The Gothic in contemporary interactive fictions

It’s great to see the more current interactive fiction works getting critical attention. The “text adventure” genre has come a long way from mazes and inventory puzzles; these works emphasize the literary effects that can only be generated by manipulating the player’s sense of agency.

This study examines how
themes, conventions and concepts in Gothic discourses are remediated or
developed in selected works of contemporary interactive fiction. These
works, which are wholly text-based and proceed via command line input
from a player, include Nevermore, by Nate Cull (2000), Anchorhead,
by Michael S. Gentry (1998), Madam Spider’s Web, by Sara Dee
(2006) and Slouching Towards Bedlam, by Star C. Foster and
Daniel Ravipinto (2003). The interactive fictions are examined using a
media-specific, in-depth analytical approach.

Gothic fiction
explores the threats which profoundly challenge narrative subjects, and
so may be described as concerned with epistemological, ideological and
ontological boundaries. In the interactive fictions these boundaries are
explored dually through the player’s traversal (that is, progress
through a work) and the narrative(s) produced as a result of that
traversal. The first three works in this study explore the
vulnerabilities related to conceptions of human subjectivity. As an
adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem “The Raven,” Nevermore,
examined in chapter one, is a work in which self-reflexivity extends to
the remediated use of the Gothic conventions of ‘the unspeakable’ and
‘live burial’ which function in Poe’s poem. In chapter two, postmodern
indeterminacy, especially with regard to the tensions between spaces and
subjective boundaries, is apparent in the means through which the trope
of the labyrinth is redesigned in Anchorhead, a work loosely
based on H. P. Lovecraft’s terror fiction. In the fragmented narratives
produced via traversal of Madam Spider’s Web, considered in
chapter three, the player character’s self-fragmentation, indicated by
the poetics of the uncanny as well as of the Gothic-grotesque,
illustrates a destabilized conception of the human subject which reveals
a hidden monster within, both for the player character and the player.
Finally, traversal of Slouching Towards Bedlam, analyzed in
chapter four, produces a series of narratives which function in a
postmodern, recursive fashion to implicate the player in the viral
infection which threatens the decidedly posthuman player character. This
viral entity is metaphorically linked to Bram Stoker’s vampire,
Dracula. As it is the only work in the study to present a conception of
posthuman subjectivity, Slouching Towards Bedlam more
specifically aligns with the subgenre ‘cybergothic,’ and provides an
illuminating contrast to the other three interactive fictions.

the order in which I examine them, these works exemplify a postmodern
development of the Gothic which increasingly marries fictional
indeterminacy to explicit formal effects, both during interaction and in
the narratives produced. —Van Leavenworth (doctoral dissertation)

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