Jim Munroe’s “Everybody Dies.”

“Everybody Dies,” by Jim Munroe, is a digital piece telling the intertwining stories of the employees of Cost Cutters: Graham, an “aged metalhead,” Ranni, the newest employee, and Lisa, the manager. The title refers to how all three die during the game: Graham dies trying to pull a grocery cart from a river, Ranni dies when Patrick (another employee) shoots him, and Lisa dies when Patrick shoots her as well. Your mission, through interaction with the text, is to guide Graham, Ranni, and Lisa through their experiences, and eventually help them save themselves from death.

Textual Features

  • Aside from the occasional picture, all action takes place through text.
  • There is a fixed narrative, which can be navigated exclusively, although tangents exist to a certain degree.
  • Pictures DO play a part in the narrative, as they represent the mystical happenings within the VOID, where characters go after they die.
  • No music.

Media Features
  • Game/Piece unfolds in a command-prompt/MS-DOS style—you progress the narrative by giving orders to each character. Commands like, “EXAMINE RIVER,” “GO WEST,” “PUSH CART,” “WAIT,” or “INVENTORY.”
  • Narrative drives all action, as only commands that further the narrative in some way are accepted. Unknown commands bring confusion and questions from the characters.
  • Reader agency is an illusion: the reader controls all actions, but only the correct commands and actions are recognized.

Reading Experience
In terms of understanding, this piece is pretty straight-forward: it’s a textual narrative. The story begins with an as-yet unknown speaker. We see a picture of Graham standing on a bridge. Initially, it is very easy to become confused, not knowing how to proceed. The only direction we are given is “Type HELP if you need it, and QUIT to exit the game.” Typing in HELP provides some instruction, but there remains a trial and error component to progressing the narrative. The confusion doesn’t really go away until you’re well into the game, because of the interconnectedness of Graham, Ranni, and Lisa—specifically how you need to use the other two characters’ knowledge and vision as well as your own. After each “death,” you see pictures of colored fish: a blue fish, a red fish, and a green fish. The fish don’t really make sense until the end. (There is a sense of existing within the computer, however—as we wait for the computer to tell us what happens next.)

Graham is the blue fish, Ranni is the red fish, Lisa is the Green fish. At one point, Lisa tells Ranni, “What part of fates intertwined do you not understand?” If you interpret the pictures of the fish in the VOID, you see representations of the narrative: Graham dies, wakes as the blue fish with a connection to Ranni, the red fish. When Ranni dies, the blue fish sends the red fish through the grate that traps the blue fish. The red fish eventually sends the green fish through the grate that traps it, and the green fish (Lisa) pushes the button to release all three—all are alive and swimming at the end. The story is one of relationships and how we affect those around us. The confusion we feel as we play mimics the confusion felt by all three as they die and come back/remain. The questions we have as we try to make sense of the command-prompt style of play make us experience some of the frustration felt by Graham, Ranni, and Lisa.

Question: This is unlike any other piece we have yet examined—it’s not a hyptertext, although it has a textual narrative, it’s not an “interactive map” like “In Absentia,” or “Voyage into the Unknown,” and it’s not a flash animation like “Inanimate Alice,” or “The Dreamlife of Letters.” How do we define where this piece fits into our understanding of digital lit?