Playing the Zombie: Participation and Interpassivity in Gothic XR

Sarah O'Brien

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    Marina Warner states that the concept of the zombie ‘embodies the condition of our time’ as it represents contemporary experiences of selfhood shaped by new technologies (2006: 357–8). In this paper I argue that, due to the interactive and immersive qualities of XR, the concept of the zombie in some recent Gothic expressions does not just represent contemporary experience of selfhood but is a development of an ‘interpassive’ role we play in everyday life (Pfaller 1996; Žižek 2008). Interpassivity is seen to be the ‘underside’ to interactivity, degrading any authentic experience or contribution of the individual. In some cases, the interpassive role in Gothic participatory experiences can be seen to be a cathartic extension of this everyday interpassive experience. However, the addition of a sadistic element to this role can lead to a ‘zombie-participant’ experience, which is a perverse and Gothic resistance to interpassivity. The paper focuses on two XR events that strive to reclaim the authentic self in what can be interpreted as a plight to recover the authenticity of individual experience within the closed loop of XR experience. The first is Whist (2017) by AΦE, where there is an attempt to reify the self through the trigger of the participant’s gaze. This results in an interpassive experience that demotes agency: rather than interpret the self, Freudian discourse is seen to ‘stand in’ for it, thus reflecting an interpassive state. The second is Doom Room (2018) by Makropol, where there is an attempt to reclaim the soul through re-birth via self-sacrifice. ‘Doom Room’ entwines the story of interpassivity with a sadistic interactive design, resulting in a destabilisation of ‘self’ that ultimately resists the interpassive experience.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number19(1)
    Pages (from-to)76-96
    Number of pages20
    JournalBody, Space and Technology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2020


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