3rd International Conference

Digital Culture & AudioVisual Challenges

Interdisciplinary Creativity in Arts and Technology

Online, May 28-29, 2021

Revelations of the death drive in video game culture: from Duchamp’s bachelor machines to the new forces of digital sublimation
Date and Time: 28/05/2021 (15:45-17:50)
Anastasios Tsakaliadis-Sotirakoglou

The primary goal of this upcoming paper is to further establish the link between the Freudian concept of Todestrieb (death drive) and its role in contemporary digital culture, as can be perceived in our gaming experiences.

In 1920, Freud expands a new discourse by exploring the concept of ‘death drive’ (initially proposed in 1912 by Sabina Spierlen) as opposed to the force of Eros, which until then dominated his psychoanalytic thought. Τhis refers to a tendency of living beings to revert to a previous state through the phenomenon of repetition compulsion, leading ultimately to the return to an inorganic state of being, and thus, to death. Although Freud acknowledged the death drive as the ultimate force in life, it remains to this day a rather obscure and underdeveloped concept, which nevertheless retains an enormous potential to explain or even inspire certain practices of human creativity. Thus it has grown into a concept that can escape its purely psychoanalytic roots, and evolve further within a cultural and anthropological discourse, where it seeks to reach its full potential.
According to anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer, the radical increase in life expectancy and living standards observed in the course of the 20th century has led the natural phenomenon of death to the acquisition of a “taboo” status. Perceiving a dramatic increase in the frequency of depictions of fatal violence in popular media, Gorer argues for the recognition of a “pornography of death” phenomenon, in which death has taken the place of sexuality as the primary “taboo”, having escaped its everyday nature and thus acquired the status of an uncanny object of desire, through this very prohibition.
At the same time, we witness the appearance of the bachelor machine archetype, in which the natural erotic object has been replaced by its imaginary simulacrum, leading the viewing subject to attain an auto-erotic relationship with it, as prophesized by the well known early 20th-century work of the avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even".
A link between the bachelor machine and the death drive was established by writers such as Michel Carrouges, while Deleuze and Guattari view it as “an alliance between desiring machines and the body without organs to give birth to a new humanity”. Taking both views into account, I will attempt to explore how the bachelor machine archetype, having emerged amidst the younger generations of the 21st century, leads us to a transposition between the driving forces of life and death, as mediated through our digital aesthetic experiences.
As a matter of fact, there is no field in which this discourse could become ever more relevant than our contemporary gaming culture. As video games add an aspect of repetition to the state of dying through its constant annulment by the consecutive rebirth of the dying subject, they seemingly disregard the critical aspect of its finality. However, the importance of this very finality can become a primary factor of immersion in certain games that attempt to sublimate it into an aesthetic and empathetic experience. In conclusion, the ultimate question at hand relates to whether the perceived over-representation of death in video game culture should simply be understood as owing to its pornographic elements, or if one should rather explore the new potentials for reflection that it has introduced.

Starting from the aforementioned dark prophecies of the 20th century, I wish to examine their increasing reification in our 21st-century digital culture. In particular, I will attempt to elaborate on this paradigm shift through examples taken from personal but also commonly verified experience with games such as Diablo 2, Dark Souls, Fire Emblem and Darkest Dungeon. I will thus focus the course of my research in this paper on presenting an original view on video games as an artistic medium of immersion, in which the concepts of death drive, repetition, sublimation and grief attain particular roles that have not yet been thoroughly and adequately studied. The framework of 20th century artistic and theoretical practices (part of a wider personal study) serves mostly as a background to this original and experimental study that I will attempt to present, rather than the primary point to be analysed. Instead, I will focus on utilizing the gaming experience itself as the new medium in which the unsettling questions and grizzly visions of the 20th century are realised.


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“Reflections: Bridges between Technology and Culture, Physical and Virtual”
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