Mechanisms of Desire

Friday, 26 August 2022

Continuing on the spicy path that this blog has taken lately, today I am going to elaborate a bit on the dark romantic aspect of relationships between characters, something that, surprisingly, is not a new thing in video games. As early as in 1995, Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within was maybe the first game to include such an element in its plot, which back then was particularly radical and innovative, given that the technical means were very few, and the ways to accompany a game with cutscenes were also rather limited. Regardless this didn't prevent the game's developing team to come up with a captivating story involving characters that since became iconic. The element of desire is quite prominent in the story, as I will analyze in a bit, and in a rather complex form, for that matter. I have also picked a few more select cases of characters who, like Gabriel, are not simply involved in the theme of desire, but are also deeply and dramatically affected by it in their attitude and mentality.

Desire disguised as confusion (Gabriel Knight in Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within)

Like I mentioned above, Gabriel's case can be considered an archetypical story involving the theme of desire, as it belongs to a video game that was most probably the first one to address such a subject and in such a radical way. Gabriel is a consciously straight ladies' man, and his self-confidence on that matter is particularly high. All this is doomed to change when, while investigating of a series of murders, he meets the charming and mysterious Friedrich Von Glower, typically a Baron but in reality a werewolf of more than one hundred years old. Friedrich is instantly attracted by Gabriel who initially seems to be unaware of the situation, but as the story progresses, he gets smitten with Friedrich although this is something that he cannot even acknowledge at first.

At a crucial turning point, however, he comes across Baron Von Zell, Friedrich's ex-lover whom Friedrich had turned into a werewolf during a moment of passion. Von Zell is the one responsible for the aforementioned murders, and while being hunted by Gabriel and Friedrich, he is shot dead, but not before managing to attack and bite Gabriel. Soon after, Gabriel starts to feel the effects, as he is slowly turning into a werewolf himself, something that he realizes and tries very hard to control and suppress. In a rather revealing scene, we can see him struggling with himself in physical and emotional pain as his inner werewolf struggles to prevail as well. In reality, what Gabriel is truly trying to suppress is the desire that he is actually developing towards Friedrich which, allegorically, found a way to the surface after Friedrich's ex bit him. Gabriel is in deep confusion because he is unable to admit and accept this unprecedented feeling, which also happens to be very strong and difficult to handle. Gabriel's inner struggle is in fact a battle with his own feelings and that part of himself that has awakened all of a sudden without him being able to control it at all. At the same time, however, he is struggling to persuade himself that all this turmoil has to do with him slowly becoming a werewolf, but in his attempt to focus on that, he is merely highlighting more what is truly going on inside him.

Desire suppressed by denial (Jill Valentine in Resident Evil 3 Remake)

The romantic aspect may not be particularly present in Resident Evil 3, but there still is a degree of electricity between Jill and Carlos, mostly filtered through admiration from his part, while Jill is rather prejudiced at first because Carlos belongs to a company that she knows is evil. As the story progresses, however, it becomes quite clear that Jill and Carlos are attracted to each other, something that Carlos shows almost directly, what with his attitude towards Jill and his choice of words when it comes to flirting her, albeit a bit awkwardly, and also given the tense circumstances they find themselves in. But for Jill, things are not that simple; although Jill is a very "raw" character, in that she is honest, sincere and crystal-clear, she is quite secretive when it comes to expressing her feelings. As the events in the story develop and she starts to see that Carlos is honest and she actually begins to like him, it is not very easy for her to admit it, let alone express it with words to him. Moreover, Jill is a person who puts duty above all and who values her partners very highly; this is something that becomes very clear during her brief dialogue with Carlos after she leaves the power plant, when Carlos calls her "partner" and she replies with a rather bitter and cold "Not your partner", because, for her, comradeship is something sacred. Carlos, on the other hand, is always laid back, and doesn't seem to take anything else into account except for the fact that he likes her, and he is very specific and clear about this. After Jill witnesses Nikolai betraying his team and leaving Mikhail and her to die, her prejudice against Carlos disappears completely and it slowly becomes clear that she does care for him. Chances are, if she didn't know that he was a soldier of Umbrella, she would have allowed herself to realize that she actually did like him from the beginning, both as a person and as a man. 

