Has the promise of digital literature ever really been realised? Or is the form, as suggested back in 2008 by Andrew Gallix, just one big anti-climax? Is hypertext fiction, essentially just a computerised version of the old-fashioned choose-your-own-adventure model, or generative writing, based on algorithms which string together words from pre-determined pools, all this field has to offer? Or do we find in new genres like the ‘walking simulator’ examples of fiction which brings text-based storytelling to rich, vibrant gamespaces, merging the expressive power of language with the immersion of present-day computer graphics? Since Gallix published his provocation in The Guardian, a series of critically acclaimed works which might be considered to be both literary and digital have been produced, titles like Dear Esther (2012) and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (2017). But one could contend, as does Gallix, that digital literature is dead because the form is no longer reliant on language for creative expression and is thus no longer literary.
This chapter explores the current status of digital literature in the context of walking simulators, offering a typological account of the form, its origins and the state of the art, before asking: have works like Esther and Rapture really rejuvenated digital literature, or are they something else entirely?
The chapter begins with a brief survey of dominant definitions, resolving any tensions between terminologies like literature, digital literature and videogames, establishing what is meant by a ‘walking simulator’, and detailing the genre’s major aesthetic and mechanical characteristics. The argument that walking simulators are representative of a ‘new wave’ of digital literature is then advanced, comparing such aesthetic traits with older, what will be described as partly scholastic, experimental forms. This chapter argues that the art of digital literature has moved into an era where these is an explicit tension between literature as technical experimentation and literature as immersive digital storytelling. In doing, it is hoped that this chapter, through its focus on the walking simulator genre, demonstrates what digital literature looks like in the twenty-first century.
Ensslin, Astrid; Round, Julia; Thomas, Bronwen