In my four chapter dissertation, “Intertwined Markings: Metafiction in the Digital Age,” I uncover the historical and thematic relationship between videogames and contemporary works of metafiction by applying new materialist and game studies methodologies to both videogames and print novels, noting the ways in which both contemporary video games and contemporary novels use metafiction in order to explore the materiality of their medium, as well as the materiality of their readers/players. My introduction, in addition to establishing the methodological framework of my study, argues that transposing games studies methods onto the field of metafiction studies restructures our understandings of not only these texts, but the larger conventions of literary production, since (1) the historical development of new media forms and the history of metafiction are fundamentally connected, and (2) the goal of metafiction has always been to create self-referential spaces for play in order to pose questions about the implicit conventions of all literary works.
In chapter one, “Metafiction and the (Horrifying) Mark of the Digital,” I begin applying the methods outlined by my introduction to select contemporary works in order to analyze how these texts view their own aesthetic and material reliance on digital technologies. The works discussed in this chapter each contain a sinister re-imagining of the novel’s power, a self-reflexive “horrifying mark”, which reveals the text’s digital production while also reaffirming the novel’s cultural significance. In examining the metafictional horror of these “horrifying marks,” I argue that it is the intertwined relationship between digital technologies and literary production that gives literature this power to be horrific—that is, to experiment with function through form in ways that exude the horrific power of the novel.
My second chapter, “Metafiction and Marked Bodies,” explores another convention theorized by contemporary metafictional works, noting how select hypertextual novels actively engage readers with the materiality of the work as object, and of themselves as both “reader” and “body” through the depiction of narrators with various physical and mental disabilities. I argue that disability becomes a way to self-consciously write about narrative, since representing the conventions of narrative in disarray welcomes a consideration of the function and efficiency of those conventions for fictional representation. Metafiction allows these authors to reflect on narrative itself, its conventions, constraints, and usefulness, at the same time that it allows the reader to consider the ways in which traditional narrative might be ineffective for capturing any lived experience.
My final two chapters explore metafiction as it is expressed in new media works. First, in “Moral Combat: Violence and Metafictional Indie Games“, I argue that indie game developers have begun incorporating metafictional elements in the form and content of their games in order to self-reflexively critique the problematic tropes and toxic insularity of the mainstream gaming industry, creating embodied play experiences meant to stimulate feelings of guilt about the player’s role in the larger gaming ecology.
I conclude my project with exploring what I call “Metafiction’s New Frontier”: virtual reality simulations, and the growing use of motion and haptic gear in gaming—all of which, I argue, complicate our understandings of narrative and posthumanism. In concluding my study with this new frontier of technological discovery, I drive home my argument that we must change how we think about metafiction and its relationship to new media, so that we can begin to usurp our disciplinary narratives—which dictate the reading of narrative forms—in order to develop better critical practices.