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Published: 2010-01-28

Interactive Gothic

NEWS A new dissertation from Umeå University presents an analysis of Gothic elements in four contemporary works of interactive fiction (IF).

IF is a text-based digital media form where a player is involved in producing a story. The media form has been around for more than 30 years, and while earlier works such as Adventure and Zork were more game-like, the majority of contemporary IFs are more concerned with telling a story.

Although IF is a form of electronic literature, individual works have been under explored in literary and digital media scholarship. In this study, Van Leavenworth argues that four modern IFs develop traditional themes and tropes from the literary Gothic genre while also simulating comparable effects for the player.

“Because the player directs a primary character in each of these works, the player’s sense of control and ability to guide that character is what is most often threatened,” according to Van Leavenworth. “Although each IF sets up such threats differently, the threats generally involve some sort of hazard to communication.”

The four works examined in this dissertation are Michael S. Gentry’s Anchorhead (1998), Nate Cull’s Nevermore (2000), Star C. Foster and Daniel Ravipinto’s Slouching Towards Bedlam (2003) and Sara Dee’s Madam Spider’s Web (2006). In connection with these works, printed texts written by Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft are also examined.

Gothic fiction has a long history, dating back to the late 18th century. Gothic texts are interesting to study because they present relationships between fear and identity. Examining the source(s) of fear in a text is one way to determine what traits are important to a character’s sense of self because these traits are what will be in jeopardy in the narrative.

Each IF in the study deals with different Gothic tropes and themes. The concept of identity is complex because it includes both the depiction of the primary character and the player’s role in steering that character.
“The IFs present a different way of thinking about how an identity may be constructed in an interactive work,” claims Van Leavenworth. “However, the threats to this type of identity construction still develop from familiar themes and tropes from non-interactive Gothic narratives.”

For example, tropes such as the uncanny (where familiar things are made strangely unfamiliar) and the unspeakable (where crucial information may not be expressed or obtained) are simulated in the player’s role in a couple of these works.

Van Leavenworth, Department of Language Studies and HUMlab, will defend his doctoral thesis, The Gothic in Contemporary Interactive Fictions, on Saturday, February 6th. The defense will take place at 10:00 a.m. in Auditorium E, the Humanities Building. The Faculty Opponent is Dr. Catherine Spooner, Department of English and Creative Writing, Lancaster University.

For further information or an interview, please contact Van Leavenworth, Tel +46 (0)90-786 96 27
E-mail van.leavenworth@engelska.umu.se