Fallen London: Authorship in Game Allegory

Journal article

Van Den Beukel, K. (2018). Fallen London: Authorship in Game Allegory. Paradoxa. 29.
AuthorsVan Den Beukel, K.

Contemporary video game theory (Galloway 2006, Wark 2007, Kirkpatrick 2011) defines the video game as allegory. First introduced by Stallabrass 1993, the theory draws on Walter Benjamin’s study of the allegory under capitalism, The Arcades Project. Dyer-Witheford and de Peuter 2009, identify those games with a simulated urban game space as allegorical of neo-liberal capitalism: ‘The City is a key site of Empire’ (153). Fallen London (Failbetter Games, UK 2010-2016) is an adventure RPG set in a subterranean Victorian London driven so deep into the gothic underground that it shares its borders with Hell. As a ‘new face in Fallen London’, you, fresh out of jail, are invited to negotiate dangerous, bewildering, grindy passages in ‘the labyrinthine city’ to acquire the status and goods to advance your persona to the pinnacles of ruinous glory. Fallen London is allegorical: its game algorithms – leveling-up though chance-based outcomes of actions – determine play, even as its game space is emblematised through generic figures circulating within topographic areas. FL’s game space, however, is not rendered through video graphics, but through thousands of static text frames. It is not virtual simulation, but allusive writing – Lovecraft, Conan Doyle, Blavatsky, Shelley, Freud, Wilde – that renders the atmosphere of the fin-de-siècle city as a deeply immersive experience, though also a recognizably sardonic, allegorical one. While operating in the sphere of independent games, FL game economy is cohered through literary authorship. This is evidenced in three areas: i) authorship of FL: game writer/coder Alexis Kennedy’s IP value, unusually, is not in the game engine but in the story world, FL’s subscription model, periodical release of FL story events; ii) authorship in FL: renditions of 19th century literary circles, high cp/item rewards for ‘author’ actions in the game itself; iii) authorship through FL: the immersive game space provides scope for socially interactive authorship – fictional persona(l) accounts in the style of FL - both in-game and on community forums. Within this framework, allegory is inseparable from allegorical reading: FL community forum discussion habitually interprets FL story events as historical or political allegory. The most spectacular of FL allegories, which Kennedy describes as ‘an artistic experiment’, is the recently reopened post-Gamergate story event ‘Seeking the Name’ (2014, 2016). As a player, you choose to enter harrowing passages that mercilessly raze your persona’s accrued status and wealth; as the mysteries are revealed, you know it will irrevocably lead to death. The video game’s allegorical mode – algorithms as an ideal order of universe (Wark, 2007) game-play as ‘allegorithmic’ interpretation (Galloway, 2006) – does not allow for death (Kirkpatrick, 2011). FL does: few players have experienced the revelation; their persona(l) accounts have been permanently deleted by the game system. How bystander players read this allegorically – as heroic self-immolation, as potlatch resource sink, as authoring your own end in a boundless story world – may be synthesised by revisiting The Arcades Project.

First published in Paradoxa.

KeywordsStudies In Creative Arts And Writing; Language, Communication And Culture
Journal citation29
Web address (URL)htps://paradoxa.com
Publication dates
Print01 May 2018
Publication process dates
Deposited11 Dec 2017
Accepted14 Nov 2017
Accepted author manuscript
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