Post Modernism and New Sincerity
The origins of the Postmodernist theory are hard to pin down, but its formative stages are largely influenced by Jean-Francois Lyotard, in his report “The Postmodern Condition”. (Lyotard & Bennington, 2010) Lyotard states in his report that postmodernism was “incredulity toward metanarratives”.
Metanarratives may be defined as “an overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provides a pattern or structure for peoples beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences” ("metanarrative | Definition of metanarrative in English", 2019). Examples of metanarratives are ideas such that “by living sin-free lives we will ascend to heaven on our deaths”, or that “humanity is progressing evermore toward a utopian society, riding on the back of scientific progress”. Both of these examples provide frameworks to couch a person’s actions, and intent.
Thus, when we look at postmodernism, we see an increase is scepticism towards these ideas, and their representations, especially within the media. Over the last 20 years “postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself” (Burn & Wallace, n.d.). We can look at advertisements that mock the core nature of advertisement, such as the “#WannaSprite?” advertisement run by Sprite in 2012, featuring LeBron James. (Sprite, 2017) In this advertisement, LeBron continually refuses to recommend Sprite to the viewer, despite prompt cards and various other overtly suggestive situations. Instead, he states “I could … but I wont”. In this, Sprite uses irony to underline the metanarrative of “the famous figurehead recommends the product, so you should like it too”. Through this, the viewer is invited to deride the practise, and laugh at the idea, with the company. By removing themselves as the target of derision, Sprite instead creates a false alliance with the viewer, giving their words more weight.
Within the sphere of the game development industry, we see postmodernism represented in games such as The Stanley Parable (The Stanley Parable, 2013), Spec Ops : The Line (Spec Ops : The Line, 2012), and SUPERHOT (SUPERHOT, 2016).
The Stanley Parable is an excellent display of this, as it deeply explores and exposes the concept of choice within video games. By providing non-arbitrary choice, we afford the player freedom to express themselves within the virtual space. The Stanley Parable recognises this as a meta-narrative, and is a game composed of nothing but choice. The game hosts very simple rooms and level design, with the player being the author on where to go, led by a narrated voice. The player may choose to obey or disobey this voice. However, as the player progresses, they see that no matter how free their choice, they are always bound by the narrators will. A disobedience feels exhilarating, until the players choice is taken and used against them. The Stanley Parable uses irony and humour within its telling, yet its outcome is a form of nihilism, a juxtaposition toward our own lives; that no matter our choices, we all end up at the same point.
Spec Ops : The Line, and SUPERHOT approach the metanarrative of unquestioned violence within videogames. An example of this is the common “Hunt Rats” quest. In many fantasy RPG games, such as Tera (SUPERHOT, 2016), World of Warcraft (World of Warcraft, 2004) or Oblivion (Oblivion, 2006), the player is told “my house is infested with rats. Kill them all so my crops survive!” ("Rats!", 2019) ("Oblivion:A Rat Problem", 2018). At first glance, this is a reasonable solution, one employed in real life. So the player goes, kills the rats and returns. They are met with “wolves are attacking! Kill them!” ("Big Bad Wolves", 2019). And of course the player should kill the wolves, they are a threat. This approach scales, until “kill the goblins!” and “Steal from the rebels!” are met as purely reasonable quests with a high moral standing. The player is never asked “Lure the rats to a nearby thicket so they may build their own home”, or “Divert the wolves using slabs of meat!”, they accept violence as the first solution to the given problem.
SUPERHOT approaches this using the influence of a faceless authority figure. As we are put into the game, and told to kill we do, with the knowledge that it is just a game. However, as the story progresses we are exposed to themes of addiction and manipulation as the authority figure uses the player as a tool for his own ends. The player never finds out what these are, and the goal of the ‘game’ is to simply complete all the levels. A notable point in this is when the player is accused of being addicted to the killing, that they could not resist it. Then, the game closes. The player is now on the desktop of their computer faced with a choice. They could accept that the figure is correct, and reopen the game to progress, or they could simply stop, and do something else. SUPERHOT examines the metanarrative of meaningless violence in videogames, and condemns the lack of independent thought that has brought us to this state.
Supposedly around since the 1980’s, in 2002, David Foster Wallace resurfaced the idea of “post-postmodernism”, also known as “New Sincerity”. Based on Wallace’s theory that postmodernism is leading us into a negative spiral of irony, narcissism and solipsism, the New Sincerity ideal re-evaluates sincerities role in media production. It looks less negatively upon the metanarratives of mass media, instead using these as tools in bridging the gaps between humanity. Wallace states: “Postmodern irony and cynicism's become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what's wrong, because they'll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists.”
New Sincerity also denies the separation implied by postmodernism’s approach to media plurality. The term “plurality”, or “plurism”, “refers to diversity in the most general sense. In analyzing the concept of pluralism, two perspectives have to be mentioned in these things like internal and external pluralism.” ("media PLURALISM: definition", 2014). Each viewer is affected by their past, their experiences and their other contextual factors. This exists in both creators and consumers. Two creators cannot create exactly the same piece. They will both be informed by their context, leading to different creative styles.
Postmodern theory suggests that once an author publishes their work, it is no longer their own. Due to the difference in context between the creator and the consumer, the work will be interpreted apart from the authors ‘true vision’. This is often termed, “Death of the Author”, after Roland Barthes influential essay (Barthes, 1967). This suggests that a creators work can be interpreted vastly different to the original intent. A movie about romance can be read as betrayal, a book about friendship can be read as loss. In an interview about his highly reputed game “Braid”, Jonothan Blow comments on his players opinions of the game by saying “some people get that, and some people don't. But that's completely decorrelated from people's claimed positions in the sphere of commentary”. (Dahlen, 2008)
New Sincerity instead focuses on the shared facets of experience. Familial connection, responsibility and connection are notable examples of this. Thus, the creator is able to bridge the gap of different perspectives, and use these facets to convey the core aspects of their work.
Barthes, R. (1967). The Death of the Author.
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Rats!. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.wowhead.com/quest=40198/rats
Sprite. (2017). Sprite Commercial - LeBron James Wanna Sprite - Super Bowl Commercials 2017 [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UirBEXCQlIY
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