Retelling The Tell-Tale Heart
Kenton T. Howard
Retelling The Tell-Tale Heart is an interactive audio / touch game based on Edgar Allan Poe’s original short story The Tell-Tale Heart, a first-person narrative that describes a murder. The installation is a recreation of Poe’s story that questions ambiguities inherent in the classic story. The exhibition highlights how interactive artists can reconstruct original story elements to create a new work as well as ways to encourage interaction with digital games without using screens, controllers, headsets, or other common interface elements.
The installation’s audio narrative follows Poe’s story, but throughout the game, the narrator asks the user three questions. The user responds to those questions by touching metallic objects that represent answers: correctly answering a question allows the player to advance. The game takes roughly five minutes or so to play depending on the user’s familiarity with the original short story, though no familiarity is required to play. The first question asks the player about the motive for the murder: in Poe’s story the narrator proposes several potential motives for the murder, such as greed, before dismissing them and settling on the old man’s “evil eye.” The second question asks the player about the murder weapon: in the original version the narrator makes the odd choice of suffocating the old man under a mattress rather than employing a classic horror cliché such as poison. The final question asks the user about the outcome, in which the narrator’s guilt is revealed and the character is arrested.
The installation consists of metallic objects arranged inside a roughly 2’ X 2’ painted box that act as touch sensors. Three groups of objects represent answers to one of the three questions in the story and visual guides direct the user to the relevant group of objects at the appropriate point. When the user touches a sensor, the sensor sends an electronic signal via an alligator clip to a device that interprets these signals as keyboard presses on a laptop. This laptop runs custom software that plays the game’s audio and handles the game’s logic. The audio is output via small speakers sitting next to the installation.
The aesthetic intentions of this piece are twofold. One intention is to use interactivity to create a new work out Poe’s story that enhances elements of the original: while Poe’s story contains ambiguities that create a detective fiction aesthetic, the interactive work brings those elements to the forefront by asking players to respond to questions about those mysteries. The other intention of this work is to create a digital game that users interact with in a novel way. The exhibit encourages players to think about how they typically interact with games, as it emphasizes auditory and tactile interaction instead of the kids of screen or headset-based representation usually found in video games. Overall, the work combines these two intentions with a goal of having users reconsider both the kinds of stories that can be told through digital interactivity and the kinds of interaction the digital can enable.
About the Artist
I am a PhD Candidate in the University of Central Florida's Texts and Technology program. I study video games, digital media, writing, and critical theory. I am particularly interested in scholarship that explores connections between these areas. In my dissertation, I explore the video game modification and the intersection between teaching, representation, and game design. I am also building a game to demonstrate how video game modification can teach these concepts.
I am also a full-time game design instructor in University of Central Florida's Games and Interactive Media program. I have over 9 years of teaching experience at the college level, and have also worked in writing centers and as a substitute teacher. I taught English full-time at the college level for five and a half years while working on my PhD coursework, and started in August 2018 as a full-time Games and Interactive Media instructor at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida.