Wolf in White Van: A Parallel to a Game

The intentionally ambiguous beginning to the novel Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle, along with repetitive plot structure and subject parallel, reveals a conflict between the a posteriori reality and the perception of that reality through a delusional character. This dynamic is represented through the narrator’s use of a real-life role playing game which exposes parallels between concepts in that gaming genre versus how Sean Phillips, the protagonist, sees physical interactions.

The first instance of this relationship occurs through Sean’s physical description of the house. We can imagine that way the scene is described resembles that of a first person lens that pans across the various objects in the house. The technique of description through motion, that is, detailing his surrounding while being carried to a final destination by his father is representative of how a fictional character in game would observe his surroundings. However, a more concrete connection occurs when we realize that Sean actually describes the route (and therefore the interior) twice. On the first instance, he ends up sidetracking from his intended destination, his room. We can attribute this scenario as a reflection of unfamiliarity when first starting a new game. This also makes physical sense as we can assume that Sean has been away from his home (in the hospital) for a long period of time and coupled with the physical trauma of a later realized incident that could incur memory loss. On the second instance, however, although the description of the so-called journey is similar, we end up where we should, the bedroom. This may reflect a new player’s experience with a game: in a first play-through, the player might get lost and end up in the wrong place whereas in the second play-through, the player now knows what to expect and proceeds to the correct location.

Another parallel occurs when Sean begins to imagine what the world would look like from above. This perspective immediately reminds us of a world map or mini-map that is given to a character in a video game for the sake of positional reference. Yet, the world map also functions by providing the locations of other important areas to the player. Therefore, we may think that Sean is activity searching for the next important area and the directions to go there. This seems metaphorical of what we can perceive in Sean as a depressive disorder that is rooted in confusion on the questions ‘what’s next?’ Thus far, Sean does not seem to have found his answer, but the concept of a world map still remains important in considering future actions that he might take.

Both these parallel exist alongside Sean’s physical world. The comparison to video games is thus used to illustrate a potential mental state within Sean that shapes his perspective and subsequently, how he narrates the world to the reader.

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