Kafka’s Metamorphosis as an Interactive Narrative

Kafka’s Metamorphosis as an Interactive Narrative

Re-imagining Franz Kafka’s classic about one mans transformation into a beetle as a conventional game probably wouldn’t work. By their most basic definitions, games deal with some form of challenge or competition, and this particular story doesn’t really possess any elements that would could be appropriately adapted for those features. But it would be an oversimplification to call that the limits of what makes a game.

Interactive narratives are a growing genre that essentially uses the medium of gaming to create immersive dimensions impossible on pages. These are reactive worlds in which players are able to shape the direction and outcome of storyline and environment usually by controlling character actions. They can massively vary in degrees of actual interactivity in terms of plot and world states. Take the differences between Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead compared to Gone Home for instance. The former being all about shaping a non-linear narrative in which player choices drastically alter its course of events, while the latter is about as linear as it gets, characterised as a ‘walking simulator’. Ultimately, either way they’re limited by the confines of game design and can be broken down into flow charts.

There’s a diversity in the kind of intellectual character between them too like Heavy Rain, akin to film noir blockbuster and The Stanley Parable as a satirical ‘art game’ that uses the same gaming tropes and mechanics it’s commenting upon.

Literature is by it’s basic nature a one dimensional thing, with singular narrative sequences besides those Choose Your Own Adventure style gamebooks. That’s to say that adapting books into interactive storylines would either require adding in new narrative stages or manipulating existing ones to produce different outcomes. As The Metamorphosis is a short and simple story we figured to keep to the existing source material, and to instead focus upon the aspects of atmosphere and world building around dialogue and aesthetics, like Dear Esther and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Interactivity is more than just quick time event like gimmicks though. While we agreed upon sticking to first person viewpoint and clunky bug like controls they had to mean more than just an opening sequence with trying to roll over Gregor Samsa stuck on his back in bed. Player actions would have to produce real changes like NPC dialogue, cut scenes and the protagonists family’s emotional decline.

We chartered a rough course of level design through the story’s setting, allowing certain player actions to trigger different stages throughout the existing source material; although agreed upon the futility of them, leading to the same indefinite conclusion. What’s more Kafkaesque after all than dying in a curdled up ball of misery right?