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“Making Sense in a Senseless World”: Disco Elysium ’s Absurd Hero



This article examines the representation of mental health issues in the computer role-playing game Disco Elysium by using Albert Camus’ theory of the absurd as a basis. Through his daily work routine as a detective, the protagonist Harry DuBois’ trauma unfolds through the course of the game while simultaneously revealing the psychosocial aspects of trauma. Interpreting Harry’s existential struggles as those of an absurd hero supports the idea that finding (greater) meaning is not a necessity when coping with trauma.
THOMAS SPIES, University of Köln, Germany; email:
In Focus
“Making Sense in a Senseless
World”: Disco Elysium’s
Absurd Hero
This article examines the representation of mental
health issues in the computer role-playing game Disco
Elysium by using Albert Camus’ theory of the absurd as
a basis. Through his daily work routine as a detective,
the protagonist Harry DuBois’ trauma unfolds through
the course of the game while simultaneously revealing
the psychosocial aspects of trauma. Interpreting Harry’s
existential struggles as those of an absurd hero supports
the idea that finding (greater) meaning is not a necessity
when coping with trauma.
I see that man going back down
with a heavy yet measured step
towards the torment of which he
will never know the end. (Albert
Camus: Life of Sisyphus)
The limbed and headed machine
of pain and undignified suffer-
ing is firing up again. It wants to
walk the desert. Hurting. Longing.
Dancing to disco music. (Ancient
Reptilian Brain: Disco Elysium)
When looking at the subject matter of men-
tal health issues in video games, particu-
larly psychological trauma, it is apparent
that in most instances their depiction is
quite problematic, as many games fall short
of portraying the complexity and pecu-
liarity of these issues (Smethurst 2015;
Kuznetsova 2018). This applies especially to
the genre of computer role playing games
(cRPGs). Although cRPGs usually offer a
wide variation of distinctive attributes and
skills to choose from when creating the
player’s avatar or character, they are mostly
not mental health related, and if they are,
they usually affect the avatar in negative
ways only. For example, the sanity system
of the cRPG Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones
(Cultic Games 2019), measures the men-
tal health of party members: when reach-
ing critical lows, characters tend to miss
attacks, drop their weapons, act randomly
or freeze up.
I argue that, unlike other cRPGs, Disco
Elysium (ZA/UM 2019) utilises the gen-
re’s possibilities in various ways to repre-
sent trauma as an existential wound with
both a psychological and social dimen-
sion, meaning that trauma is constructed
as a phenomenon which affects not only
the individual, but also the community as
a whole. For the protagonist Harrier Harry
Du Bois, who attributes his trauma to sub-
jective incidents, coming to terms with the
psychosocial component of this trauma
is a process that shapes the whole game
experience. Previous research explained
how the gameplay situation (Kania 2017)
as the intentional unity between the play-
ing subject and the gameworld allows vir-
tual world experience to gain existential
significance (Möring 2013; Gualeni, Vella
2020; Leino 2020). Understanding the own
perceptual situatedness within a virtual
world and towards the avatar can establish
a ground for reflection (Kania 2017). In the
case of Disco Elysium, it can broaden the
understanding of living with mental health
issues: the gameplay of the cRPG gives
opportunities to show the complexity of
(psychosocial) trauma and, thus, the chance
to challenge the player’s view on the topic.
Analysing the protagonist’s struggles with
finding a (new) identity in dependence of
social structures in “the hell of the pre-
sent,Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus
(2005; originally published 1942) will be
used as a theoretical foundation. Drawing
on existentialist theorists such as Jean-
Paul Sartre, Camus’ essay allows us to rec-
ognise the absurd element of a traumatic
intrusion. As will be shown in this analysis,
going on the existential journey of coming
to terms with traumatisation [ the journey
of an absurd hero as Camus describes him],
holds the potential to revolt against trauma
for those suffering from it. In Disco Elysium,
it is through facing the absurdity of his daily
struggles and the process of becoming an
absurd hero within the terms of Camus
theory that Harry Du Bois becomes capa-
ble of dealing with his past trauma while
simultaneously dealing with the world in
which he lives.
