Color, Comics, Death, Player-Characters, Everybody Dies

For the final checkpoint on this blog, I decided to write about a form of E-lit that I hadn’t discussed at length before. I’ve written about hypertext, digital poetry, art games, and other net art things, but haven’t written in depth about any interactive fiction. So, I will take a closer look at Everybody Dies by Jim Munroe and Michael Cho.

One of the most interesting aspects of the text is how it uses death as part of the experience. In most interactive fiction (and other interactive genres like video games, but that’s something else) death is meant to be avoided because it signals a failure on the player’s part and starts over the experience so the player can try again. In “Everybody Dies” death is an integral and unavoidable part of the text. Three deaths occur in the text, first Graham drowns, then Ranni is killed by Patrick twice, finally the manager Lisa saves the day by getting Patrick fired before any of the deaths occur.

When a character dies the player character enters the void. The death sequences employ a different medium than the rest of the work. The void is represented with sequential images (comics), which give a new interpretation of the story as a whole. First, the colors of the fish symbolize the different playable characters in the game. The blue fish represents Graham, the red one represents Ranni, and the green one represents Lisa. When these characters are introduced their illustrations match the color of the fish. In the second and third dream sequences and the final image a symbolic comics version of the story is told. The red fish emerges from the blue fish, and then the green fish comes out of the red fish. The green fish then presses a button and the blue and red fish swim past the bars they were too big to fit through. In the final image all three fish swim with triumphant lines slashing behind them. This mimics the way different characters are controlled in the game to solve the puzzle of keeping Graham and Ranni alive.

After the first death sequence Graham enters Ranni’s head, looking at his arms and thinking ‘I’m sure my forearms weren’t as… dark as that, last time I looked. Or as skinny.” Later in the work all of the characters inhabit one mind with the words of characters not being steered at the time depicted in bold. These other characters can also be given commands. For example, when playing as Lisa a customer asks her to decipher a non-English ingredients list. By this point Ranni and Graham inhabit Lisa’s mind, so the player can type in:

>Ranni, read snax package

And Lisa says,

“That is so cool! The ingredients go from squiggly letters to real letters.”

This is interesting because the player-character is actually four distinct individuals at this point Lisa, Ranni, Graham, and the player. In other works of interactive fiction we’ve read/played in class the player-character is usually a single individual, often simply called “You.” “Everybody Dies” takes a novel approach to IF by incorporating visual elements and by creating a multi-faceted player-character.

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