The following essay accompanies my 23-page paper which I won't (can't?) post here.
This project’s purpose is to show an example of an interactive adventure video game that is able to complete the most necessary effect narratives have to offer- emotion. Scratches builds up a sense of fear, anxiety, and intrigue and brings it all to a cathartic ending. Why a video game? Because I feel that you can do more with this medium than you can with any other.
Accented by screenshots of the game, the project’s story carries the reader through the events of two characters, Michael Arthate and a fictional version of myself. By the end of the story, Mike is driven insane by the game, and is so drawn to it that he believes he is a part of the story, believes he is Michael, and believes that the story is part of the real world. Eventually, Mike starves himself, gets sick, and dies in a manner left up to the reader. Mike, however, believes the game’s monster killed him.
The purpose of this was to use Mike to show how we can get drawn in to games easily. When he makes “phone calls” to certain characters or talks directly to Michael, this showcases a video game’s superior interactivity. Novels and movies may intrigue us, but they never create the impression that we can affect the outcome of the narrative. Notice the sections of the project where Michael’s narration switches directly to Mike’s narration, yet they both use the same person. Michael says “I went to the attic” and then Mike says “I read the newspaper”. This is more that just Mike thinking about the house’s mystery. He seamlessly transitions the character’s actions into his own. The most intriguing aspect of this, however, is that if this story did not involve a crazy person, this effect would barely catch notice. It makes sense when we say that we “sent an email”, despite actually commanding the computer to do it. In the same way, it makes sense for both Michael and Mike to carry out the same actions. Movies and novels don’t have that characteristic.
Note the times where Mike freezes in fear of what is to come, specifically before entering the gallery during the dream sequence. He stops but he can still hear the drums. They taunt him into moving forward. A novel can not do this. A horror novel can force the reader to stop reading but there is no way to assault that reader with elements of sight and sound once the book is closed. A game has no such limitation.
The screenshots were included for an direct purpose other than visually dressing up the story. If the reader of my project can imagine these screenshots as moving, like a film yet controlled by the player, they can grasp the meaning of them. A novel, even an illustrated novel, must spend countless pages explaining the details of a location. Its sounds, its feeling, its impression. In a game, however, that work is done for you. The player instantly sees and hears the place and receives an impression. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, and this game has infinite pictures. An unfortunate drawback of writing this project was having to conform the benefits of the original medium into the shortfalls of a word document. Movies can use images and sounds as well, but they lack the controllability of a game. When the actor walks down a creepy hallway, the audience can not make them peek over their shoulder. In a game, this is possible and expected.
I chose the adventure genre because it is the best one with a story to tell. The purpose of playing the game is to get to the end of the story to get the final revelation. While other genres incorporate storylines into their games, it is usually just a garnish to the main feature. If I was to express the way narrative is told in games, I had to choose the genre that did this best.
Just as the makers of Scratches use the intertextuality of H.P Lovecraft, Myst (from which I think Catherine’s name is taken), and self-references (Michael’s notes on his book ending mirror the developer’s thoughts about Scratches) to relate to the reader, I decided to use House of Leaves. To the best of my ability, I used fonts and formatting to express what was happening in the novel. When Mike turns really delusional, his text changes to Michael’s style. At some points, Mike is also justified left and is therefore indistinguishable from Michael’s writing. This method does not serve a higher-level purpose though, besides helping me to tell my narrative…except in one spot that I’ll leave to the reader to find.
Despite being tragically long, I hope the reader(s) of my project enjoy it. It was fun to write and design, as well as playing the game. Long live the horror adventure game!