Existential psychoanalysis examines exist-
ence and the role the individual plays in
terms of his or her feelings, thoughts,
and responsibilities (Ricablanca, Gabu-
tan, Nabua 2019). From this humanistic-
existentialist perspective, trauma – a term
deriving from the Ancient Greek τραῦμα,
indicating a serious injury not only to the
body but also the psyche – is an invisible
wound, “left by an experience that dis-
rupted the persons previous relationship
to self, to others, and to the world” (Vachon,
Bessette 2016; see also Greening 1990).
Therefore, Camus’ description of the absurd
can be equated to an existential traumatic
intrusion, when viewed as an experience
which calls into question an individual’s
existing framework of meaning and sense:
A world that can be explained
even with bad reasons is a famil-
iar world. But, on the other hand,
in a universe suddenly divested of
illusions and lights, man feels an
alien, a stranger. […] This divorce
between man and his life, the
actor and his setting, is properly
the feeling of absurdity. (Camus
2005: 4–5)
According to Camus, an individual expe-
riencing absurdity and therefore trauma
as a shattered relationship with existence
itself, may choose from three options: sui-
cide, taking flight into hope or accepting
the absurdity of existence. Camus, however,
rejects suicide categorically, referring to it
as “repudiation” (ibid.: 53) – one can only
pretend to evade the absurdity of exist-
ence through committing suicide; rather,
resignation to the “certainty of a crush-
ing fate” (ibid.: 52) includes its final rec-
ognition: “Suicide, like the leap, is accept-
ance at its extreme. Everything is over and
man returns to his essential history” (ibid.:
68). Hope, on the other hand, is character-
ised as a “fatal evasion,” (ibid.: 7) and, thus,
negatively connotated, in that it renounces
the here and now by referring to something
which is yet to happen (e.g. a great idea) or
may never happen at all (e.g. another life/
life after death).
Finally, constant revolt, as exempli-
fied by the fate of Camus’ Sisyphus, consti-
tutes a third option. According to the most
common interpretation of Greek mythology,
Sisyphus attempted to outsmart death, an
arrogant act for which he was punished by
the gods. Sisyphus was condemned for all
eternity to roll a boulder up to the top of a
hill, only for it to keep rolling back down into
the valley. Although the Sisyphean task has
served as a metaphor for meaningless and
futile tasks until today, Camus reinterprets
Sisyphus’ fate as a happy one (2005: 119),
appointing him as the prototypical absurd
hero: “His scorn of the gods, his hatred of
death, and his passion for life won him that
unspeakable penalty in which the whole
being is exerted towards accomplishing
nothing” (ibid.: 116). Unable to resort to sui-
cide or hope, Sisyphus is only left with fac-
ing the task itself and completing it. This,
in turn, defines him, becoming part of his
being. Aware of his situation, Sisyphus,
through constant revolt, can accept the
inherent absurdity of his fate:
And carrying this absurd logic
to its conclusion, I must admit
that that struggle implies a total
absence of hope (which has noth-
ing to do with despair), a con-
tinual rejection (which must not
be confused with renunciation),
and a conscious dissatisfaction
(which must not be compared to
immature unrest). […] The absurd
has meaning only in so far as it is
not agreed to. (ibid.: 29-30)
All three options – committing suicide, tak-
ing flight into hope and constant revolt
against the absurdism of existence – are
also available for Harry Du Bois as a human
being who tries to cope with his trauma.
Harry is not the type of hero usually
depicted in video games. He does not pos-
sess any extraordinary skills or talents,
nor does he have a discernible calling that
would distinguish him from the rest of the
population. As a lieutenant of the Citizens
Militia, he arrives in Revachol, the work-
ing district of the city Martinaise, to solve a
murder. Entrenched with grief over missed
chances and opportunities, the neighbour-
hood, stuck in the past, mirrors Harry’s
identity crisis as a traumatic “wound that
won’t heal,” (Hadden 2019) making it impos-
sible to look towards the future. Afflicted
with total amnesia, Harry (and with him
the player) has a psychosocial puzzle to
solve, in which his personal traumatisation
merges with the city’s collective trauma:
“In the course of putting your charac-
ter’s memories back together, you also put
together the pieces of Revachol” (Evans-
Thirlwell 2019).
