Monstrous internationalism and racial fetishism: monstrosity and race in Shin megami tensei and World of Warcraft

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Amsa’s “On Monsters” (2009) sees the monster as a figure that exercises significant powers of both attraction and repulsion (3-5). It is this power of fascination that anchors a study which roams widely across disciplines, geography and history.

However in digital games, monsters can often appear in such a fashion that they seem to lose this characteristic ambiguity. Players often approach monsters as a means to a fairly predictable end: what is attractive is the “loot” that awaits once the monster is defeated. Monsters can be throwaway speed bumps: “mobs”, “trash” and “adds”. This has been termed gaming’s “encyclopedic” coding of monstrosity (Svelch), in which the monster becomes iterable and quantifiable, thereby losing something of its monstrousness.

The powers of attraction and repulsion noted by Amsa are reminiscent of another conceptual sphere: that of the fetish, which in both its psychoanalytic and Marxist versions affirms the existence of a void (Agamben 1993). A connection between fetishism and mediated monsters has explicitly been made by Dadoun (1987) in a classic article on horror film.

One of the preconditions of the encyclopedic appearance of the monstrous is a set of metrics that serve as a framework for comparability between monstrous beings even though they originate in incommensurable stories. This focus on particular characteristics resembles the metonymic relation of parts and wholes in fetishism, and has been theorised as the salient feature (Surman, Ndalianis, Jayemanne). The salient feature also resembles fetishism in terms of the attribution of powers of movement to inanimate objects: much like the keyframe in animation, the salient feature is a point of detail which ‘anchors’ the set of transformations that a game character is capable of (Sobchak). Through this metnonymy, it helps players track the dynamic movement that monstrous characters are often capable of, how they can be affected (the notorious ‘weak spots’ of boss monsters) and their recapitulation outside the game space (the recreation of salient features in cosplay).

As Winokur insists, however, both the Marxist and psychoanalytic fetishes misrecognise the fetish’s origin in the ethnic misrecognition necessary to imperialist international trade (Pietz). Winokur explores this through the proliferation of ‘special effects’ in the technological infrastructure of early Amercian film which allowed the racial other to appear as both coveted and abominated; hyper-masculine and feminised. Similarly, through the salient feature, this paper will demonstrate how gaming’s monsters play the game of presence and absence with regard to racial, cultural and ethnic difference. As readings of race in Shin Megami Tensei and World of Warcraft will show, what gaming’s monsters lose in affective intensity through the encyclopedic, they regain through a new fetishistic internationalism of racial signifiers.

Amsa, S. 2009. On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Agamben, G. 1993. Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN.
Dadoun, Roger. 1989. "Fetishism in the Horror Film." Fantasy Cinema. Ed. James Donald. London: British Film Institute.
Jayemanne, D. 2017. Performativity in Art, Literature and Videogames. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, NY.
Ndalianis, A. 2004. Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Surman, D. 2008. Notes on Superflat and its Expression in Games. Refractory Journal, 13.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2019
EventSociety for Cinema and Media Studies Conference - Sheraton Seattle Hotel, Seattle, United States
Duration: 13 Mar 201917 Mar 2019


ConferenceSociety for Cinema and Media Studies Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


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