Even after all this happens, however, she is still in denial; being faithful to her mission and because her priority is the elimination of evil, she refuses to give room to her feelings while, subconsciously, trying to control them. After she is treated with the antidote and just as she is about to wake up, she has a nightmare during which Carlos gets in her room to inform her that everything is fine, but just then he begins to turn and he asks her to kill him. Jill cannot do it, of course, and a zombified Carlos attacks her, which is when she abruptly wakes up in anguish and confusion. The fact that, among all the people that she met in the course of the story, her subconscious decided to make Carlos attack her in a zombified state in her dream, can have a dual interpretation: on the one hand, being forced to work with Carlos had brought her closer to him, putting him inevitably in the position of a temporary partner, and subsequently someone whom she could trust, at least to a degree. The fear of losing a partner, and more so in such a violent way, had been with Jill from the start of the story, after the unfortunate incident with Brad; so now her nightmare reminds her that fear by presenting Carlos as a victim with Brad's fate. On the other hand, however, this subconscious choice indicates that Jill is attracted to Carlos but she refuses to allow herself the luxury of enjoying this feeling because if she does so, she will betray her mission. Her subconscious puts the man that she likes in the position of a dangerous enemy because she feels both enchanted and threatened by his presence.

Desire masked as guilt (Joseph Oda in The Evil Within)

Joseph's case is quite similar to that of Gabriel Knight in that, for both of them, desire takes the form of something considered forbidden and subsequently both of them experience a devastating inner struggle with their wild, primitive self through which they channel that feeling. But whereas for Gabriel all this was mainly due to confusion (Gabriel found himself in a situation that was unexpected and unfamiliar, and which he was unable to handle), for Joseph everything is pretty clear and conscious, which is why he is primarily led by guilt for what he experiences. Joseph is emotionally vulnerable, which is why being trapped in Ruvik's memories affects him so much. After unwillingly entering the STEM system, Joseph comes face to face with his most secret and suppressed fears and emotions, something that weakens his will and his resistances and results in him not being able to control himself and thus turning into a Haunted.

Soon after Sebastian finds him in STEM, Joseph experiences his first transformation during which he violently attacks Sebastian while struggling to take control of his monstrous self. The fact that this first transformation happens while he is with Sebastian is not random; since Sebastian is, unbeknownst to him, the receiver of Joseph's forbidden feelings. The next time he turns is when, due to Ruvik's control of his mind, he instinctively catches that Juli's presence is threatening, since in reality she is there as a spy on behalf of Mobius, and he attacks her in an attempt to push her out of the way and, eventually, to prevent her from affecting Sebastian. Later on, while still with Sebastian, he attempts to kill himself because he realizes that not only he is unable to control this transformation, but moreover a part of himself yearns to become a Haunted. Part of himself, that is, is ready to accept and embrace the feeling of that forbidden desire, but his conscious self, most probably having grown up in a strict, heavily traditional environment that forced him to follow all the expected norms and stereotypes, brings forward the feeling of guilt in order to make him suppress whatever it is that makes him revolt both emotionally and physically. Joseph becoming a Haunted then reverting back to his human form with even more guilt each time stands as an allegory for his struggle to come to terms with himself and break the restrains that keep him imprisoned.

Desire leading to self-destruction (Derek Simmons in Resident Evil 6)