So far, Harry has mainly displayed
signs of escapism, repeatedly attempt-
ing to withdraw from life. Only single clues,
gathered through exploring the environ-
ment and conversing with others, provide a
fragmented image of the pre-game Harry,
who, in an act of toxic denial, had virtu-
ally drunken himself into a state of uncon-
sciousness, trying to escape the feeling
of absurdity. Following his excessive night
out, he does not want to awake from this
comatose state, using drugs and alcohol
to escape any kind of conscious aware-
ness. There are clues of multiple suicide
attempts. While drunk, Harry drove his
car into a canal, potentially on purpose.
The tie dangling from the ceiling fan in his
motel room suggests that Harry may have
attempted to hang himself, a notion that is
further solidified by Harry’s dream of being
the murder victim hanging by a tree.
Though Harry seems to be having con-
tinued suicidal thoughts, he, in fact, thinks
of suicide as a theoretical option only,
which gives a prospect of improvement, as
contradictory as that may sound at first.
The unique thought cabinet in Disco Ely-
sium can be characterised as an inventory
for ideas and ideals. When Harry explores
a thought called “Finger on the Eject But-
ton,” the idea of committing suicide appears
to him every evening (if the player chooses
this option, the game ends); however, at
the same time he receives bonuses on the
authority skill (+2: Nothing to lose) and the
suggestion skill (+2: I always liked you the
best). Both Harry’s self-esteem and confi-
dence grow knowing that he is in full con-
trol of choosing life and the fact that he has
repeatedly chosen life before: “In that day-
to-day revolt he gives proof of his only truth
which is defiance” (Camus 2005: 53).
Following the nullifying of his self-
induced amnesia, Harry, who is initially
robbed of a future and a past, now is dis-
covering the world with naivety and almost
childlike curiosity. In his seemingly limited
trauma universe, “beyond which all is col-
lapse and nothingness,” (Camus 2005: 58)
life means “[n]othing else for the moment
but indifference to the future and a desire
to use up everything that is given” (ibid.).
A traumatised Harry defiantly faces a trau-
matised world, his revolt “[…] is that con-
stant presence of man in his own eyes.
It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope.
That revolt is the certainty of a crushing
fate, without the resignation that ought to
accompany it” (ibid.: 52). With nothing left to
lose, Harry relentlessly engages with, and
is fascinated by, Revachol’s lost individuals:
underground revolutionaries, tradespeople
struggling to survive, minors dealing with
drugs, abandoned elderly people. Not only
can Harry interact with them, but he can
also influence their fate both positively and
Detached from any pursuit of greater
purpose, Harry’s existence is determined
by daily, often mundane, societal work. His
Sisyphean task is “[…] his adventure within
the span of his lifetime. That is his field,
that is his action, which he shields from any
judgement but his own” (Camus 2005: 64).
Hopelessness, rejection, and dissatisfac-
tion – traits that mark the anti-hero in clas-
sic detective stories – are reasons for his
“inner freedom,” (ibid.: 56) allowing Harry to
choose unorthodox methods and to persis-
tently pursue goals and tasks that others
would consider insignificant. From this, he
derives meaningful conclusions regarding
the peculiarities both of the world and its
society. Ultimately, a renewed world view
can, in turn, change Harry’s rigid self-image:
the absurd “[…] restores and magnifies
[…] my freedom of action. That privation
of hope and future means an increase in
man’s availability,” (ibid.: 55) an availability
that may lead to a confrontation with the
(inter-) subjective aspects of trauma.
In Disco Elysium, trauma permeates the
world not only metaphorically, but as a
physical phenomenon. In the Dolorian
Church of Humanity, a mysterious forma-
tion called the Pale, which is said to consist
of nothingness and is devoid of any mat-
ter, leaks through a tiny hole. It devours any
noise in its vicinity. It is no coincidence that
in Disco Elysium this nothingness mani-
fests itself in a place of lost spirituality:
the church has been long abandoned,
faith – and with it hope – have no place in
Martinaise. Merely an old mural depicting
the revered saviour Dolores Dei, a leader
of the failed revolution, is reminiscent of
the original purpose of the building. Find-
ing salvation through a religious leader
appears to be a relic of the past, leaving
behind an existential hole that needs to
be filled – a hole that also trauma can tear
into an individual’s existence.
