Ectocomp 2018: Wretch!

Ectocomp 2018: Wretch!

wretch

Wretch! is a Twine game by CogsAndSpanners.

Frankenstein is one of my all-time favourite novels, but it’s the writing of the events rather than the events themselves that left the greatest impression on me, so my memory of what transpires in the story is hazy at best. Still, many discrepancies between the book and the game are immediately apparent. From the beginning of the game,┬áthe monster grasps the meaning of The Doctor’s words immediately upon resurrection, which, in the novel, is something he only manages to do much later. There, he starts out dim-witted yet conscious of pain, gradually acquiring knowledge through books that he gains access to after escaping from the laboratory. In contrast, books in this game play an incredibly brief role – the one-liner descriptions of what little education the monster acquires come across as somewhat perfunctory, even mechanical (“In the world’s great religious texts, you sought answers about the strange predicament you found yourself in.”). They can hardly be said to do the novel justice, in which the slow, tedious process of the monster’s struggle with education, and his eventual acquisition of knowledge, are inspiring, to say the least. (Though such discrepancies aren’t exactly a bad thing, as we shall see.)

Furthermore, in this story, The Doctor, while not casual, speaks in a decidedly unsophisticated way that clearly strays from Frankenstein’s way of speech in the novel, a rich, fluent voice that gives weight to countryside descriptions, professional jargon, and above all, the limits of human emotion. Equally noteworthy is the reaction of The Doctor to his creation. He seems not the least bit troubled, let alone regretful, even having the heart to grin after issuing a command to the monster, which was itself uttered evenly, without the slightest hesitation. In the novel, the ghastly appearance of the monster defines his identity, and is arguably the direct cause for the ultimate tragedy of Frankenstein, who, along with the other villagers, failed to stop judging a book by its cover. In this game, though, the monster himself regards his appearance indifferently, almost laughably so – the player is given the option to “cover it up with a blanket so you wouldn’t have to see yourself”, a sentence that unmistakably carries a tone of wry detachment, as though aware of how simplistic its own solution is. Selecting this option only confirms this (“There. Now you would not have to be reminded of your grotesquerie.”). The italicised “There“, indicating exaggerated emphasis, and the expanding of the usually abbreviated phrase “wouldn’t” to ” would not”, all contribute to a matter-of-fact tone, employed ironically. By this point, then, I was fairly confident of the kind of voice the game was aiming for.

There was only one exception, that of the academic tone of The Doctor’s notes. This was visibly more formal and, accordingly, congruent with the voice that appears in the original rendition. Nonetheless, there was a note of warmness that was demonstrated in the way he took the monster’s request for clothes seriously, and in his plans for the disposal of the monster, which he took for granted to be “humane”. In the novel, all Frankenstein cares about is protecting himself and his family from the monster, whom he vehemently wishes dead. So here, again, we see a major difference.

Finally, I noticed that apart from being removed from the context of culture of the novel, the game’s events are also removed from the context of time. In The Doctor’s kitchen, there is a freezer, which, based on a quick search, was available for home use roughly 100 years after the novel was published. The Doctor himself uses a computer. And later, at the party, the teenagers there use what seems to be twentieth-century slang.

What I see as the most significant twist on the story, however, is none of the above, but the scene at the doorstep, in which the monster first meets a human who is not his creator. In the novel, this is a turning point, thrusting the creature into a life of immense desolation and isolation. Here, however, far from being terrified of the monster, the humans who encounter him are impressed with his grotesque look, because of the automatic assumption that he is dressed-up. This is perhaps an overly cynical interpretation, but I see this as a possible comment on how nothing has changed – it is just a lucky coincidence that the monster is born in the season of Halloween. After all, the monster is perceived not as who he really is, but as a human in a costume; those who come to his door are still expecting humans, not monsters with ghastly appearances, and would, in all likelihood, persist in judging a book by its cover. Granted, these visitors are never given the opportunity to see the true face of the monster, never given a second chance, and their reactions to that scenario remain to be seen.

On an unrelated note, something I found particularly interesting was the description of The Doctor’s house, which was said to be “alarming” with “several wings annexed on to the initial dwelling without particular care”. This seems to me to be a parallel to the description of the monster, who is himself composed of badly conjoined body parts. It is also possible that the monster, whom we are playing in the perspective of, uses such an expression to describe the house because he wants to inflict a little misery on his surroundings, as he does in the novel.

ICE CREAM FLAVOUR: Cheesecake. A dramatically milder version of the kind sold at expensive patisseries.

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