Winchester's Nightmare

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Winchester's Nightmare is a work in Inform, premiered at Digital Arts and Culture '99 on October 29 in Atlanta. In its "hardback" form, it is a novel-length interactive fiction which includes a computer running software: a novel machine. The work consists of a primitive portable computer running this cybertext in the literary fiction genre, with a text-adventure interface. Ten hardbacks were manufactured for sale;some are still available. The softback, available free, contains the entire text of the hardback edition.

The main character of Winchester's Nightmare is the historical figure Sarah Winchester, née Pardee, 1837-1922. Sarah is remembered for building onto her San Jose house constantly for more than thirty years. The official, and rather simplistic, explanation for this eccentric enterprise is that she was following the instructions of a spiritualist, seeking redemption for the many killings effected by the Winchester rifle, made by her husband's company. Sarah was made rich by the mass production of weapons, gave her name to the Winchester hard drive, and built an ever-sprawling house that serves as a metaphorical target for today's American city. In this work which treats themes of technology and American urban life, the interactor acts and explores through her.

Winchester's Nightmare is about Sarah's psyche, and does not portray her house directly. While the Winchester Mansion seems rich in narrative possibilities, Winchester's Nightmare takes place instead in the composite metropolis of Sarah's dream, United City. This city is peopled with other characters and a plot (driven by Sarah's search for redemption) organizes the narrative. The setting, however, is the dominant element.

United City is like Rockvil in Steven Meretzky's A Mind Forever Voyaging. It is an American city, one which the main character sees as home, and it is transformed through time. It is also like the landscape of Robert Pinsky's Mindwheel, in that it is a "mental map" of a character's psyche. Exploration of the world reveals aspects of the protagonist and her particular obsessions. The interaction with and completion of the text is motivated by series of challenges, as in text adventures. The puzzles presented are constructed for thematic appropriateness, and present to motivate exploration and reflection. The interactor will hopefully be able to engage with the work as literature, rather staying in a jigsaw-puzzle mode of thinking during all of the interaction.

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Meri Alexandra Raita