My Father’s Long, Long Legs (Michael Lutz)

My Father’s Long, Long Legs is a deeply creepy Twine game, a horror story centered on an unusual and startling premise. The structure seems linear at first: often in the early stages there is only one link forward, or there are multiple links but they control only the order in which you will read the same text. Later, things branch more, but in a way that still never gives the player a sense of strong agency. The experience is instead always of being drawn onward to explore even though there’s the strongest sense that you won’t like what you’re going to find. There’s no chance that you’re going to be able to control what that something is.

Sometimes text appears only after a delay — sometimes after so long a delay that you just start to feel that the story might be broken. Sometimes it becomes invisible except in a small, flashlight-illuminated circle around the mouse, forcing the player to move the cursor just to read what’s there. I tend to consider this kind of effect a gimmick, but in this particular case it works, keeping the reader constantly off balance. The text is brief enough, and comes in small enough snippets, that the need to scan past it doesn’t dramatically slow things up.

All this technical variety and aesthetic finesse is in service of a narrative that I found genuinely horrific. I am not, as a rule, a great fan of horror. But the horror of this particular story does not depend on exaggerated gore and never descends into a pornography of disgust.

It reads to me as a story of mental illness, of what mental illness is like to observe in one’s own family, of the effects it has on oneself and those one loves. The story is carefully observed and occasionally funny, and most of the really terrible things in it could actually happen, or be understood as a metaphor for things that actually happen.

Which is much, much creepier than zombies.

26 thoughts on “My Father’s Long, Long Legs (Michael Lutz)

  1. Thank you for pointing me toward this work! I might not have found it otherwise.

    What if it’s not the father who is mentally ill? What if it’s delusional to believe in a “real world”?

    It’s Lutz’s re-use of Bruno Schulz’s figures of the dwindling and growing human that suggests to me that the father’s digging, renovating, and growing are the generative work of resistance to a homogeneous or homogenizing society/economy. While the mother’s shrinking suggests the reductive, hobbling effects of ‘fitting-in’.

    I believe that the father’s production of “a maze of twisty little passages all alike” attempts to herald a future that is unlike the present. And this looks Insane, primarily because it is not The Same. My Father’s Long, Long Legs echoes Schulz’s literary assertions that the eccentric, un-renumerative, and seemingly insane, pursuit of idiosyncratic interests may renovate reality, in ways analogous to the ways that fiction’s plausible implausibility grounds reality, which disappears without stories (re: Schulz). With this work, Lutz displaces the common interpretative frame built around Adventure, which emphasized its imitation of the real (Mammoth Cave), and identified mimesis as the ground of its remarkable playability. My Father’s Long, Long Legs suggests that telling stories about inconceivable deviations from the norm, re-makes the norm by bringing into play unanticipated characters, storylines, and possibilities suitable for in-game role playing and for out-of-game play as well. If Schulz is too obscure a reference, consider the eccentric and nearly unrecognizably democratic underground men written by Dostoevsky and Ellison and how these books and characters opened holes/detours/possibilities in “reality”.

    • “While the mother’s shrinking suggests the reductive, hobbling effects of ‘fitting-in’.” I can’t help but feel you’re reading in a little, given that the mother was expressly described as “decompressing” once she left their father.

      • I had a similar impression to Revereche: Father doesn’t come across as genuinely happy in what he’s doing, and Mother seems to do better when she’s away from it.

    • This is brilliant–I didn’t catch the tune until I read the later comment by Toffle, but you’ve sold me. The author may not entirely intend the work to read this way, but I think it is a valid reading, and a (possibly unintentional) critique of our contemporary lives.

  2. Counterfeit Monkey issue: many places names unreadable at resolution 1024×768. what about mobile

    vs lbh cynlrq lnugmrr fprcgvp tnzr gung pne furanavtnaf erzvaqrq zr

  3. I played this one also and was going to review and just never got around to it. I’m typically not much of a CYOA type of person and prefer classic old-school IF. This however was very good. I almost felt like I was reading a Goosebumps style young teen horror. I guess I didn’t read into it some deeper subject matter like you did Emily or as Jenny mentioned in the comments, but I can see where that makes sense also. This is just great stuff though and makes me want to stay on the lookout for other similar well written CYOA.

    • I should say that even though I prefer the old-school style IF, I’m not opposed to other types which are more story and less puzzle, but I do look for good writing, good story that draws me in. Any recommendations of similar pieces to My Father’s Long, Long Legs would me much appreciated.

