Precarious Playing
Post-9/11 Aesthetics of Uncertainty in PlayDead‘s Limbo (2010)
in Gothic Studies
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This paper explores the Gothic videogame Limbo (PlayDead, 2010) in terms of an aesthetic and conceptual precariousness and preoccupation with uncertainty that, I suggest, are particularly associated with the traumatic legacy of 9/11. It engages with Judith Butler s post-9/11 reflections in her work Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (2004) on the loss of presumed safety and security in the First World. From here, she expresses the potential for shared experiences of vulnerability to inaugurate an ethics of relationality, without recourse to investment in systems of security. I then contrast this with an alternative critical trajectory that emphasises the use-value of such systems over a desire for moral purity. This critical framework is considered in relation to the treatment of vulnerability in Limbo, through its construction of a dialogic relationship between its diegetic game-world and the formal structure of its game-system. The former is found to articulate a pervasive experience of uncertainty, whilst the latter provides a sense of security. I draw upon psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott‘s theories of play and creative living to argue that the tension between game-world and game-system in Limbo creates a model of how uncertainty can be dwelt with, through a precarious balance between the use of systems of security and disengagement from them.

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