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Living and Dying in the City of the Damned: A Close Reading of Mordheim’s Gothic Post-Apocalypse

Death, Culture & Leisure: Playing Dead

ISBN: 978-1-83909-038-7, eISBN: 978-1-83909-037-0

Publication date: 20 August 2020


As early as Johan Huzinga’s (2016, 89–188) landmark exploration of play, Homo Ludens (1949), death has been recognised as integral to play. Today’s digital games continue this close association. Whilst the past half-century has trended towards limiting the impact of player-death, permanent-death (permadeath) games provide a less-forgiving environment. As the first digital adaptation of Games Workshop’s cult-classic tabletop skirmish game, Mordheim: City of the Damned (Rogue Factor, 2015) utilises permadeath to emphasise death’s inevitability and harsh reality in the precarity of its gothic post-apocalyptic setting. Whilst the majority of apocalyptic videogames follow the comic frame, the player has no agency to overcome or change the events of Mordheim’s apocalypse, setting it firmly in the gothic frame. It is substantially less about overturning disaster or saving the city, and decidedly more about looting its shattered corpse. The close reading of Mordheim: City of the Damned’s theme of death for this chapter identified that death and injury are simply accepted realities; ubiquitous, yet normalised. Whilst every death is significant – through permanently lost warriors – there is always another willing replacement available. Viewed alongside the warband’s primary purpose – that is service to their patron – warriors’ deaths not only become expected and relatively meaningless, but also financially connected. Rather than encouraging association with their warbands, players are subtly shifted to aligning with their patron, viewing the warbands and their warriors as an expendable means towards gaining digital kudos points and bragging rights amongst the other digital noble.



Stubbs, J.D. (2020), "Living and Dying in the City of the Damned: A Close Reading of Mordheim’s Gothic Post-Apocalypse", Coward-Gibbs, M. (Ed.) Death, Culture & Leisure: Playing Dead (Emerald Studies in Death and Culture), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 69-82.



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Copyright © 2020 Jonathan D. Stubbs