult games such as Castlevania (1988) and Ghosts ’n Goblins (1985) place players in or near graveyards from the start, fostering a nightmarish recursion where player death results in rebirth within the arena of the dead. As Japanese game designers conflated disparate aesthetics from Western European history, they unintentionally created an enduring association between medieval imagery, modern graveyards and monstrosity, which persisted as video games grew progressively complex. This motif would resurface as intentional narratives in the Dark Souls series (2011–16) and internationally developed games such as L'Abbaye des Morts (2010), Grave Chase (2017), Graveyard Keeper (2018) and Odallus: The Dark Call (2015), all of which focus on anachronistic graveyards wherein distinctions between life and death blur. As a culmination of Japanese and English-language collaboration, Elden Ring (2022) centralises its entire narrative around the inability to die, using tombstones as a consistent visual reminder of the story's thanatological gravity. Consequently, a close assessment of graveyard imagery explicates video games’ unique capacity to develop a global postmodern expression of the Gothic, whose existence depends on anachronism and international semiosis.

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