  4. Good Call, Revereche!!

    I deleted a sentence about the mother’s return to “real” life from my original reply, before I posted. And while yes, the mother does “physically decompress,” and speak more, laugh more, acquire friends and lovers, she also, upon entering this conventional narrative, disappears from the story, in a way that does not haunt, as the disappearance of the father does. And I think haunting, memory, and deviation are what’s at stake in this work. My Father’s Long, Long Legs doesn’t call the inter-reader to follow the norm, but to imagine what happens on the edge of what we are able to recognize. The ex-centric, perverse, and persistent desires of the father lead us down and out of this world we know and into one we do not. Perverse, persistent, and ex-centric desires are often interpreted as insane, abusive, threats, and criminal. Or, as non-existent. I watch out for the place where a character disappears, because sometimes, the character disappears because there is no story for that yet. “The Outing” by James Baldwin is a good example of this. When Johnnie sees his beloved, David, courting a girl from their church, he takes off into the woods and simply “leaves” the story. Which is pretty much the path taken by many queer people of color, chosen or not, and the trick is to watch the place of disappearance, check out the moment of reappearance, follow the associations (David and Johnathan from The Book of Samuel), and try not to erase the deviations with the story you already know. Anne Sexton called it rowing, Walt Whitman called it singing, Adrianne Rich called it diving, Audre Lorde called it dismantling — in Lutz, it’s digging.

    “‘This
    is
    not
    the
    real
    world,”
    my
    father
    would
    say,
    or
    something
    along
    these
    lines.”

    Dig this: What if Father Knows Best?

    I don’t want to destroy MFLLL by reading myself into the text. I am an invert. I want MFLLL to kill “me” — to take me farther and farther from my “self” and deeper and deeper into its twisty underpassages. MFLLL orders me to leave again and again. I understand this order, because I have read Schulz. This order does not appear in the imperative form, but through an unending series of associations.

    A Short List of the key figures, themes, and ideas used by both Schulz and Lutz:

    the father’s legs
    the book
    columns of text
    legs as columns
    the dwindling/growing human
    the absent father
    one clear memory
    the ordinary world posed alongside an ex-centric passion
    heresy
    the unvarying straight line
    the twisty maze
    the gendered division of tasks — women to the workaday, fertile, and amorous world and men to the fevered pursuit of the lost original (a pursuit that proves the inadequacy of the concept of “original’ and the metamorphic, utopic utility of the ordinary story)

    . . . and that’s just the first few. If you want, put my interpretation to the test and read Schulz for yourself:
    http://www.schulzian.net/translation/sanatorium.htm

    It’s a very short, short story. And very good.

    jason — I felt as many associations with classic IF here as with Schulz. Searching underground caverns for the lost father/treasure, carrying a conveniently located, battery powered light source seemed familiar — though the task was considerably different. The quick walk through the de-familied and defamiliarized family home seems a lot like a brief trip through Mystery House. The differently shaded characters in the column of words seemed to indicate the five character capacities of FORTRAN IV and ADVENT.

    I think Lutz is ambitious. And I think he has succeeded, if his ambition was to begin to recode the spaces of the house, the body, and the cave and to shift the notion of adventure away from the model of the Malloryesque quest and toward the creative aventure of Marie De France.

    • This is going to sound weird, but… I have always wanted to meet someone who talks like you!

      A lot of papers that I read in my Methods of Literary Criticism class in college were written in a style similar to yours. However, I never met anyone in person who talked or wrote in this style, and I had assumed that it was confined to the Lit Crit world and used nowhere else.

      And now… well, I haven’t met you in person, but I’ve read the comments you posted, and discovered that I was wrong: there exists at least one person, out there in the world, who talks like that, in real life discussions of stories.

      I really enjoyed my Lit Crit class, partly because I like reading, but also partly because I was intrigued by the dialect that the papers were written in. It’s unlike anything else. I had, and still have, a lot of questions about that dialect. Where and when did it begin? How does it propagate? Why is it so prevalent in some parts of academia (like literary criticism and art criticism and psychoanalysis) and not in others (like sociology and psychology and math)?

      Again, I know this all sounds creepy… and also it possibly sounds like I’m making fun of your writing style. I promise I’m not. I loved that Lit Crit class, and I wouldn’t have loved it if I didn’t have a soft spot for that kind of writing.

      So… if it’s no trouble, do you mind me asking a few questions about the style you write in? If not, here they are:

      -Are you a literary critic? If so, are you a professor, grad student, or hobbyist? Are you the Jenny Hubbard who wrote Paper Covers Rock?

      -I noticed that a lot of the Lit Crit papers did this thing/technique/quirk where they replace (words / phrases / p(arts/ieces) of words) with alternatives, using a slash. You did it in the phrases “homogenizing society/economy” and “the lost father/treasure.” I get how you’re using the slashes, but I’m wondering when you started using them that way. Do you remember, like, at what point in your life you picked it up?

