The Eye: In Gaming and Other Forms of Media



I’ve noticed a trend in the different mediums I’ve come in contact with lately.  

Movie: The Fellowship of the Ring
Game: A Story About My Uncle (PC)
Game: A Story About My Uncle (PC)
Game: Journey (PS3)
Game: Journey (PS3)
Article: some Uber alien game that hasn’t come out yet
Article: some Uber alien game that hasn’t come out yet

What is the cultural significance of this eye and why do we fear it? It drives us instinctively to hide even when it has not been explained—game, movie or otherwise—why we should hide in the first place. Something fictitious puts such a deep anxiety in our hearts that I have to wonder what about this fear is real.
My first instinct is to run to Orwell’s “Big Brother” in 1984. This could possibly be a subconscious cultural and political commentary of modern day lack of trust in structures of authority and power. This unifying symbolism shows a thread of fear that weaves these creative minds together as they form a common enemy.
The looming watchful eye always takes a grotesquely large and bulbous shape, anywhere between orange to reddish in tone, sometimes with that cat-like slit that seems to be that much more evil. It is always THE eye. One, not two.
Not only does the singularity suggest the disturbing all-powerful theme explored in 1984, but it also creates this alien-ness that makes it hard for us to fathom what the one eyed creature would do with us if it did catch us. The unknown stirs our deepest fears…
Though recurring images across mediums may not be intentional, I think it’d be a bit naïve to assume that they are by accident. What are we trying to tell ourselves, with the continuous return of this monster? Maybe we fear imposing onlookers stripping away our privacy and autonomy. Maybe we fear spectatorship, which is quite interesting considering the mediums in which this monster takes form. If we conflict with a culture of spectatorship, we must be using some strange counter attack that involves becoming the looming spectator ourselves. We can comfortably strip Frodo down with our own eyes, but God-forbid the camera turn on us. Our first instinct is to hide and fear, and it appears that game developers continuously use this easy fix to propel gamers through their desired narrative.
I still can’t pinpoint, though, WHY The Eye is such a universally easy fix. How has this organ become a fearsome symbol through time?

The Eye of Providence, or what illuminati conspiracy theorists call, the Eye of Horus  (U.S. Dollar Bill)
The Eye of Providence, or what illuminati conspiracy theorists call, the Eye of Horus (U.S. Dollar Bill)

2 thoughts on “The Eye: In Gaming and Other Forms of Media”

  1. You’ve pointed out an incredibly interesting trend in visual media. I agree that it’s kind of ironic that the “all-seeing eye” is such a universal source of fear and discomfort that can be employed by artists and designers. Visual media is all about our visual consumption, and whenever there is a hint that the visual consumption is turned on us, the viewer, we get uncomfortable.
    This post reminded me a lot of the Illuminati conspiracy theory, which is that there is a “global elite”, the Illuminati, who are attempting world domination through art and culture. One of the most powerful supposed symbols of this imagined group is the All-Seeing Eye, a symbol that represents power, omniscience, and domination. As you’ve pointed out, this symbol has become more and more popular in visual media, which continues to fuel the fire of conspiracy theorists.
    I think the All-Seeing Eye is such a prolific symbol because humans are innately afraid of being watched and of having to monitor their behavior accordingly. Think of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. Bentham designed the Panopticon as the perfect prison, a circular structure with an observation tower in the center so the prisoners would never know when they were being watched by the eyes of the guards and were continually exposed. Michel Foucault talks about this in his book Discipline and Punish. Bentham leveraged our fear of being watched into a form of punishment.
    For a certain fringe of society, this innate fear leads to the belief that there really IS an All-Seeing Eye in the Illuminati, who are using the world as their own personal Panopticon. Scary stuff.
    Well that kind of got away from me there, but mostly I wanted to say that this was super interesting. *flounces away to Google “Illuminati Beyonce and Jay Z”*

  2. REALLY enjoyed that nice bit of philosophy in the previous comment, seeing as it’s my major, so I suppose I’ll address it first. That innate fear of being watched that you mention is a big topic for Sartre, saying that the “gaze” of another conscious being causes us to ‘freeze’ and robs us of subjectivity.
    Being watched by something else, especially when the feeling is self imposed, can significantly affect a person’s psyche and inflict paranoia.

    My original point was that this all-seeing eye motif in video games is not limited to that form of media. The first thing I thought of is the famous all-seeing eye of ‘God’ in the Great Gatsby. It is depicted as an eye from a optometrist’s office but it is widely believed to be a symbol for God. I think it’s important to realize just hot much all forms of media tend to borrow from one another and I think the coolest thing about it is the way the depiction of the same thing in different media forms change so drastically, but keep the same general meaning and/or function, as you point out a little bit with all of your pictures from games, movies, and literature.

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