A Man in Search of a Fridge
Like any good comic book fan my fridge is a place where things go to die. Usually what happens is that we’ll cook slightly too much for dinner and the subsequent leftovers will await their foretold rapture from within a Tupperware prison until they finally decay beyond hope of salvation. Sometimes they will be joined by something from the veg box that we just don’t have time to use before the next week brings yet more of it, or there’ll be that jar of jam or that box of juice that we are both too polite to finish. Those last are the worst; gently souring in the dark as if leaching our middle-class, western guilt of conspicuous consumption, the very same guilt that entraps those uneaten mouthfuls of excess dinner in plastic. The mantra of an 80s British childhood rings in both of our souls: ‘don’t take more than you need and if you do then you will damn well finish what’s on your plate; there are children starving in Africa.’
The usual formulation for those of my sex is that I succumbed to ‘a moment of weakness,’ but I am an Empress and I cannot be weak. It was a number of things, all tied up in a parcel and only some of it was desire. And he was good, Corvo, as a lover. His body was what I needed and it is mine again for the taking now. Or at least from now until The Outsider claims it for his own as payment. It is a curious thing to sell one’s subject whole and in return to buy that secret part of him; as Empress I could have demanded it anyway, but that would not have served purpose. I needed a daughter, which only The Outsider could guarantee, and with Corvo as her father his loyalty is secured. He will do what she bids him unquestionably and the dark heart of Empire will continue to beat with my own blood filling its cavities.
The old formula for new media is to ask ‘what is this form’s Citizen Kane?’ We get it even more in games because games really want to be like films, for some unfathomable reason to do with cultural and economic value. Film gets the tax breaks and it gets the polo neck/beret combos as well. It’s a win/win situation. Yet, as we reside in the year in which the literature machine finally ate itself completely, publishing a novel against the express wishes of its writer before she was even dead, the pertinent question becomes what is games’ Watchmen?
Watchmen is the quintessential post-modern comic, deconstructing the Superhero so thoroughly that it has become indistinguishable from the form that the Superhero went on to take. Against the express wishes of its creator Rorschach has been lionised, sequels have been written and films have been made. In a way this is poetic; Alan Moore is known for his own liberal re-appropriation of narratives and characters for his own purposes. The only real complaint one can muster is that Moore is good at what he does, while Before Watchmen is a fundamentally terrible and cynical work of creation. Like 50 Sades of Grey, Before Watchmen is a fanfiction of a fanfiction. Whilst at the first level of interaction in that hierarchy the fan is engaging sensually with a story that they love, by the second abstraction it is merely the eroticisation of narrative objects that is happening. Warm bodies placed into pleasing poses for consumption.
The publication of Go Set a Watchman, meanwhile, can be seen as the ultimate Barthesian victory, if a Pyrrhic one, won by lawyers instead of readers. It entails the total deconstruction of the author as author of their own work, but it does so through technicalities in the mechanics and bureaucracies of living, rather than through the action of interpretation. Now we can pay to see the hidden processes of Harper Lee’s thoughts as she created, even as Lee herself descends into a disordered senility. The meat of her brain exposed at last as an irrelevance to us all.
I am aware of the plots against me, I wouldn’t still be an Empress if I wasn’t. I will not be an Empress for much longer as it is, merely meat for the rats to feast on and a name for the people to rally behind. I will be an idea. But then, beyond Dunwall, beyond even the tower walls, beyond the limits of my own flesh, I have always been just an idea. Men do not kill or die for me personally, and it would be foolish to believe that they did for then I would not have the power I do. Even the men who plan to kill me do not plan to kill me. To command is to transform oneself into an idea of command, for no person could order the deaths that I have ordered and remain only a person. The realm is me and I am the realm and so the plague is a part of my very being.
The realpolitik is conducted. It is over. I have accepted what my losses will have to be in order to outmanoeuvre my opponents and so it has been done. But I still desire. The heat in my loins burns for a personal vengance. Corvo will kill for me. He will kill for the woman I am, for the body that he shared with me and I will die happy for it.
Even though I’m writing about Dishonored, the true answer to the question ‘what is videogames’ Watchmen?’ is Bioshock. We get exactly what we deserve. There is no real link between Bioshock and Dishonored, other than that I played Dishonored and Bioshock: Infinite back to back and, amongst a host of father issues both games provide examples of fridging of female characters that are almost spectacular in their brazenness. Both games pay lip-service to women’s agency, autonomy and person-hood, but ultimately genuflect to the male player-character’s manifest destiny to decide the course of the world. Even men like Booker, Corvo and Jack, who’s actions are guided or dictated by people and beings and systems more powerful than themselves, are pampered by having their decisions matter. They are patronised by their actions having weight.
And yet, the women who have built the worlds that they gallivant around in are all dead. In Bioshock, as hateful as she is to me it still bears noting, Ayn Rand is nowhere to be seen. Rand’s words and ideals are instead usurped by the kind of man, Andrew Ryan, that she would have crushed and destroyed. In Infinite Elizabeth has two mothers, her biological mother who is never even mentioned, I guess she dies in childbirth or something equally poetic and useful, and her adoptive mother Lady Comstock. Both must have had sex with Booker, in whatever form he takes in their world. Both will have been destroyed by him. Lady Comstock, the woman Elizabeth knows as ‘mother’ exists, finally, only as a cypher; a banshee-like explosion of energy and hatred and emotion. The sacred feminine perverted. A bad Bernard Manning joke about all women being emotional wrecks, and the tyranny of their feelings being a weight under which we all decay. In a mechanism of which Manning would be proud, you commit violence upon her until she becomes reasonable again.
And finally there is Corvo. Poor sweet Corvo, whose actions will save or condemn my city even though he cannot know the burden that he bears. He will carry my heart with him and its weight will direct him according to my will. Power is made of negotiations and sacrifices. It requires the exploitation of beauty, the rendering of it into crude and destructive oil that burns in the night and lights the way to future knowledge. Corvo, who’s touch was hesitant, grateful and, finally unashamed to delve into darkness. Corvo, a great whale sounding, too good for the surface but raised to it anyway by the sweat and blood of men. Corvo, who I must corrupt with my death if there is to be a life worth living.