Guilt, Insanity, The Flat and The Tell-Tale Heart

Under the Dreaming Methods link, we have The Flat by Andy Campbell. It is a simple example of Electronic Literature that allows the viewer to explore a flat with limited living space. The viewer begins in a staircase and a narrative that appears–then fades, sometimes too quickly to finish reading, and if your cursor is not centered on the image, the frame of the image will cut off the words.

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While exploring this flat, I was reminded of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story entitled “The Tell-Tale Heart.” In this story, an unnamed narrator murders an elderly man, dismembers his body, and buries the body parts underneath the floor. A neighbor notifies the police at the sound of the old man’s screams, and when the police arrive, the narrator becomes overwhelmed with paranoia so that he thinks he can hear the heartbeat of the old man under him. His guilt consumes him and he confesses to the police, instructing them to tear up the floorboards.

What lead me to this connection is the play with ghosts/spirits in “The Flat.” At the beginning of the journey, a stopwatch is set for 2:10. When time runs out at the end of each cycle, the viewer is transported to where s/he began, with a shadow passing in the window and an ominous knock on the wooden door. When the viewer opens the door, a transparent, hooded, white figure stands in the yard.

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This figure, paired with the timed count-down, could signify the inevitable haunting where the wrongs that the narrator has committed come knocking on his door. Or, in Poe’s case, the inevitable confession brought on by guilt.
This is not the only point in the story-line when ghosts show up. The narrator lifts up his hand at one point in the hallway, to reveal transparency with a hint of red. I chose to focus on the symbolism of red, as in literal blood on the narrator’s hands. Also, in the bedroom that is tinted red from the shades on the windows, there appears a man’s daunting face in the closet, to fade away as quickly as he appeared.

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Throughout this disjointed world that the viewer explores, there are certain artifacts that can be pulled up, or places that can be zoomed in on that have some narrative attached (like the soap in the bathtub). The narrative changes when you click on the same area again. These blurbs give the viewer some sense of the relationship between the narrator and the person that he is addressing, but the relationship is unclear. This reminded me greatly of the ambiguity of the relationship between the murderer and old man in The Tell-Tale Heart. We don’t receive much explanation, but we do get enough substance to leave us wanting to know more about the characters.

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  3 comments for “Guilt, Insanity, The Flat and The Tell-Tale Heart

  1. mstange
    February 9, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    I definitely see what you’re talking about with the whole Telltale Heart thing. There’s that whole extreme amount of murderer’s remorse and guilt going on. Also, starting out in the basement also helps with the image. The time limit is an interesting thing that works here. It does force you to go through some of the same events over and over again as well as give a sense of urgency to each play-through as you try and figure out what exactly is going on here.

  2. bosco1213
    February 23, 2014 at 11:59 pm

    Very interesting. This work does seem rather similar to The Tell-Tale Heart. I also agree that the timer signifies how long the narrator can hold out before giving in to the guilt, but what I wonder is why did Andy Campbell use a video recording device to act as the eyes of the narrator. Maybe to help with eerie effect like many horror indie games ? Or maybe to simulate that we are actually controlling a 2 minute and 10 seconds recording and it is our job to figure out what happened by interacting with key pieces of the house.

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