Gameplay Manual

Click Adventures are not typical games. They are not First-Person Shooters (FPS) or Japanese Role-Playing Games (JRPGs). Depending on the click adventure, though, it may incorporate ideas from those genres, like the first person perspective of FPS games like Halo and Call of Duty, or a leveling up system like seen from JRPGs like Final Fantasy. Click adventures, rather, are “text” heavy experiences which demand a substantial amount of reading and interpretation to advance, though this reading and interpretation will vary in reading level and expectation depending on the product.

The Milton Underground features a first-person perspective and a point system but this is as far as we go in terms of utilizing properties from commercial products. Why there is a point system relates to how the player is expected to play and interact with the game. Since The Milton Underground encourages an experience not found in any other click adventure to date, however, we suggest that players acquaint themselves with this manual which will help make clear some of our more original contributions.

What separates The Milton Underground from the average click adventure is our emphasis on close reading and interpretation.

Interpretation? What’s that? homers

We interpret every day. It is how we decide to live our lives, from deciding the route we take to school to completing out homework, we live within an interpretative universe. In a literary sense, though, interpretation means paying careful attention to a passage and parsing out what we feel is the latent meaning; or, the meaning which we see, but other people might not see.

Most, if not all, other click adventures simply require the player to read a short passage and then make some decision, usually an arbitrary one, before proceeding to the next short passage. In other words, there is no real intellectual effort required—every player will reach the end point so as long as they keep on clicking. For players to reach the end of the average click adventure, they merely react to stimuli and adjust themselves as needed. The effort demanded to reach the end is trivial.

The adventure contained in The Milton Underground, however, is the exact opposite.

Our adventure is divided around two core experiences. One is exploration or scenario free free-play which enables the player-reader to explore the mysterious world of “The Cave” and discover aspects about John Milton’s life. The second core experience, though, what this manual hopes to demystify, is scenario-based; here, players engage with Milton’s poetry and prose and earn points for each interpretative movement they make. Our hope is that players will continuously engage with the text in an effort to earn more and more points.

But, player-readers are not merely reading texts and providing summaries of what each passage says. No. In The Milton Underground, player-readers are expected to provide what is known in academic circles as “Close Readings”. In other words, players closely examine each word in a passage and interpret that passage in a non-literal manner. Though what is literally happening in a passage is a decent starting place to begin a close reading, since what is literally happening demands understanding the grammar, syntax, and definitions of the passage, it is far from what is actually happening. To perform a close reading, player-readers must understand how a passage disseminates the non-literal, how certain words express ideas, sentiment, and connotations not directly referenced in the passage proper.

Can you show me how?

spongedraw
Dialectics: The Milton Underground can seem a lot like Mr. Spongebob.

Sure! To exemplify what I mean, let’s perform a simple close reading. Because I do not want to give away any spoilers for the content of The Milton Underground proper, I will use a text from outside of the Miltonic universe. So, let’s perform a close reading of the first sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (5)

You may be asking yourself “how can anyone possibly interpret this passage?! It says everything it needs to say on its nose!” You may also be saying “the meaning is plain—a single guy with money wants a woman—commonsense!” It is okay to have these thoughts when beginning a close reading. Why is because the value of a close reading is something only obtained once one begins the close reading. The deeper value of a passage does not often become apparent until the excavation actually begins.

I will illustrate by providing a close reading of this passage, a passage which I have not engaged with for a long time.

My Close Reading:

I know from my classroom experience, that this passage is one of the most famous lines in English literature. What makes it famous? I think it is its density. Even though it is but a single sentence, and not much seems to be happening, there is actually a lot to unpack. Firstly, let’s look at the words “must be”. These two words seem innocuous but they actually are very important as they denote a mental movement—someone is thinking these words; whether it be the narrator or some character we have yet been introduced to, the sentence’s suggestion of male-female relations, is impacted by these two simple words because they are thought by someone, someone who, presumably, has their own unique articulation of the world (as everyone born inevitably does). Secondly, what does it mean to “be in possession of a good fortune”? What defines “good”? Is the speaker referring to monetary wealth or wealth of some other kind? Thirdly, what is the speaker’s idea of “universally”? As in, word wide common sense, the most basic inclination available to us as the human creature, or is it more culturally maybe even ethnically, specific? Is the speaker’s idea of universal regulated only to White, middle-class Englishmen and women or can it be shared by those outside of the British imperium? […]

I could go on and on. I could problematize what it means to be a “wife” and what the “want of” indicates; I could probe what it means to be a heterosexual white woman and whether this passage delineates a specific understanding of feminism or anti-feminism. I think you can see the idea that I am trying to convey, though, that close reading is a deeper unpacking of what is happening in a passage. It is the history of the words and ideas; if we are to look at each word as a “sign”, that is, each word as communicating a unique idea with its own history in our world, then we can probe that history and deconstruct what everything means in relation to each other. Fundamentally, this is what close reading is—people paying close attention to the wider circumstance of words and their relation to other words and how these relations unfold in our world.

But The Milton Underground is MUCH more than simple close reading. It is a story!

A story? How?

funnydogstory
The story we are going to tell you won’t be as funny, but it will entertain you all the same.

All click adventures are stories. We don’t usually recognize them as stories, though, because they are short, throw-away tales designed to be enjoyed once then never again seen. Not so here! The Underground takes a different approach: our stories are to be played again and again, interacted with till the point that you want to chuck your computer across the room; to us, a story is something which is meant to be experienced time and again. And close reading is part of that story.

But Wait– there’s more!

butwait
Trust us… there is MUCH more.

Close reading is a vital part of the text, but it only constitutes one aspect of the gameplay. Another aspect of the gameplay is what I refer to as “embedding”. This is to say, that text in this click adventure is not merely manifestly present. It does not exist as just clouds in the game world waiting for the player to come along and close read them. No: text in the game world comes embedded in the environment and in enemies.

Embedding matters because it will inform how you interpret passages. It will not alter how you close read, though. But, this may be confusing you, so let me give a concrete example.

While exploring “The Cave”, player-readers have access to a number of Tools and Abilities (for a full list of such tools and abilities, see here). Each tool and ability require player-readers to read the passage in accordance with a specific literary theory. Close reading, for example, has been explained above, so if you were to read a passage using close reading, part of your comment (and you do have to write the comment to earn the points associated with it) would include your close reading as outlined above. However, in the actual game world itself, close reading, like all tools and abilities, come packaged with some in-game effect; these effects interact with how the text is embedded. As player-readers, it will be up to you to examine how the text is embedded, what the effect of your ability or tool is, and how it will affect the textual embedding. But this is abstract and hard to imagine, right? Let’s go and see an example of this.

Buckle up: grab some paper and take notes!

austinpowers
We suggest taking notes…

We will use the same passage from Jane Austen as before. Let’s assume you are walking through The Cave and a goblin is encountered (at this point, I would encourage you to draw a simple picture of what will be described, as this will greatly help you in your interpretative process). The goblin is standing on an old, overturned mine cart. To the goblin’s right and left are piles of coal, each pile about the same height. Overhead, dangling just above the goblin is a large, rusted chain. The text appears embedded like so: “It is a truth” is embedded in the left-most coal pile and snakes downward from the pile into the ground and over to the goblin on the right; “universally acknowledged”, meanwhile, snakes up from the ground onto the mine cart and goblin: the “universally” is embedded on the mine-cart while the “acknowledged” on the goblin; “that a single man in possession of a good fortune,” resume where “acknowledge” left off and strings itself over the chain hanging above the goblin; finally, the “must be in want of a wife” unfolds itself down through the right-most coal pile and into the ground itself. (For the chain and right-coal pile, the player-reader is free to disperse the words as they see fit so as long as they conform to the outline just explained.)

So, we have an image and we have a passage—what would you do?

First off, you would re-assemble the text. In The Milton Underground, embedded text always starts from the left and ends at the right, as is the custom in English. So, one can always find the start of the text by looking at the left; in case, of more than one “level” of text, always begin with the top-most layer.

Once you have the reconstructed text, perform the reading which is in accordance with whatever theoretical tradition you wish to participate in. In this case, it is a typical close reading.

Close reading of passage: [see above as example].

Your close reading will comprise one aspect of your comment.

Now that your close reading has been completed, remember the effect that comes with your tool or ability, in this case, Ability. Close Reading, or “Perception”, as it is called in-game, comes with a simple effect—the ability for you the player-reader to make up a fact about the goblin or local cave space that you encountered the goblin. This could be anything from a whacky fact to a harrowing existential tale, to something merely mundane. For the purpose of this example, I will make up a fact: the goblin encountered was named “slippery teeth” because his teeth were always gooey from a fungal infection.

So now your comment will include the following: [close reading] + [made up fact].

At this point, if you want to move on with the game, you may do so and proceed to the next space by clicking on whatever link which is responsible for taking you to the next space. If you decide to do this, then the final aspect of your comment will be “[method of engagement]”, meaning, how did you resolve the goblin encounter—did you pummel the goblin to death, have a one-on-one chat with him and he let you pass… ? So, the final comment would look like: [close reading] + [made up fact] + [method of engagement/resolution] = [+5 points!].

BUT, do not think that is where your experience can end.

If you wanted, you could earn even more points. How? By continuing the engagement with additional readings, using other tools and abilities.

