Archivist Spotlight: Julianna Blake
It's rare that you find an archivist in a video game who takes an active part in the story, also happens to be the main antagonist, and is just delightful to watch as she eviscerates the protagonist with words and a sniper rifle. But Deathloop's Julianna "Jules" Blake manages to do all of those things, which makes her an archivist worthy of the spotlight.
Deathloop is a 2021 first-person shooter from Arkane Studios and Bethesda Softworks where you play as Colt Vahn (voiced by Jason E. Kelley), the former Head of Security for AEON, as he tries to break the time loop that keeps the island of Blackreef repeating the same day over and over and over again. Thwarting Colt's efforts is Julianna (Ozioma Akagha), AEON's Archivist and its new Head of Security who intends to keep the loop going, no matter what.
The 1960s sci-fi aesthetic as well as the sharp dialogue make for a fantastic watch for someone like me who doesn't so much play games as experience them vicariously through live streams and VODs. I was well into a VOD for Deathloop when it was revealed that Julianna is AEON's archivist, mostly because it doesn't come up as part of the main story. It's her background that you typically learn through reading the flavor text of the game as Colt discovers more about AEON and the time loop since his memory has been wiped clean. A convenient trope, but effective nonetheless.
One of the pieces of flavor text that really ticked me was Julianna's communications handle: overarchiver.
Unfortunately, we never see Julianna acting as an archivist in any capacity, though the game does describe her responsibilities as "dispassionately documenting everything that happens to the Anomaly and the Loop". This plays into the stereotype of the distant, cold academic that often marries with the supposed neutrality imposed on archivists. It's also a direct disconnect with the personality Julianna displays as she kills Colt or spars with him over the radio. She wouldn't be the first archivist to fall out of love with her job only to find her true passion in obtaining immortality. Or, like most of Julianna's actions, she played the role that would get her the farthest before showing her true colors.
Her primary role in the game is to literally hunt Colt down and kill him, resetting the loop, and continuing the cycle. There's even a multiplayer function baked into the game that allows the player to play as Julianna and invade another player's game, hunting Colt down and attempting to kill him. With each successful invasion and kill, the player can upgrade Julianna's skills, weapons, and powers - because of course the freaky time loop island also bestows abilities that defy all laws of man and science.
Julianna's primary ability, or Slab, is Masquerade, which allows her to take on the appearance of anyone as a means of luring Colt out, or sneaking up on him, and pulling the old bait and switch. Masquerade is also the only ability that cannot be equipped by Colt. It belongs to Julianna and Julianna alone, which I like on a metaphorical level. Some archival skills just can't be equipped without experience. Julianna, however, can equip all available Slabs, which shows that an archivist can always learn something new that allows them to play a perpetual game of cat-and-mouse.
Contrary to the known rules of the Loop, Julianna is the only person on the island who's unaffected by the memory wipe that normally comes with a reset. This makes her both a walking historical record of the island as well as a formidable foe with more knowledge of Colt and the island's other inhabitants than they have of themselves. Again, from an archival perspective, Julianna is the poster child for institutional knowledge contained within a single person. In most real world scenarios, this is a result of being understaffed and lacking resources. In Julianna's case, it's a byproduct of a weird time loop. Ya know, six of one half a dozen of the other.
So, as we celebrate this holiday season, remember that archivists can be the cause of, or solution to, all of life's time loop problems. We work hard is what I'm saying and Julianna Blake is out there working the hardest! Thank you for your service, Ms. Blake!