      -For that matter, when did you first started doing the Lit-Crit-style wordplay that you do, like saying “ex-centric” instead of “eccentric” or saying “de-familied and defamiliarized” instead of “vacant and unfamiliar?” Or capitalizing “Short List,” which I assume you did on purpose because this is Emily Short’s blog? Maybe you didn’t do that on purpose. Anyway, when did you first see that style of wordplay? When did you decide to start using it?

      -I’ve noticed some people say “I have read books by Author X,” and some other people say “I have read Author X.” Lit Crit people generally say “I have read Author X,” and so do you! You also sometimes say “in Lutz” instead of “in MFLLL.” Is there a reason you do it that way?

      -Lit Crit people often talk about “spaces.” You were talking about “the spaces of the house, the body, and the cave,” and how this game has succeeded in recoding them. You also said, “Lutz displaces the common interpretative frame built around Adventure.” I’ve always wondered: how is an interpretative frame different from a space? For that matter, how is it different from a “discourse?” (That’s another word literary critics love!) Is “recoding a space” the same as “displacing an interpretative frame?” What mental image should I conjure up when I try to imagine someone displacing an interpretative frame?

      Look, uh… you don’t have to answer any of these questions… obviously. Since you don’t know me and this is the internet. I haven’t even responded to your analysis of the game, and instead have opted for asking you a bunch of questions about the way you write, which is super rude of me. But I really don’t mean anything rude by it. I just got excited when I realized you talk the same way as the Lit Crit people, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask you about it. Extensively.

      P.S. I read it the way you did, too, with (ROT-13 for spoilers) gur qnq orvat evtug nobhg rirelguvat, vapyhqvat gur snpg gung uhznaf hfrq gb or tvnagf naq gung gurl jbhyq ertnva gurve fgeratgu vs gurl erghearq gb gur cevzriny pber bs gur jbeyq. V guvax ur’f unccl naq cbjreshy qbja gurer, naq vg’f whfg gur qnhtugre’f uhzna crefcrpgvir gung xrrcf ure sebz frrvat uvz nf nalguvat ohg n zbafgre. (Rira gubhtu ur’f uhzzvat “Lbh Ner Zl Fhafuvar” gb ure! Njjjjjj…)

  5. toffle
    Not creepy. Cool.

    And, you got me right.
    right now, I am an academic, so my defaults are academy-speak, methods, and content-forms. but I have always read and played with words as a way to make a more liveable world for myself and my friends. I’m older, so I come from a time when academy-speak was not so exclusive, specialized, and off-putting and the relation between activism, social justice, serious play, and school was, well, interactive. So, yeah, I can write and talk like this, but when I am in a bar, bus, or park, I phrase it differently.

    Quick and dirty answers:
    the use of diacritical marks and word play, for me, marks my deconstruction/poco/diasporic studies influences, as it echoes my previous interest in the make-a-new-word-because-the-old-ones-aren’t-working creativity of primarily queer POC writers and artists, which set the model for the ways I used to perform poetry, do radio shows, sing in a band, write flyers, do agitprop work, work in a shelter . . .

    The current interpretive frame of Adventure is organized, as I read it, by a Aristolean-leaning version of mimesis, which tries to work with both Aristotelian making (or poiesis) and a Platonic ideal. Both suggest that writing represents the actual (though making may indicate that writing also produces reality). Schulz and Lutz, in my reading, write fiction that suggests that writing makes reality. Without a shift in the interpretive frame, the significance of MFLLL will go unremarked, sort of like the father.

    One theory of fiction suggests that it opens spaces in dominant narratives. These spaces imagine or stage solutions to real world, or historical world, problems. When readers/players turn to face these spaces, or to play through these spaces, their orientation shifts as possible worlds open alongside the actual world. Schulz’s work, esp. The Book, is very close to the theoretical work of Ernst Bloch, who argued that ordinary fiction — fairy tales, anecdotes, local legends, etc., change reader’s orientation to the world — primarily by eliciting feelings of hopeful anticipation of another world that is in the process of arriving. The arrival is unseen, because this future is so different that it cannot be seen through the frames we already use. The form-content of MFLLL pulls the reader/player down into the fictional space of a maze of twisty passages all alike, but we do not experience the adventure of “finding” lost treasures. We are, however, temporarily re-oriented in this unexplainable project-space. Bloch suggests that ordinary tales produce novum, or shiny lights that, if we look toward them, cause us to walk off-path and begin to make a different world. I suggest that the beam of the flashlight in MFLLL, while it appears to be illuminating our path, actually appears on the screen as a light that we follow, for a time, into an inexplicable underground project. really, MFLLL is quite remarkable and Lutz is a writer to attend to, even if it involves a bit of reorientation.

    Toffle, if you want to write more, I’m game. write to me on facebook, or look up my email address at UCSC, then we can communicate elsewhere.

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