When equating the hole, through
which the Pale enters the church, to a sub-
ject’s or social collective’s traumatic intru-
sion, an alignment towards the present
and future is only made possible by creat-
ing a juxtaposition to the traumas silenc-
ing “speechless terror” (Kolk, Hart 1995:
172). In the case of Disco Elysium this jux-
taposition is created by music: “And not just
any music: noisy, urgent rave. Youth music.
If the old world is leaking, Disco Elysium
seems to say, plug it with the new” (Hadden
2019). Rave started as a political counter-
movement. In Disco Elysium, it represents
both an individual and systemic dimension
of dealing with trauma, enabling a work-
ing through “by offering a measure of criti-
cal purchase on problems and responsi-
ble control in action which would permit
desirable change” (LaCapra 1994: 209).
The rebellion of youth against convention
and tradition (through music) helps to dis-
cover a new rhythm that goes beyond past
events and experiences. In the words of
Camus: “There is no fate that cannot be
surmounted by scorn” (2005: 117).
This also applies to Harry. As a
disco fan, he is bound to a nostalgic past
filled with glitz and glamour, which gives
him a supposed sense of stability and
safety. However, Harry can now become
acquainted with and dance to rave music.
On the edge of nothingness, he dances to
the music of the new, the present and, as a
subject, joins the society of his time. “Harry
can commune with the city by boogieing
out of his mind” (Hadden 2019). Only by
becoming aware of the intersubjectivity of
his traumatisation can Harry step out of his
mind, leave his thought cabinet, or rather,
thought carousel, behind, which is endlessly
spinning around itself, around a void centre,
his trauma. Turning to the (socio-cultural)
present, Harry can affirm life despite its
meaninglessness and constructively inte-
grate past events in it: “If there is too much
past to bear, make yourself present. He
[Harry] cannot run from his past, but he can
dance with it” (ibid.).
Through Harry’s unorthodox methodol-
ogy, which repeatedly clashes with the
more rigid approaches imposed upon
police officers, and his attention to seem-
ingly insignificant details he considers to
be as crucial as solving the murder case
itself, several layers of Martinaise’s complex
social structure are revealed to him. Harry
is led to his most fundamental finding by
not only breaking supposedly fixed societal
rules and regulations, but by questioning
the laws of nature. That is, he persistently
follows the traces of the cryptids, a myste-
rious insect-like species, whose existence
is only acknowledged by an elderly cryp-
tozoologist couple. Towards the end of the
game, one such cryptid, the so-called Insu-
lindian Phasmid, appears on a small island
near Martinaise where Harry can engage
in a dialogue with it. The creature does not
allow for Harry to resort to transcendental
explanations, which, though hopeful, would
ultimately strip him of any accountability of
his fate. Laconically, the Phasmid dismisses
all of Harry’s meaning-seeking questions:
Harry: Where does this come
from? All this? Around us? The
world? […] We need to know.
Perhaps it’s sent to us by a god?
Insulindian Phasmid: *I* think we
should eat it. If it’s a leaf you can
put it in your mouth. Or a reed.
Yum yum. (ZA/UM 2019)
Eventually, Harry faces the absurdity of
human existence: “Then all we can do is
beat our fists against it? Day after day. With
no answer” (ibid.). In response, the Phasmid
makes clear that, for Harry to overcome his
personal traumatisation, it is indispensable
to acknowledge the trauma’s inherent psy-
chosocial structure, which makes the turn-
ing towards society a key prerequisite: “I
also have one more thing to say to you: that
woman – turn from the ruin. Turn and go
forward. Do it for the working class” (ibid.).
