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Smearing the Medieval: Architectural Objects and Time Travel in Amnesia: The Dark Descent
By Matthew Schwager
The Year’s Work in Medievalism, Vol.27 (2012)
Introduction: In late 2010, a small game development company known as Frictional Games launched Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a survival horror game fixated upon medieval and Renaissance traditions. Having experienced the vicissitudes of the independent game development process, Frictional Games lurched through their planned launch date, battered, bruised, and maimed by financial hardship, broken contracts, and enervating usage of newly conceived game distribution platforms.
Amnesia, although not an immediate financial success, became something of an instant classic. Heavyweight review hub IGN awarded it a coveted Editor’s Choice award at a moment almost simultaneous with release; various other review outlets praised the game for its impregnable atmosphere, more-than-competent design, and whatever unremitting terror that seemed to be aroused consistently within eclectic player demographics. Amnesia, it seemed, was sent to interrupt the weary heritage of medieval-tinged Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games that valued mechanistic form over content and money-to-online-currency economics over coherent universes. Existing solely as a single-player game, Amnesia allowed the player to take control over Daniel, an unwilling victim of stalking, vaguely Lovecraftian forces that drive him into Brennenburg, an ancient castle located in 19th-century Poland.
Amnesia appeared to be something special; Frictional Games has moved over 350,000 units since release, and multiple reviewers have tossed around the title of “most successfully frightening game” ever produced. Amnesia possesses a sort of allure, not due only to its nebulous combination of medieval and Renaissance thought and tradition, but because it masterfully combines this surface-level ornamentation with trends found in contemporary single-player and cinematic game design.