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05 Oct

Chapter on the Urban Gothic and The Order 1886

Written by Michael Fuchs
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Never Accept—Always Question: Colonialism, Capitalism, and Neo-Victorian London in The Order: 1886

In their introduction to Neo-Victorian Gothic (2012), Marie-Luise Kohlke and Christian Gutleben stress that "neo-Victorianism is by nature quintessentially Gothic: resurrecting the ghost(s) of the past, searching out its dark secrets and shameful mysteries" (4; italics in original). In my contribution to this edited volume on the New Urban Gothic, I will examine one of these "dark secrets," the British colonial enterprise, as depicted in the video game The Order: 1886 (2015).

Primarily set in the foggy streets of London, The Order tells a convoluted story filled with vampires, werewolf-like creatures, Jack the Ripper, and an anti-government insurgency. The player takes the role of Sir Galahad, a knight of the titular Order who tries to fight off a brewing rebellion and the supernatural creatures roaming the streets of London, believing that there is a connection between the two. As the narrative unfolds, Queen Lakshmibai of Jhansi convinces Galahad that the United India Company (a thinly veiled stand-in for the East India Company) is the actual threat to the government, showing him hundreds of vampires packed in crates in the company's warehouses. The undead, of course, thus symbolize the vampiric nature of the colonial enterprise, which the colonized insurrect against.

The Order, I will demonstrate, skillfully interconnects these colonial themes with local Problems haunting the city of London, as the insurgency emerges from London's lower-class areas, particularly Whitechapel. Yet beyond highlighting and critiquing the wrongs committed in the nineteenth century (and before), The Order cleverly sets up neo-Victorian London as an uncanny double of the current age, suggesting that nineteenth-century colonialism may have vanished, but the processes undergirding it are still in place. To be sure, London was not only the center of the British Empire, but also the political, financial, and trading capital of the world in the nineteenth century; and even if New York City may have surpassed London at some point in the twentieth century, London still ranks as one of the global cities. While the exact Details may be different, then and now, the "geography of globalization contains both a dynamic of dispersal and of centralization," as Saskia Sassen has put it (32), which fuels inequality.

In the end, my contribution will showcase the ways in which the narrative of The Order: 1886 critiques colonial/capitalist practices, which interconnect the local dimensions of London to the global sphere. However, I would be remiss not to point out that certain colonial practices (e.g. conquering space) are built right into the mechanics of the video game, thereby highlighting what has been termed "ludo-narrative dissonance2 (i.e., that gameplay may convey different meanings than the story) in video game studies. In the end, this paradox feeds into the semantic excess of London.