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Retro games, conceptually, are notoriously attached to signifiers and little else; retro is essentially a memetic marketing device that refers to any sort of callback to older games. A concrete relationship isn’t important. A retro game just needs aspects vaguely “old” enough to pass some muster. Not surprisingly, I’ve noticed retro isn’t used very much anymore. It’s still used sparingly in adcopy, and is definitely used to group actually old games, but the aforementioned memetic use has slowly been phased out. I noticed Owlboy avoids any mention of retro in its own copy. Fans and pundits describe it as a “pixel platformer” which is just as or even more cumbersome than retro, but whatever. There’s really no weight to this noun transformation, pixel art is still bandied out derogatorily, an aesthetic deigned to be ever retro. We’re transposing the same meaning into a similar phrase with similar roots. A collective rebranding.
I played Enclosure which was developed in NAGI, a clone of Sierra’s proprietary-but-defunct Adventure Game Interpreter engine. Not to get true scotsman, but if anything fits retro like a glove, it’s a videogame that has an identical limited development environment as a retro game. Ironically, identical functioning games are written off as homebrew or homages, wielding less legitimacy as actual retro games than other games, which inspiration boils down to barely. It’s interesting, an aesthetic that’s absolutely rooted in how authentic a videogame is—retro as a development philosophy is undoubtedly to invoke comfort or familiarity facilitated by proximity to old formats—holds more power the closer it can get to feeling or appearing aged than accurately emulating and depicting that age. An authentically retro game is anti-fashion, anti-trend; though I cherish my Battle Kid carts, it’s bitterly obvious why Shovel Knight has cultural penetration instead.
The Adventure Game Interpreter engine ran at 160x200px resolution, displayed 16 colors, and was controlled through graphical-parser system. Enclosure is made within those constraints: maintaining urgent and powerful music cues, relying on arpeggios but timing a dichotomy of silence and tempo for tense contracted moments; backed by sharp and evocative graphics, leaning on the palette’s deep natural gray to emphasize its anxiety inducing repetitious room designs. Funny set of quality though, I could see someone with no fondness for old pc games describe either as “grating” or “shrieking.” Seemingly people are embarrassed of videogame origins. Instead of considering what kind of power limited forms and formats can hold, the limitations are seen as awkward, gangly, and we’re better off to be past them.
This is my favorite sort of drum to beat but Enclosure truthfully is embarrassing. Regardless of how good it looks and plays, it’s blatantly racist. Every non-white npc is characterized by stereotypes. A Chinese man uses Japanese honorifics and there’s a blooper reel at the end where the “joke” is mispronouncing his name 70 times. Racism is embedded into the plot. Mike Goodman, a frustrated conman, accepts $10k to investigate paranormal activity. William Mayfield (the names are dumb), a bored rich bachelor, assembled a crack team of ghost experts, and when their helicopter breaks down, they all become stuck in his supposedly haunted oil rig. Mayfield explains the ghost that haunts them is an eskimo who gave his life protesting the development and drilling of his land. Strange occurrences, sightings, manifestations, and murders occur.
I assume the intention was to tell a pulpy x-files-but-old-timey story (I don’t actually know the content of x-files), however the elements of supernatural fear function by leveraging a fear of colonial usurpation, that it’s horrible somehow an indigenous person is capable of achieving even violent reparations. The native man is othered and made into a spirit to make this not a conflict of wrongness on earth, but a conflict of fantasy and of the unresolved. Because it wasn’t a true conflict—it’s presented as matter-of-fact and untragic that an oil refinery was built on land that wasn’t theirs to build on. These things happen. Never is there a hint these things shouldn’t have happened, only a consistent expression that it is horrible these things are happening. Deliberate decisions framed as inevitable, natural consequences.
Protests at Standing Rock have escalated into an attritionist standoff, going as far as attributing fines to anyone who offers necessary supplies to the protesters, nevermind the state sanction violence the protesters face on a daily basis. Obama has remained silent, but of course he has, the fine point of neoliberal institutions is to prioritize human rights until they get in the way of profit margins. Concurrently, Trudeau has approved of expanding Canada’s oil pipelines, which will make it impossible for Canada to meet their carbon emission targets. Conservatives and pundits predicted this would not come to pass under Trudeau’s administration, which, well, it did. Protests are forecasted to block construction of this project, though it seems a realtime track record is being established. It does and doesn’t need to be said, but, the land of Canada and the United Sates is native land. Blood was already shed. Those in power want you to be convinced these are inevitable, natural consequences, and any acts of sabotaging are malicious or overreaction, when they’ve never had a right to act to begin with.
Stumbling on Enclosure, a game from a decade plus ago, sheepishly espousing a pro-colonialist bent, I guess wasn’t surprising. It is, however, certainly too close for comfort. A hammered in statement, a forceful coincidence, than these are problems that have not resolved and likely will never come to resolution under colonial, capitalist regimes that aren’t interested in non-marketable, non-profitable justice. No exaggeration that multitudes of piled neocolonial occupational farces in pursuit of fossil fuel are killing the planet. Because of colluding propaganda machines the public at large views them only as something that happens, a setpiece of modernity.
If Enclosure was just racist, I wouldn’t bother to write about it (which I will emphasize that it is still unequivocally racist). At the end of the game it’s revealed that there never was an eskimo spirit at all. Every brush with the supernatural was a stage trick by Mayfield and his fellow filthy rich fraternity friend Frank Bates (Bates, like the from the book and film Psycho, yes). William reveals it was a family tradition to convince a group with sweet nothings to stay in this secluded facility and kill them one-by-one for pleasurable sport. He confesses to participating in one of these set ups as a child with his father. While he was horrified at the time, he’s aged in comfort and isolation, becoming bored and disillusioned with life, lusting for some kind of burning purpose. His childhood trauma lingered like a blight. In his last moments he found purpose and relief by disregarding his humanity, a label that never fit quite right with his experiences. Lived unfeeling and died a monster.
Powerful white men used a sensationalized narrative of supposed wrongful indigenous entitlement to strike fear and instability into a group they have power over—this is a propaganda play that is shared between the colonialist USA, Canada, and Australia. While these men make decisions that kill, the problem is framed on to groups that have experienced bloody oppression. I don’t believe Enclosure is an intelligent satire or anything like that, by its treatment of its cast and the way it handles its core threads, it’s readily apparent that the devs have no idea what they tapped into. It’s never clear if anyone ever drilled for oil or if it was just made up to get people to come to the facility. Considering how fast Enclosure spins into a happy ending, this was of no actual concern.
Divisionary propaganda reinforcing a preservation of power still stand in the way of justice and equality. Neo-fascism has inspired a deathlike urgency to resist. I fear their body count but I will resist. What is definitely fascism has been cultivated by a societal and governing stagnation, decisions and beliefs that are so very similar to fascism that, well, what we’re resisting in a way hasn’t changed. A collective rebranding and transposed power. It’s still important that language shifts to recognize bolder and more transparent bids of power by prexisting hegemony—hopefully their last gasps as they undo themselves. There’s something there though, in a teleological view, that this has been an enduring conflict with similar stakes, and it’s the urgency of new contexts that facilitates new language for the endless and nameless. Maybe not in my lifetime, but I hold other names for oppressive power structures, and they are death and defeat.
check out this hecka retro site where enclosure resides