“Living Will” by Mark C Marino is an interactive poem that names the reader executor of networking tycoon E. R. Millhouse’s will, which is the interactive poem. Millhouse is dying of a parasite infection he caught in his time working and living in the Congo. In making allotments, Millhouse divides his wealth and estate among four people: his son, Nigel; his daughter, Salomee; his gardener, Gerard; and his errand boy, Kip. As the reader begins to interact with and explore the will, he or she will notice a box in the upper right hand corner keeping track of their progress. This includes bequests, legal fees, medical fees, Ta (a mineral mined in the Congo, vital to Millhouse’s networking empire), DRXL (a.k.a. Droxol Vox, a corporation owned by the Coxswain Group, which is under the control of Millhouse), and the reader’s POV, which always begins as Nigel, Millhouse’s son.
Legal Fees: 663
Med. Fees: 980
The first read through reveals what these terms mean, as well as their importance. The will is divided into sections: a preamble, a first clause (both giving background to Millhouse’s corporate empire), a second clause (in which the reader picks from the aforementioned identities), a third clause (revealing how Millhouse’s wealth and estate are to be distributed), and a final clause (which gives the reader the option to use their inheritance to save Millhouse from dying).
Thematically, the text deals with the issue of post-colonial exploitation of third-world countries by the global super powers. Millhouse was born in England and his move to the Democratic Republic of the Congo is motivated by corporate greed and easy access to resources. In fact, his errand boy, Kip, comes from a family and community that have been exploited into working in the Tantalite mines by the Droxol Vox Corporation.
Additionally, the text explores each heirs’ relationship with Millhouse, showing the tense and complicated feelings each heir has for the tycoon. The most polarizing relationship is between Millhouse and his son Nigel, whom, the reader finds out, originally did not have an interest in taking up his father’s business, leaving the Congo to attended university. Based on how the reader interacts with the text, which uses a hyperlink structure to move the reader in and out of different story lines, aspects of the business, and clauses of the will, they can make Nigel the largest beneficiary of the will despite his previous misgivings about the family business.
The final clause presents several interesting options to the reader, offering the choice to become like Millhouse—the reader can grab the other heirs’ inheritance (shares in the Droxol Vox Corporation), no matter which character they choose. But in this grab, the reader accumulates legal fees and medical fees, which may prevent them from being able to save Millhouse (if they feel he is deserving) or prevent them from taking control of the Coxswain Group (Millhouse’s legacy).
In fact, with enough money and the desire to save Millhouse, every character can keep him alive, except, interestingly, his son. Millhouse’s parasite infection requires a blood transfusion, and it is revealed that Nigel is not a match, too which Millhouse admits Nigel may not be his biological son. This may explain some of the differences in their opinion on the business.
“The Crying of Lot 49” by Thomas Pynchon, though it is not a work of interactive fiction, bears some remarkable similarities to Mark Marino’s work. Many contemporary texts, like the works of Thomas Pynchon, ask the reader to be a much more active participant while reading. This increased activity is usually associated with a lack of traditional characterizing, creating a void which the reader fills with their own ideas and assumptions about who the character is on an ideological level. Oedipa Maas, the protagonist of “The Crying of Lot 49”, finds herself to be the executor of her ex-boyfriends massive estate.
Similar to the hyperlink structure in “Living Will”, Oedipa develops a paranoia about connections between things, which her ex-boyfriends estate seems to have a hand in. In “Living Will” the reader becomes concerned with which links will gain them bequests and which links will result in legal fees or medical fees. However, it seems that the more concern the reader shows for humanity by exploring the exploited lives of the Congolese people and the health of Millhouse’s father, the higher their inheritance at the end. Complicating this is the fact that the links are not always clear as if to they will lead to this exploration of humanity instead of the corporation. Then, a sense similar to Oedpia’s paranoia overcomes the reader in the search for meaning in the link(s). Once a link is selected, there is no clicking back, you have committed to that path through the entirety of that reading. Highlighting the connection between character and reader is the dismal option presented at the end of the “Living Will”: Save me or Let me go.
Link to the full text.
Perhaps you are asking the same question I was after reading: how is this an interactive poem? Fortunately, I discovered “Living Will” on iloveepoetry.com, which provides an explanation (fourth paragraph down) for the text’s categorization as an electronic poem.
Thematically, having the true form of the work revealed as a poem in the source code speaks to Millhouse’s mindset in building Droxol Vox, which is revealed in a conversation with Nigel (Millhouse speaking first):
“-That is how you build an empire these days”
“-Through parasites? You asked”
“-Through insinuation in the very veins of culture, I replied”
Mark C Marino’s work becomes very self-referential in this instance. Millhouse, the network tycoon, bears obvious similarities to an author working within the field of interactive poetry. Both rely on networking and connectivity to achieve their goals (which are vastly different, hopefully) and Marino uses the unique relationship of each heir to Millhouse to insinuate a certain behavior or response to being the executor of the will. In an additional creepy and final note, Millhouse remarks upon the reader’s failure to save him, saying, “And I am survived only by my Will”.