The woman mentioned by the Phasmid
is Harry’s ex-girlfriend Dora. In imagining
her as the religiously glorified Dolores Dei
in a prior dream, Harry has already (sub-
consciously) linked his traumas individual
dimension to its socio-cultural aspect: “In
Harry’s addled mind, this isn’t a trite com-
parison; the Revolution and Dora were both
opportunities for hope - joyous uprisings -
but they’re gone now, into history” (Hadden
2019). This crucial engagement with the
cryptid results in Harry grasping that he,
too, has idolised Dora as a symbol of hope.
Like Revachol, he has cleaved to a delu-
sional idea, a phantasm of the past that
was never real, and, thus, could not resolve
his crisis.
Against this backdrop, the Phasmid
becomes a symbol of both Harry’s rebel-
lion and a newfound solidity of the self: the
protagonist’s acceptance of the absurdity
of life, his willingness to tackle challenges,
his persistence and pride are the reasons
for him to discover the Phasmid in the first
place. The realisation that his universe con-
tains more than just his trauma opens up
new realms of consciousness for Harry.
A single certainty is enough for the seeker,
(Camus 2005: 29) for which reason the
Phasmid can be regarded as a concrete and
more significant representation of Harry’s
personal development than the ambigu-
ous murder case whose resolution remains
unsatisfactory after all. It is the Phasmid
that enables him to shift his perspective
towards the future and to embrace (trau-
matic) existence in the here and now – a
myth that has come true, “making sense in
a senseless world” (May 1991: 15).
Harry’s initial intention for visiting the small
island off Martinaise was not, in fact, to
find the Insulindian Phasmid, but to fur-
ther investigate the murder case. On the
island, the protagonist encounters a white-
bearded elderly man introduced as The
Deserter. Harry can now persuade the man,
whose real name is Iosef Lilianovich Dros,
to confess the murder of Ellis Lely Korte-
naer. The motive is complex. On the one
hand, Iosef, who is a communist, shot the
capitalist Lely because of their differing
political leanings. On the other hand, the
murder victim had an affair with a woman
called Klaasje (the very first woman Harry
talked to after waking up hungover in his
motel room) whom Iosef was in love with.
The fatal shot was fired when Lely visited
Klaasje in her motel room. Upon closer
examination, it becomes clear that Iosef did
not necessarily act out of political convic-
tion but, to a greater degree, based on emo-
tional reasons. In denial of the fact that he
might be nothing more than a jealous man
with a wounded pride, Iosef still defines
himself through an already failed revolu-
tion which, to him, remains identity-form-
ing: “For him, it is not a memory. It is the
foundation for his life. And the impossibil-
ity of realising it has driven him insane. His
last and only respite is pointless violence
(Judge 2019). Obsessing over a missed
opportunity, a missed chance, he clings to
a past that never came true, while meeting
the present with nothing but contempt.
If Iosef is seen as a representative of
a societal might-have-been, he can also be
interpreted as a representative of a subjec-
tive might-have-been with regard to Harry.
Just the same as Iosef, the game’s protago-
nist is stuck in the past which he transfig-
ures and re-interprets in a way that makes
it possible for him to renounce any personal
accountability for what had happened.
Iosef, driven by his outdated ideology, with-
draws from contemporary society and falls
victim to his own vengeful needs – unable
to see that those needs are not strictly
individual and private and that the murder
of a woman out of jealousy, a femicide in
a patriarchal society, is always linked to a
sociocultural context. However, unlike Iosef,
Harry shifts his attention to the people he is
surrounded by. His space of action remains
within contemporary society. Gradually, he
comes to understand that, by excluding any
sociocultural context from his self-con-
structed image of the past, especially con-
cerning his former relationship, prevents
his existential progress. Coming to terms
with the psychosocial nature of his exist-
ence and his trauma is the actual case that
Harry needs to investigate – and Iosef is
Harry’s final gaze into a dark mirror:
In this sense, I see the shooter
as not simply a jealous madman,
but a manifestation of Revachols
guilt, trauma and unresolved
anger left over from the failed
revolution. His attack is the vio-
lent last gasp of the Commune,
lashing out at those who hurt it. It
is the result of decades of putting
this community trauma aside and
refusing to come to terms with it,
or perhaps not allowing it to heal.
