Treasures Beneath the Earth

Christine Wilks, writer of Inkubus, Fitting the Pattern, and Rememori, is a leading voice in the world of electronic fiction. Wilks works mostly in Flash and many of her works centralize around a cyberfeminism theme. Her work, Underbelly, fits this theme and can be described as a playable story that blends poetry and gaming for a very intense experience. This work won the 2010 New Media Writing Prize and is featured in the ELMCIP Anthology of European Electronic Literature.

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Underbelly begins with a video clip that shows a hand chiseling away at a statue, while the voice of a woman explains the process of sculpting. The screen then shifts to the main playable space of the game. This space is dark, and is covered with a faded circular pattern and smaller icons that are either stagnant or moving around the page. The movement of the game is spurred by the mouse which moves a dim light around the space. There are multiple stages of the game at which there is a clickable name that appears on the screen. When these names are clicked, an illustration appears along with the voice of a woman telling a story about her experiences working either in the mines or artistically. These women range in age from Mary, who is fourteen, to Isabel, who is fifty-three. There is a reoccurring image of a woman crawling across the screen—when this woman is clicked, the game continues to the next screen and the next woman’s story. The game then takes a bit of a turn as images of babies in and out of the womb move across the screen. The player is then presented with three choices very similar to the choices of women in the mines; try to get pregnant, leave it to chance, or do not have children. After selecting an option, a wheel spins and the player’s fate is determined. If the player is satisfied with this fate, the game is concluded.

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I enjoyed Wilks’s “Underbelly,” just as I enjoyed her other works that I have experienced. The games she creates are interesting because of the effortless meshing of poetry and gaming. This piece particularly made a strong comment on the roles of women and child birth. Each woman who spoke throughout the game explained how she was treated and abused in her work, or how her work interfered with other aspects of her life. At one moment, there was an image of a woman crawling on hands and knees, dragging a cart across the screen because that was what her work entailed. Wilks then took the commentary one step further by including the discussion of child birth. Throughout the game, two voices argued back and forth about the birth of a child. One woman did not want a child, while the other woman wanted to take this woman’s baby. The images of the babies and women’s reproductive parts coupled with this commentary added an unsettling feeling to the experience that I believe strengthened Wilks’s story. The overall experience was very dark and the whispers of the voices were very eerie. The work was obviously intended to reveal the darker sides of a woman’s life based on her struggles with work and her struggles with child birth. Leonardo Flores provides an interesting and brief analysis of the piece in which he says, “I recommend setting aside a moment when you can focus on this work, dedicating your full visual and aural attention to this carefully crafted immersive experience.”

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