[Rosebush] On Making Trauma Legible: How Interactive Fiction Identifies Trauma

New article out! On Making Trauma Legible: How Interactive Fiction Identifies Trauma, by kastel.

Feel free to discuss below. :slight_smile:


Yay @Kastel, it was so interesting to read!

(Just a little fyi, the article doesn’t appear on the website’s article list)


Hm… it does for me?


I think it might be the same issue as when Neocities doesn’t refresh right away and you have to hard reload the page? I had the same problem until I opened it up in an incognito tab and then it popped up for me.


Ah darn it, it was the cache…
Sorry Victor!


It was really cool to see Amanda’s game After the Accident mentioned in the article.

I wrote the original version of the poem that I’d later revise to submit as a prompt to Seedcomp as a teenager in my diary not too long after I had initially begun trauma processing work in therapy. It was subject to some pretty heavy fictionalization in order to render it easier to handle for me while writing and showing to people, especially when handing it off to anyone to take on and transform as they pleased: and I was, and still am, astounded by the game she produced.

It was a deeply empathetic and terrific reading of the poem. While the poem isn’t the literal truth of the events that transpired in the car crash that left me with PTSD, it hews close enough to get at the heart of it. Amanda’s game was pretty much everything I could have hoped for in a rendition based on that deeply personal work. I felt understood, in the cathartic way that poetry has so often been a source of recognition of the self in others for me.

Super cool to see it written up about on The Rosebush. Teenage me would have been astounded to learn a game developer I look up to made a game based off of something I had written, and that it would be featured in an article on a website that’s also published work by one of my writing idols. The highlight of my day!


I am not sure whether it’s wise to do some armchair psychology on the authors (or assume whether the works are related to some personal trauma when the authors haven’t mentioned it so), when we don’t always know why those games were made in the first place or whether they are related to personal things.
Just because a work is emotionally heavy, doesn’t mean the author is going/has gone through trauma.

(that might be nit-picky but we only entered the “post-COVID era” fairly recently. If we go by official declaration, the US only removed COVID from being a public health emergency halfway through last year only. That’d make about half of the mentioned work in the article still within the COVID era, and that’s only accounting publication date - who knows if the writing had been happening for years prior to publication.
EDIT post-covid era: Like Amanda said, it’s endemic not Post-. She said it better than me. )


While After the Accident [1] was indeed, autobiographical in a sense, it is still a fictionalized piece. It’s been written about elsewhere, (Gill and Waters, in the ‘Poetry and Autobiography’ introduction to the journal Life Writing, for example) but ascribing a work as autobiographical or attempting to identify autobiographical sources or voices in creative work can often be a way to deny a work its value when it comes to considering the creativity or aesthetic sensibilities that came into creating the piece, particularly when examining works from women or those who write in a more modern confessional style of poetry. These sorts of works have often not been treated with the same thoughtfulness as similar confessional pieces written by men.

It’s also just sort of inappropriate to conflate the two. A horror novelist is most likely not an axe wielding maniac in their spare time. People who write antagonists don’t necessarily condone their character’s actions. Particularly when it comes to delving into something as personal and impactful as trauma, it’s not very seemly to openly wonder if something terrible had happened to someone. No one is obliged to divulge their sensitive medical information to the world at large. If people choose to share, they should be allowed to do so without expectation to contextualize works.


[1] I should be clear that I’m referring to the original poem, here. Kind of confusing with the game and the poem sharing the same title, my bad.


Cool cool to see AtA in an article! Thanks, @Kastel . A thoughtful piece.

The lockdown years were not very traumatic for me because of COVID. They were traumatic for entirely other reasons, which I’ve written about extensively.

And COVID is endemic now. The term “post-COVID” annoys me because it isn’t true (not that I am annoyed with you for using it, Noah. It’s annoying that it’s in common usage).

True that. I just like to write dark stuff, and I’ve unpacked why that’s so to my own satisfaction. I also tend to overshare in my author’s notes, so you can be sure I’ll tell you if it’s based on anything real.

AtA was entirely based off my reading of Sophia’s poem. I did fictionalize the feeling of a destructive relationship veering off the rails, which I think is probably fairly universal, but certainly was true of young Amanda’s overly dramatic and self-destructive wildness. But there was nothing explicitly autobiographical about it, nor was it an attempt to work my way through any trauma.


Chinese New Year was exhausting… Well, anyone who’s played Chinese Family Dinner Moment will know what I think about it, haha…

I would say this is more of a recency bias on my part and also because it’s easier to write about. For example, I originally wanted to write about SPY INTRIGUE as an example of a game that uses both simulation and ellipsis, but the game was offline when I tried to write about it and it felt too big to talk about anyway. I also thought of older titles like Thomas M. Disch’s Amnesia and Steve Meretzky’s A Mind Forever Voyaging, but they don’t really fit how people tend to think of trauma-informed IF and they’re complicated anyway.

Rather than show my ignorance of older interactive fiction in a space that’s already knowledgeable about the stuff, I decided to focus on newer titles that I’ve played recently. Not only would it be more accessible for writing, but I also think it’s a good way to introduce people to newer games they may not be familiar with. That’s why I personally included DO NOT KILL THE SLEEPING BEAST because it’s a short title that’s worth playing.

I’m conscious of this as I wrote and revised the article. While the likelihood of a traumatized creator is quite high, I find it not only too armchair for my taste but more importantly, I don’t find it effective as an analytical tool (especially for the audience of Rosebush, the developers of interactive fiction).

It’s not very interesting to say “This game is representative of Author XYZ’s trauma”. It says nothing about how writers explore trauma or how players experience trauma. At best, this kind of biographical criticism judges the game by some vague metrics of accuracy and authenticity. Even if we’re the best judges, that doesn’t really help us make or discuss these games.

Because I don’t find this angle intellectually satisfying, it took me a long time to figure out how to say something original and interesting about interactive fiction about trauma. The identification angle was something I landed on after months of refining and wondering what I actually found insightful about these kinds of games. It helps us move beyond psychoanalyzing the creators and allows us to define a goal or two. I don’t think my analysis is perfect, but I hope it’s able to carve out a new language or paradigm to discuss these titles without guessing how traumatized someone is.

In fact, I think the best part is that you can explore titles with trauma without being exposed to it. On a more meta/abstract level, I feel like the post is the culmination of my thoughts on other subcultures that explore traumatic fiction tropes (RPG Maker horror games, anyone?). The general observations of the article can be applied to a lot of other things, and trauma narrative media just happens to be a good case study for what I’m interested in with subculture media.

An excellent example of why writing about trauma games shouldn’t be psychoanalytical. Thanks for making the game :slight_smile: