The Gothic in contemporary interactive fictions
Abstract: 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.In 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.
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