Phenomenology suggests that as humans we know the world via experience, only able to receive and decode and comprehend information about the world around us through sensation. In a weird way we are simultaneously creating and perceiving the world around us as we potter about. Like that scene from Inception at the cafe.
Catharsis relies on an empathetic bond between audience/actor/character/events, projecting yourself into a character’s position and in return being projected upon. In a sense you become that character in your sensational, phenomenal body, taking on their experiences and sensations as your own.
So when we start to think about things this way, our definition of self begins to stretch and change. If experience and sensation are how we define “being”ness, then where does identity end in the Nuzlocke making and story sharing process? Who is the who? Is it the protagonist of a Nuzlocke comic (for example) that is, within the text, actually undergoing the experiences? Is it the comic’s creator, playing the game and encountering these events through it? Is it the Avatar provided for you to play as by the Pokemon game, enacting all of the player’s decisions within the game coding? Or is it even the audience who read and via a cathartic emotional purging, experience those same sensations for themselves? Who is the self? Where does the phenomenal body, the psychic double and experiential reality end?
Working on a Nuzlocke comic as a Digital Artefact for my final project, it’s weird to start thinking about who this character I’m drawing is, and whether she’s me, an alternate me, an extension of myself via the phenomenal, or even just a being of her own, experiencing and creating her reality in her own right… Things are getting wibbly wobbly, man.
This blog post will be a closer look at the specifications of tragedy that it should be “an imitation of an action” and follow what would have happened rather than what did happen.
By “imitation”, this does not necessarily mean the literal fictionalising of an event, but rather can be used to indicate an acceptance of play and entering into a magic circle, accepting a series of constructed rules. In this case the Nuzlocke requires that a participant hold themselves to a set of self-imposed rules in addition to those built into the Pokemon game system. In doing so, a participant is not only playing out an imitation of a youth aiming to defeat the Pokemon League and become the greatest trainer of the region, as in any mode of Pokemon gameplay, but is also enforcing an imitation of reality ordinarily filtered out of the games in the form of character death. In this way Nuzlocke Let’s Play videos filmed in real time still qualify as Aristotlian Neo-Tragedy.
Additionally, Aristotle makes a point of stating that, while a poet must place the tragic elements of their text as more important than honest rendering of events (fictionalisation to maintain this isn’t so much welcomed as encouraged), “there is nothing to prevent some of the things which have happened from being the kind of thing which probably would happen”, once again making room for the unaltered events of a let’s play to still qualify. Below is a recent example of the tragifying of events within a co-op series by TheKingNappy and ShadyPenguinn. (Warning not to watch this with earphones on).
I’ve begun work on a Digital Artefact to present as my final project, specifically a Nuzlocke comic of my own play experience, which will come with an accompanying essay to connect it to significant Cyberculture theories. The first page of the comic, as an example of what should be expected of the final product, is included below.
It’s becoming apparent that a key element of my research and argument on the topic of the Nuzlocke as a cybercultural reimagining of Aristotelian tragedy lies in the spaces between analogue and virtual realities. The very palpable effects of a virtual event on an individual’s ‘real life’ experience as discussed by Julian Dibble in A Rape in Cyberspace, while specifically referring to somewhat different subject matter, can be applied to what I’m examining.
While discussing a particularly heinous act of digital violence being treated as a “breach of ‘civility’”, Dibbel calls attention to the strangeness of the interaction between these worlds. He describes the requested sentence of “toading” (character deletion, here compared to a virtual death sentence or banishment) on the culprit as “Ludicrously excessive by RL’s lights, woefully understated by VR’s”. He goes on to suggest that virtual experiences are “neither exactly real nor exactly make-believe, but [are] nonetheless profoundly, compellingly, and emotionally true.” The sharing of an individual’s experience across both realms of ‘real life’ and ‘virtual reality’ “[makes] sense only in the buzzing, dissonant gap between them.”
This experience of the “psychic double” of self is present clearly in the Aristotelian formula for tragedy in the necessary cathartic quality, and has been extended into new iterations of the structure. The self-imposed rules of a Nuzlocke run of any Pokemon game strive to strengthen bonds between the player and their ‘mons, encouraging the player to inhabit the position of the character to the point where there is no distinction between the two. Even the original image of the first introduction to Nuzlocke rules depicts the player and character as one and the same; Pokemon Ruby’s protagonist holding a Gameboy Advanced ready to begin the game.
The cathartic emotional embodiment of the Nuzlocke experience and self-enforced Pokemon ‘death’ exists purely in this “buzzing, dissonant gap” between virtual and analogue realities; a “compelling, and emotionally true” imitation which follows Aristotle’s structure and pulls it into the Cybercultural age.