Queer Wordplay: The Queer Subversion of Language in Locked-In and Blackbar

Critical Writing
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This paper looks at two interactive digital works where female-centred/lesbian desire provides an implicit logic and motivation to the works’ interactivity, which focusses on the control and transgression of language. This wordplay is aimed at resisting dominant regimes of phobic categorization and erasure that pathologize queer desire. In Lucky Special Games’ visual novel Locked-In, the interactor experiences the story through the perspective of Jacqueline Brown, who, as the result of a car crash, has locked-in syndrome, which is characterized by consciousness paired with the complete paralysis of the voluntary muscles. Each of the women who visit Jacqueline's hospital room has a motive for wanting Jacqueline incapacitated or dead, so when Jacqueline discovers that she can slightly move the little finger on one hand, she must decide to which of these women she should reveal that she is conscious. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of Locked-In is its casual indication of Jacqueline’s lesbianism (inferred via her relationship with her spouse Delilah). This lack of explicit labelling suggestively contrasts with the governing structural conceit of LockedIn: the dictionary entry, which plays on the hoary “if you look up [term] in the dictionary, you’ll find [person]’s name” joke. The cumulative effect of the wordplay results in lesbianism in Locked-In eventually escaping the fatalistic homophobic imaginary of dominant definitional regimes and causal logics while simultaneously eschewing a (hetero)normative “happy ending.” The second work, Neven Mrgan and James Moore's Blackbar, requires the interactor to unredact an archive of communications to a young woman, Vi Channi, from her friend Kentery Jo Loaz and others conducted under an Orwellian regime of expressive surveillance geared towards conformance, ‘sanitization’ and ‘propriety.’ The process of unredaction enables a queer reading of the relationship between Vi and Kentery and the Resistance they join. Unlike the blackbar redactions of the callous Listener #19445 and their grotesque attempts to make their redactions humorous, 'Lorraine,' as I will call the Resistance agent, engages in clever and pleasurable open box word play that exposes the slipperiness and queerness of language. Both works show how close reading and textual and formal analysis can be applied to interactive or ergodic works to reveal the same kinds of subtextual and subversive richness that characterize conventional literature, problematizing beliefs that eLit’s home is at periphery of the literary.

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Vian Rasheed