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23 Oct

Two Papers accepted for ICLA 2016

Written by Michael Fuchs
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"We'll just end up back here, anyway": Apocalyptic Circularity, (Digital) Seriality, and the Mass Effect Franchise

paper accepted for the workshop "The Serialization of Literature and the Arts: Comparative Approaches"

Scholars have agreed on the apocalyptic mode's circularity; apocalyptic tales move toward an end, which ultimately brings about a new beginning. The video game trilogy Mass Effect (2007–2012), following its generic predecessors, likewise, inexorably moves toward its conclusion, which comes to represent a new beginning. Without a doubt, this movement toward the trilogy's conclusion is serialized: the narrative not only unfolds over three games (plus bonus missions available for download and various transmedia extensions), but, moreover, seriality is, as Shane Denson and Andreas Jahn-Sudmann have demonstrated (2013), key to the structure of digital games (players and their avatars explore one world after another, finish one level after another, etc.).

However, Mass Effect's apocalyptic ending, which promises a new beginning, in combination with its choice-based narrative adds, as I will argue, another dimension to the serial logic of video games closely related to the apocalyptic mode: Beginning anew. In other words, in Mass Effect's case, this new beginning not only has narrative and symbolic implications (i.e., the apocalypse is not the end), but also entails ludic implications, as the game series' choice-based structure effectively requires players to start the entire journey to save the galaxy again in order to alter the unfolding events and see the effects of their choices (that these choices had little effect on the ending, which led to fan outrage, will be largely ignored in this proposed paper).

At the end of the day, I will suggest, Mass Effect's structure thus complicates the notion of video games' "essential seriality" (as Denson and Jahn-Sudmann have it) by effectively turning seriality into circularity.

Dawn of the Zoocene? Or: Humanity vs. the Rest of the Animal World in Recent SFF Film & Television

paper accepted for the workshop "Rhetorics of the Anthropocene"

The CBS show Zoo, which premiered earlier this year, opens with the following voiceover, which explains the show's premise: "For centuries, mankind has been the dominant species. We domesticated animals, locked them up, killed them for sport. But what if all across the globe, the animals decided no more? What if they finally decided to fight back?" In the show, non-human animals across the planet start attacking humans and apparently turn into monstrous creatures.

Unlike the vast majority of representations of animals, monstrous animals, Julie Urbanik argues in her book Placing Animals (2012), "serve to do the opposite of anthropomorphizing [non-human] animals" (66), for, as Elisa Aaltola notes in her contribution to the Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships (2007), representations of monstrous animals depict "animals as 'others,' as beings who are opposites of humans" (1199). Yet even though non-human animals attack human beings in Zoo, the non-human turns into a canvas onto which various fears related to globalization and the anthropocene are projected: The animals apparently evolved faster than usual because of food produced by the multinational corporation Reiden Global, making not the mere merging between humanity and nature, but humanity's control of nature in the current age explicit.

Yet despite all the attempts to critique the status quo, Zoo remains fully entrenched in anthropocentric discourses by, for example, embracing digital effects to subdue nature to human control (thus countering the overstated de-anthropocentering functions of digital cinema, proclaimed in William Brown's Supercinema, for example) and hammering home an overly didactic message (apparently intended for humans). In that regard, I will argue, Zoo is similar to the "natural nasties" (Tudor 1989) which emerged in the 1970s (e.g. Piranha, Frogs, and Grizzly), whose ecological didacticism demonstrates how animal Others are embedded in anthropocentric discourses, as the non-human is first and foremost a function of the human. The animal monsters in these movies are afforded no autonomous role, but merely function as vehicles for conceptualizing, understanding, and knowing the human. However, some more recent horror movies, I will show, are more aggressive and progressive in their challenging of human dominance by casting off animal monsters' semantic layers and thus liberating non-human species from their imprisonment in anthropocentric discourses.