- "Click = Kill":Textual You in Ludic Digital Fiction
Since the early days of hypertext criticism, the study of digital fiction has undergone a significant paradigm shift.1 Recent research has moved from a first wave of mostly theoretical and philosophical debate to a second wave of close stylistic and semiotic analysis. While the theoretical intricacies of second-wave digital fiction theory have been much discussed (e.g. Ciccoricco 2007; Ensslin 2007; Ensslin and Bell 2007; Bell 2010), the discipline and practice of close reading digital fiction require a more systematic engagement with the possibilities and limitations of the form. Similarly, the narratological tools and terminologies inherited from print scholarship need to be adapted to the medial, material, and discursive qualities of digital fiction.2
In seeking to exemplify this research agenda, this article offers a close-reading of geniwate and Deena Larsen's satirical, ludic Flash fiction The Princess Murderer (2003),3 with a specific focus on how the text implements second-person narration and other forms of the textual you (Herman 1994, 2002) in juxtaposition with other narrational stances. The [somewhat disturbing [End Page 49] but highly improbable] Princess Murderer (henceforth abbreviated as TPM) mixes thematic elements of the Romantic Fairytale, the crime mystery (both suggested by its title), pornographic magazines (suggested by the disclaimer "References to sex and violence"), and discursive-interactive elements of digital genres such as hypertext, hypermedia, and video game. A digital remediation of Charles Perrault's "La Barbe bleue" (1697), the text places itself in a mythological canon and transforms elements of Perrault's source text ludically, diegetically, and multimodally. TPM represents Bluebeard as a stereotypical Manichean villain, thus conforming with the ludic convention of othering any animate obstacle that comes in the way of the player-character. In the original fairy tale Bluebeard is significantly more rounded. The original tale characterizes him almost sympathetically, as a "poor fellow" with a "blue beard," whose many riches could not help the fact that his looks "made him so ugly and frightful that there was not a woman or girl who did not run away at sight of him" (Perrault 1961: 70). Indeed, the original story takes a moral position in shifting the blame for the murders onto the princesses themselves, who all disobey Bluebeard's order not to enter the "forbidden room." This aspect of Perrault's text, by valorizing Bluebeard's conduct, also underscores the distinctively patriarchal if not misogynist tone of the Enlightenment story.
Narratologically, TPM situates itself in a tradition of second-person address, which is often found in digital narratives such as interactive fictions (Montfort 2003, 2007), video games, and some hypertext fictions. We aim to explore the extent to which print-based narratological theories of textual you apply to the text under investigation, and to outline new directions for research arising from TPM's distinct (inter-)medial, literary/reflexive, and ludic qualities. Of particular interest are the ways in which the reader and his or her role in the cybernetic feedback loop are constructed textually and interactionally. Specifically, we argue that current approaches to the you in digital fiction need to be expanded, particularly with respect to its metafictional potential.
The You in Contemporary Narratology
Especially in English, where one grammatical form homonymically references male and female, singular and plural addressees, but can also be [End Page 50] used as a generalized pronoun replacing one, textual you has inspired a diversity of aesthetic uses, and writers—in particular, pioneers of modernist and postmodernist fiction—have explored the narrative effects of this technique (see Fludernik 1994 and Richardson 2006 for comprehensive enumerations of second-person narratives). Theoretical interest in second person narration did not emerge until Bruce Morrissette's groundbreaking essay "Narrative 'You' in Contemporary Literature" (1965), following Michel Butor's second-person novel La Modification (1957); and this interest did not grow into a systematic field of narratological investigation until the early 1990s (McHale 1985; Margolin 1990; Richardson 1991, 2006; Kacandes 1993; Fludernik 1994; Herman 1994, 2002). As Richardson (2006) reminds us, "second person narration is an artificial mode that does not normally occur in natural narrative or in most texts in the...