There are a good number of par-
allels between the shooting and
Harry’s binge drinking night, both
are tragedies that are the result
of unresolved trauma. (ArtOfCon-
fusion 2020)
In the finale of the game, when Harry’s
superiors from Precinct 41 reach the city
and evaluate his fitness for duty, Harry has
already found an alignment with himself. By
examining not only other people’s lifestyles,
ideals, actions, and choices, but first and
foremost, by looking back at his own life, a
comparison with Harry’s pre-blackout self
becomes possible:
At that subtle moment when
man glances backward over his
life […], in that slight pivoting, he
contemplates that series of unre-
lated actions which becomes his
fate, created by him, combined
under his memory’s eye and soon
sealed by his death. (Camus
2005: 119)
It is only after Harry has confronted his
past, acknowledged the contradictions
and gaps of his own biography and exist-
ence, that a more differentiated picture of
him emerges. In this process, the fragility of
human identity proves to be an entry point
for traumatic events, but it also suggests
that changing oneself is possible.
Whether Harry ends up progressively
overcoming his trauma or relapsing back
into old patterns, depends on the player’s
If role playing is about capturing
the concept and motivations of
a character, then Disco Elysium
gives you the freedom to continue
to be a fuckup or to actually learn
from your mistakes, letting go of
the past even as you continue to
carry the baggage of it. (Signor
Since it can only provide a snapshot of
Harry’s personal development, the game
remains mostly open-ended – the credits
start rolling abruptly, after Harry’s discus-
sion with the militia. Whoever criticises the
nature of the ending, has not yet accepted
the absurdity of existence, has not yet “for-
gotten how to cope” (Camus 2005: 50). For
the absurd man should understand that he
cannot reconcile his “[…] appetite for the
absolute and for unity and the impossibility
of reducing this world to a rational and rea-
sonable principle” (ibid.: 49).
Perhaps Harry can work through his
individual trauma and return to his old job,
fully recovered. This, however, is unlikely,
considering that Harry’s accomplishments
barely had an impact on the social struc-
tures that perpetuate Revachol’s collective
trauma. Even though Harry became politi-
cised: “It’s sad to admit, but Harry’s political
opinions are flimsy. They don’t stand up to
scrutiny, let alone the prevailing world order.
They also don’t factor much into how Disco
Elysium proceeds or how it ends (Hadden
2019). Still, Harry’s preoccupation with
political and thereby socio-cultural condi-
tions can also be viewed as an expression
of internal debate and as an indication of
a (traumatic) processing, through which
Harry faces his intersubjective responsi-
bility – “conceptualising trauma as having
both psychological and sociological dimen-
sions, the combination of which has pro-
found existential resonances” (Thompson,
Walsh 2010: 377).
Analysing Disco Elysium based on Albert
Camus’ theory of the absurd helps to high-
light the cRPG’s destigmatising depiction of
mental health issues and trauma. Seen as
an existential endeavour, Harry’s detective
work ends up serving two purposes – “reap-
plying for your job as a human being and
as a cop” (Kurvitz as cited in Hadden 2019).
Not only does it enable Harry to identify the
murderer, but it also leads to a confronta-
tion with the “vast unknown” (Cannon 1999)
that trauma is in form of the Pale, with the
absurdity of trauma (as manifested through
the Insulindian Phasmid) as well as with
his unresolved psychosocial trauma (rep-
resented by Iosef). Even though both Harry
and Revachol appear to be lost causes,
probably beyond repair (see Evans-Thirl-
well 2019), Harry certainly has opposed the
world with his “[…] whole consciousness
and [his] whole insistence upon familiarity”
(Camus 2005: 50). Surrendering to his
circumstances makes him a Sisyphus of
his time:
H.D.B. [Harrier Du Bois] cannot
be remade as he was, yet he gets
to his feet and goes back to work.
He picks through the wreckage,
his flotsam and jetsam. He tidies
up, solves tasks, and seeks to
understand. Somewhere along
the way, he becomes someone
or other new. Bearing witness to
this process are the people of
Martinaise, and a shadow in the
reeds—and you, the kind player.
