Matthew Spokes (York St. John University, UK)

Gaming and the Virtual Sublime: Rhetoric, Awe, Fear, and Death in Contemporary Video Games

ISBN: 978-1-83867-432-8, eISBN: 978-1-83867-431-1

Publication date: 28 August 2020


Spokes, M. (2020), "Prelims", Gaming and the Virtual Sublime: Rhetoric, Awe, Fear, and Death in Contemporary Video Games, Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. i-xiii.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020 Matthew Spokes

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Gaming and the Virtual Sublime

Title Page

Gaming and the Virtual Sublime: Rhetoric, Awe, Fear, and Death in Contemporary Video Games

Matthew Spokes

York St. John University, UK

United Kingdom – North America – Japan – India – Malaysia – China

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Howard House, Wagon Lane, Bingley BD16 1WA, UK

First edition 2020

© 2020 Matthew Spokes. Published under an exclusive license by Emerald Publishing Limited.

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No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without either the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying issued in the UK by The Copyright Licensing Agency and in the USA by The Copyright Clearance Center. Any opinions expressed in the chapters are those of the authors. Whilst Emerald makes every effort to ensure the quality and accuracy of its content, Emerald makes no representation implied or otherwise, as to the chapters’ suitability and application and disclaims any warranties, express or implied, to their use.

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A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978-1-83867-432-8 (Print)

ISBN: 978-1-83867-431-1 (Online)

ISBN: 978-1-83867-433-5 (Epub)


Abbreviations ix
Author Biography xi
Acknowledgments xiii
Chapter 1 Introduction: What are Games for? 1
 1.1 Peacock Hey!, Byron and the Significance of Skeletons 1
 1.2 What are Video Games? 3
 1.3 Video Games and Play 5
 1.4 Games as Art 9
 1.5 The Structure of this Book 11
Chapter 2 The Classical Sublime 15
 2.1 Introduction 15
 2.2 The Origins of the Sublime in Longinus 16
 2.3 The Sublime of Dennis, Baillie and Gerard 19
 2.4 The Mathematical, Dynamical and Aesthetically Sublime 24
Chapter 3 The Contemporary Sublime 31
 3.1 Introduction 31
 3.2 Lyotard’s Lessons on the Sublime 31
 3.3 The Sublime Rhythms of Bacon in Deleuze 34
 3.4 The Techno-Sublime 37
 3.5 The Gamified Sublime 39
Chapter 4 The Affective and the Virtual 43
 4.1 Introduction 43
 4.2 What is ‘Affect’? 43
 4.3 Video Games and Affect 48
 4.4 A Critical Pause 52
 4.5 What is the ‘Virtual’? 52
 4.6 Methodological Approaches 58
Chapter 5 Rhetoric 63
 5.1 Introduction 63
 5.2 What does Longinus Mean by ‘Rhetoric’? (Slight Return) 64
 5.3 Text, Narrative Architecture and the Persuasive Power of Rhetoric 66
 5.4 Challenging Forms of Narrative and Storytelling through Video Games 71
 5.5 Rhetoric, Temporality and Identity 76
 5.6 Rhetoric and the Sublime 80
Chapter 6 Awe 83
 6.1 Introduction 83
 6.2 Realism and Representation in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey 85
 6.3 Beauty and the Sublime in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt 89
 6.4 Representational/Simulational Landscapes in Red Dead Redemption 2 92
 6.5 The Importance of Incorporation and Sensation in Super Mario Galaxy 95
 6.6 Chaos and the Outer Limits in Elite: Dangerous and Red Dead Online 97
 6.7 Awe and the Sublime 101
Chapter 7 Fear 103
 7.1 Introduction 103
 7.2 Terror, Magnitude and the Kantian Sublime 105
 7.3 Fear, Games Design and Agency 108
 7.4 Immediate/Visceral Fear (via the Abject) 111
 7.5 Uncanny Fear 115
 7.6 Structural/External Fear 119
 7.7 Fear and the Sublime 122
Chapter 8 Failure, Repetition and Death 125
 8.1 Introduction 125
 8.2 Failure and Agency 127
 8.3 Repetition and Ritual 132
 8.4 Death, Dying and Living Again 136
 8.5 Failure, Repetition, Death and the Sublime 140
Chapter 9 Towards the Virtual Sublime 145
 9.1 Introduction 145
 9.2 The Virtual Sublime, and How to Understand it 146
 9.3 We Need to Conceptualise ‘The Real’ in a Consistent Way 148
 9.4 We Need to be Expansive in Our Use of the Sublime 149
 9.5 We Need to Experiment with Conceptual and Practical Applications of Sublime Ideas 150
 9.6 We Need to be Responsive to Developments in Interactive Simulational Media 151
References 155
Index 169


AC:Or Assassin’s Creed: Origins
E:D Elite Dangerous
FANF Five Nights at Freddy’s
GOW God of War
GTA V Grand Theft Auto V
Odyssey Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
PoP:SoT Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
RDO Red Dead Online
RDR2 Red Dead Redemption 2
Sekiro Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
SH2 Silent Hill 2
SMG Super Mario Galaxy
TDC That Dragon, Cancer
Isaac The Binding of Isaac
TWD The Walking Dead
W3:WH The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
NPC Non-player character (an in-game character who is other to your avatar and controlled by the game)

Author Biography

Dr. Matthew Spokes is an Associate Dean for Sociology and Criminology at York St. John University. He has published a number of pieces on video games, including work on structural violence, pro-social behaviour, procedural rhetoric, methodological approaches, and narrative architecture and mortality.

His previous book was Death, Memorialization and Deviant Spaces (Spokes, Denham and Lehmann), published as part of Emerald ‘Death and Culture’ series.


My thanks go to a number of colleagues who have supported me with ideas and advice during the writing of this book, including Dr Jack Denham, Dr David Hill, Dr Adam Formby, Professor David Beer and Dr Steven Hirschler (who all chipped in on matters sublime and ludological) and Dr Rosie Smith (who listened to me grumble).

Even more substantive thanks go to my wife and my amazing daughter, both of whom put up with far too many disrupted evenings and weekends.