Let’s say that after your close reading you wanted to continue your engagement with the passage by “Deconstructing” passage. Clicking on the “Deconstruction” link, you would then [offer a deconstructive reading], then follow through on the effect of deconstruction, which in this case is the termination of a word; since you can eliminate any word, let’s say that I eliminate “acknowledge”. This would mean that that word is eliminated along with the body part or worldly artifact which that word is on. So by eliminating “acknowledged”, I have severed “slippery teeth”’s right arm. After this elimination, I would offer then a second deconstructive reading which relates to how the reading from before has been altered now that a word is missing.

So this second comment of mine (and you should label your comments in each encounter so people, and yourself, know what post they are on in your interpretative thread), would contain the following information: [post identification; i.e., number in thread] + [deconstructive reading] + [effect of deconstruction] + [how reading the passage has changed now that a word has been eliminated]. Posting this would result in an additional [+5 points].

So, what if you wanted to offer a third reading? In this example, you actually have no choice. Since Deconstruction triggers an event (See “Trigger Events” for more details) forcing the player to use one of two other reading approaches, you decide to use DeFam. So, you would click on the DeFam link, and follow the same formula from your second post. The criteria for this third post, then, should look like this: [post identification; i.e., number in thread] + [DeFam reading] + [effect of DeFam reading in-game]. However, since this is a continuation of the previous post, you have to remember that your actions carry over; so since I decided to eliminate “acknowledged”, and thereby sever slippery teeth’s arm, this is the starting template for my DeFam reading: “acknowledged” is still removed, along with the goblin’s arm so my DeFam reading will take this into consideration.

DeFam enables the player to replace one word with its synonym; in the game-world, then, this take the form of a replacement of whatever object that word is embedded in with a similarly arbitrary object chosen by you, the player-reader. I will choose to replace “universally” with “internationally”, and replace the mine cart with a skateboard; from this decision, it is possible that the goblin might fall (if this is what I decide, then any additional readings will have to take this into consideration as well, in addition to how I DeFam the text).

So, my comment will contain the following data: [post identification; i.e., number in thread] + [DeFam reading] + [effect of DeFam reading in-game] = [+5 points].

Take a Breather! takeabreather

Because three readings are enough for me, for now, and I want to move forward in the scenario, I have decided to return to the initial encounter with the goblin and text (the point at which I was given choices to perform specific readings). At this central post, I will now post my final comment. This comment simply includes everything that I did in my readings.

My final comment: [post identification; i.e., number in thread/ final comment] + [contents of close reading; comment #1] + [contents of deconstruction; comment #2] + [contents of DeFam; comment #3] + [final score, including points for final comment].

It will be up to me to make sure that all the in-game elements that I have altered are accurately represented. Upon posting this final comment, I will receive an additional five points. After this, I may proceed with the scenario to the next encounter, whatever that may be.

(And yes! If you so wish, you may decide to engage with another person’s comment thread and pick up where their own interpretation left off. If you decide to do this, then the engagement rules are the same if you were to offer an original interpretation: you must identify your posts and what you are using as an interpretive lens, all while maintaining the internal narrative and logic unique to this comment thread. Trigger Events are the same as are points. If you decide to interpret where another player-reader left off, remember to be courteous to the actions that they performed; rude and otherwise hostile content will be deleted by an administrator.)

At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “this is A LOT to keep track of!” and you would be absolutely right. So, how does one keep track of all this data and rules? Simple: the good old-fashioned way—with pen and paper.

I like to imagine The Milton Underground as a space in which everyone can “be their own dungeon master”. Just how in tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons one relies on a dungeon master to direct the flow of the game, here, you are your own master, you direct the flow that is your participation. You only must rely on an outside source like this instruction manual to keep you on track; but, other than that, you are free to do as you want.

My recommendation, then, would be simple—get yourself a reliable writing tool, grab some paper or better yet, a notebook, and keep track of everything you do. Jot down a small map of your traversals when exploring and keep track of your interpretations when being challenged by text (here, I would additionally recommend keeping the tab open for your interpretation once it has been submitted, so as to make copying and pasting easier when it comes time for the final comment on the initial text page).

This textual embedding in the game world itself is something no other click adventure or interactive novel to date—or, at least to my knowledge—has done before. Why this is a “game changer” is because it demands that you, the player-reader, adhere to what I call “Fidelity”.

This textual embedding in the game world itself is something no other click adventure or interactive novel to date—or, at least to my knowledge—has done before. Why this is a “game changer” is because it demands that you, the player-reader, adhere to what I call “Fidelity”.

At its core, Fidelity is super simple. It means that you will adhere to the game’s rules, act in a responsible manner, and refrain from trolling or other counterproductive activities. Ultimately, Fidelity means that you accept the game as it is and do not try to break it by playing against the grain; for a full discussion of Fidelity, though, see here.

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