Derek Simmons expresses probably one of the most straightforward forms of desire, given that he is not particularly complex himself, at least at the beginning. Originally the typical power-hungry villain with a Messiah complex, he developed an obsessive paranoia after falling in love with Ada. Of course for a man like him, "love" is not exactly the word we should use; he clearly cannot feel anything positive for anyone but himself, and what truly pushes him to extremes is not so much his feelings for Ada, but the fact that she rejected him. By rejecting him, Ada in fact challenged his power, something that, for him, is impossible to accept. After Derek crossed the line by coming up with the idea to create Ada's clone, his mania grew bigger, and his malicious acts shifted from general to very specific. At this point, it was desire that drove his actions, but also blinded him so much that he didn't realize that, by succumbing to this feeling and letting it take control, he got tangled in a peculiar and marginally twisted triangle, with two depictions of the same woman at its two points: Ada, the real one, and Carla, her clone. Subsequently, Derek's actions caused Carla's actions because she, in turn, realized that he had turned her into a lab rat when it was already too late for her to reverse the effects, while at the same time she felt deeply betrayed, not only as a scientist but also as a woman. It is hinted that the real Carla, for her part, had feelings for Derek but he would only see a potential Ada in her, so the realization of this added more fuel to Carla's already unstable psyche.

When Carla took her revenge on Derek by turning him into a monster, Derek's inner monstrosity also came to the surface and literally found a face. Not only he lost any sense of humanity but he also lost himself, and this was a path that he had in fact taken much earlier, when he first came up with the idea to create Ada's clone because he could not have the real one. His paranoia grew stronger after the clone was actually created, when he began to refer to and address the clone as if she was the real Ada. Such a sick situation, of course, could not drag on for too long, and would inevitably lead to his own destruction, aided also by Carla's thirst for revenge. From the moment when Derek was transformed into a monster, and seeing, in his paranoia, how powerful he could actually be in that state, he literally killed his human self, giving room to his inner monster.

Desire as obsession (Stefano Valentini in The Evil Within 2)

Although Stefano's murderous instincts can easily be mistaken for those of a typical serial killer, in fact they have much more depth, like he does as well, both as a character overall and specifically as an artist. Stefano's psyche is in turmoil, but there are two main conflicting emotions inside him: the extreme love that he feels for his own creations, and the venomous hate that he directs towards every other living soul around him. In fact Stefano is obsessed with his art, in a most twisted and unhealthy manner, and views everyone and everything through the distorted prism of his camera's eye. Stefano has given life to his camera by creating the hideous monster Obscura, which is also the depiction of his inner, normally unperceivable self. Moreover, Obscura represents his own feminine side, which he has embraced to a degree but still resents and feels contempt for. Stefano could be easily labelled a killer of women, but this would only be a shallow and superficial characterization for such a complex mentality. In reality he hates all human beings, independently of sex or age. In the real world, he started killing female models because, as a fashion photographer, he could very easily approach them as potential victims. Progressively, killing women became some kind of ritual, as through them he would every time attempt to eliminate his female side. In the reality of STEM, however, where he could act completely out of control, his "gallery" of victims grew bigger and richer. Male citizens and soldiers were also "honored" to become part of his installations, with some of them even getting to have their own personal exhibition room, like Turner, Hayes and Baker, and of course Sebastian for whom Stefano had prearranged a dedicated gallery hall in order to place the installation that he had conceived and which would feature him as a "protagonist".

For Stefano, desire is a very complex, dark feeling and notion; he hates Sebastian on the surface, but in the essence he yearns for that aspect of his that Stefano feels will make him an ideal model / victim. Sebastian combines two things that Stefano seems to deem as essential for the creation of his morbid art: innocence and sexual appeal. In his artwork, Stefano always depicts these two elements together, either directly or through symbols. Although he sees Lily as the ideal "blank canvas" for his future inspirations due to her innocence, he would still need victims to actually create art. Sebastian has Lily's pure heart, but he also has the sexuality that Stefano seeks so ardently for his disturbing creations. The sequence where Sebastian confronts and finally kills Stefano looks and feels like a twisted sex hunt, which becomes more than evident in case Stefano manages to catch Sebastian and stab him with lustful rage. At this stage, Stefano's obsession with his own art identifies both with the attraction that he feels for Sebastian on a physical level, and his desire to create "his masterpiece" which will incorporate all the perfection that he believes he has achieved: the perfect canvas, which is Lily, the perfect human material that would be Sebastian, and the perfect concept, which however he eventually lost the chance to create.



Special thanks to afterdarkmysweet for providing info for Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within.