Em Carroll and the Impact of Interactive Storytelling

Em Carroll’s “MARGOT’S ROOM” is, first and foremost, a choose-your-own-adventure story (with the story leaning deeper into horror as the comic develops). From the first page, the reader is prompted with a poem and a choice: Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 11.15.35 PM

Aside from the immediate unease offered by the grisly scene presented by the first page of the comic, the necessity of the reader’s choice to engage and the “path” travelled by the scrolling patterns of the major contributors to the overall dread and horrific impact. The conceit of horror films and animated horror series is that you are being told a story; you passively accept the images, sounds, and dialogue of the tale, and your engagement is limited to your mere presence. Em Carroll, through her use of interactive choice and unpredictable scrolling, removes the passivity of the audience and forces them to choose to immerse themselves in the story and walk (with keystrokes) through the panels of the comic.

The entire story requires being actively unpacked by the reader to be told; once again, this aspect of MARGOT’S ROOM is one of the defining horror elements. The chapters that best display the interfacing of this narrative style and the scrolling involved in the comic are chapters V and II.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 11.29.32 PM

While very difficult to capture, we see that at this point in Chapter II there is a near-physical “drop” in the story. The reader has to adjust their scrolling, changing the orientation of the comic and providing a sense of dread at the literal descent in the narrative path – again, a descent that the reader chooses to follow, which heightens the suspense of the unfolding dialogue.

This combination of effects is felt the most in Chapter V, where the reader reaches the “climax” of the story. There are three more of the drops mentioned earlier, and following the trail of the panels is at its most difficult and unsettling in this chapter. The discordant movement of the story from panel to panel drags the reader further and further down the screen, at times losing them in the blackness of the background page until they manage to stumble upon another unsettling panel of the murder at the end of the story.  This physical element breaches one of the only sanctities found when regarding horror: the fact that you are completely disconnected, physically, from the story. Carroll’s uses of the discussed techniques creates deep intimacy between the story and the reader, allowing the comic to transcend the flat, distant nature of horror media.

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