(Hadden 2019)
Harry “[…] can then decide to accept such
a universe and draw from it his strength,
his refusal to hope, and the unyielding evi-
dence of a life without consolation” (Camus
2005: 58). As an absurd hero, Harry defines
himself through his rebellion, freedom, and
passion as an affirmation of the absurd-
ity of existence, against the fact of irrepa-
rable injustice. Having lost both his sense
of dignity and self-determination following
a traumatic intrusion which he was unable
to either control or predict, Harry has now
regained both. This is made possible, not
necessarily by overcoming his trauma, but
solely by Harry’s struggle with the absurd,
holding on to existence despite his trau-
matic experiences, or rather because of
them. Not having to rely on any kind of pur-
suit of hope for the future (which can be
beyond an individuals control, anyways),
Harry can find himself revolting heroically –
not in a mythical sense, but in engagement
with the absurd – against his fate and, as a
result, drawing closer to the world.
Harry’s exposure to the traumatised Reva-
chol does not necessarily result in a tri-
umph over trauma. Rather, he comes to
understand that the preoccupation with
the world surrounding him, and through
that preoccupation with himself, are admis-
sions of the absurd that, in fact, make him
a happy person; an existential point of view,
allowing a kind of happiness not upend-
ing the idea that fulfilment is dependent
on meaning (see Cox 2019). Here and there,
this happiness shimmers through. When
Harry, in awe and wonder, interacts with the
Phasmid, but especially when he dances
in the Dolorian Church of Humanity, cel-
ebrating for a fleeting moment being alive
and humanity as a whole, while experienc-
ing a feeling of high self-esteem. As Disco
Elysiums own Sisyphus, the boulder Harry
keeps rolling on a daily basis, “his thing,
(Camus 2005: 118) is a disco ball which
serves as a personal and social metaphor
that brings colour into the pale void of psy-
chosocial trauma:Just don’t pretend it isn’t
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... Disco Elysium ist auch auf narrativer Ebene bewusst politisch, was sich schon am Nachnamen des Protagonisten zeigt, den Harry mit W E. B. Du Bois, dem einflussreichen afroamerikanischen Soziologen, Philosophen und Journalisten, teilt. Das Arbeiter*innenviertel Martinaise, in dem sich die Handlung entfaltet, erscheint kollektiv traumatisiert (Spies 2021;: Kommunist*innen und Anarchist*innen hatten sich gemeinsam an einer Umwälzung des Staates versucht, sind dabei allerdings an einer faschistischen Konter-Revolution gescheitert, die im Anschluss mit brutalen Mitteln die Macht erlangt und alle sozialen Gegenbewegungen nahezu vollständig ausgelöscht hat. Der Begründer des Scientific Communism, der Ideologie hinter dem Aufstand, trägt den Namen Kras Mazov und wird positiv charakterisiert. ...
... Über die Auseinandersetzung mit den Belangen und Nöten der Bevölkerung von Martinaise, gewissermaßen über seinen Aktivismus, gelingt es Harry zunehmend, sich mit seinen eigenen Traumatisierungen auseinanderzusetzen, die als untrennbar mit dem Zustand der fiktiven Welt verwoben und somit als psychosozial verstanden werden (Spies 2021;. Bei einer für den Spielverlauf zentralen Begegnung rät man ihm: »Turn and go forward. ...
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Videospiele als ein bedeutendes Kulturgut unserer Zeit sind Teil (politischer) Kommunikation. Gleichzeitig handelt es sich bei der global agierenden Videospielindustrie um ein vom Kapitalismus geprägtes Marktsystem – ein System, das die ihm entspringenden kulturellen Güter formt. Exemplifiziert wird dies am Videospiel Disco Elysium. Eine Analyse der Ebenen der Repräsentation, Produktion und Distribution zeigt auf, inwiefern die dort angelegte antikapitalistische und antifaschistische Sozialkritik in Widerspruch gerät zu der Notwendigkeit einer Finanzierung der estländischen Produktion und der angestrebten internationalen Konkurrenzfähigkeit.
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Popular culture often views video games as a source of mindless entertainment, unfit for profound artistic expression. And yet, with every passing year game narratives become more and more complex, allowing developers to tell deeply personal and poignant stories concerning the most intricate matters of the human condition. Of particular note is the rising popularity of games dedicated to topics that are still largely considered taboo in popular media, such as mental illness, emotional and psychological suffering, and the moral and ethical aspects of encountering violence and atrocity. How does one analyze such games and their contribution to popular culture, if they so obviously fall outside the scope of the idea of " fun, " closely associated with game media? A robust analytical toolset for exploring such narratives can be found within the ever-expanding interdisciplinary field of trauma studies. This field combines frameworks and methodologies from a vast number of areas, including psychoanalysis, sociology, clinical psychology and critical literary analysis, to thoroughly examine the psychological, physical and cultural processes involved in human encounters with unassimilable horrors. One of the products of these explorations is the discovery of a large corpus of texts – literary, cinematographic, musical and others – that strive to authentically represent psychological trauma through artistic means. Scholars in this area conduct critical readings of various media to uncover particular devices and affordances that are utilized in these portrayals, with the ultimate goal of gaining insight into the nature of trauma only accessible through such symbolic, largely metaphorical means. However, despite the growing popularity of trauma studies as a field, critical trauma readings of video games are virtually non-existent. This is the main reason for the development of this study. In my research I bring together concepts developed by trauma scholars to conduct literary analyses of trauma narratives, and iii game studies approaches to analyzing games as a storytelling medium. I combine them to argue that games can be read through a trauma lens, allowing researchers to uncover new themes and arguments developed through the process of play. I proceed to argue that games offer unique technological affordances for portraying trauma, inaccessible to non-interactive media. To support this argument I explore the concepts of agency and gameplay-and-story integration as unique storytelling affordances available to games, and demonstrate how their explicit subversion – through deliberate denial of player agency or purposeful introduction of ludonarrative dissonance – can be used by developers to create complex narratives of trauma and suffering. Using the theoretical framework I develop, I conduct close readings of the games Beyond: Two Souls (Quantic Dream 2013), Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics 2013) and Silent Hill 2 (Konami 2001), in order to demonstrate that these games can be successfully analyzed as trauma fiction on par with famous trauma literature and film. With the aim of uncovering new insight into how trauma is represented and perceived in popular culture, my work initiates the process of assembling a corpus of trauma mechanics – uniquely procedural, gamic ways of portraying psychological trauma, which evoke empathy from the player and encourage critical reflection on the experiences they portray.
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Just as books and films about traumatic events have become part of Western popular culture, so the theme of trauma and its accompanying tropes have been seeping into video games over the last two decades. In spite of the discernible trauma trend within video games, however, and the potential they exhibit for representing trauma in new ways, they have received very little critical notice from trauma theorists. In this article, we argue that a trauma-theoretical study of games has much to offer our understanding of the ways that trauma can be represented, in addition to giving game studies scholars further insight into how games manage to elicit such strong emotions and difficult ethical quandaries in players. We demonstrate this by performing a close reading of one recent and much-discussed game, The Walking Dead: Season One, analyzing how it incorporates psychological trauma in terms of inter(re)activity, empathy, and complicity.
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This article explores the contributions which a shift from Freudian to Sartrean metatheory might make to contemporary psychoanalysis. Beginning with a brief history of Sartre's deeply ambivalent relationship to traditional psychoanalysis, the article moves forward to reinterpret ego psychology and object relations theory from a Sartrean perspective and to point out ways in which a Sartrean reinterpretation could lead to more effective practice. A case is made for the importance of distinguishing between “neurotic anxiety” based on the “return of the repressed” and “existential anxiety” based on angst over one's freedom and inability to be a solid self at moments of deep level change in therapy. The importance of reciprocity in the client‐therapist relationship is emphasized.
This book explores what it means to exist in virtual worlds. Chiefly drawing on the philosophical traditions of existentialism, it articulates the idea that — by means of our technical equipment and coordinated practices — human beings disclose contexts or worlds in which they can perceive, feel, act, and think. More specifically, this book discusses how virtual worlds allow human beings to take new perspectives on their values and beliefs, and explore previously unexperienced ways of being. Virtual Existentialism will be useful for scholars working in the fields of philosophy, anthropology, media studies, and digital game studies.