Mantrap: Playing BILLY BUDD

An experiment in "doing things with novels" using Ivanhoe in Hunter College's ENGL 399 course

Sandbox game

Playing since: March 21, 2016


Game Description


Our “gamified” Billy Budd will be unlike any novel you’re read and unlike any game you’ve played (though for RPG fans, maybe a bit more familiar). Each of us will play one or more roles. Roles can be:

  • “inside” the text of Billy Budd (and remember, it’s already an “inside” story): Billy, Claggart, and Vere, of course, but also more peripheral characters might be fun to play, fleshing out aspects of characters or exploring things that happen “offstage” in ways that Melville’s text ignores or represses, the narrator of the text (who, remember, is neither a character nor Melville, as we’ve explored via Iser’s work)
  • “outside” the text but around it: Melville himself, of course, but also his family members or heirs (he died before finishing the novella), the publishers of the various editions of Billy Budd (first published in 1924), the first wave of reviewers and critics to engage it in the 1920s, more recent interpreters of it, such as Peter Ustinov, writer/director of the 1962 film version, and so on

From within your role, you can do at least three things:

  • make a move
  • respond to a move
  • reflect on a move

How do you win? There’s no winning.

When is it over? When the syllabus says so, and then only if we’re bored.

How will be be evaluated? As much as I’d like to evaluate you on how much fun you’ve had, I’ll have to stick with the quantity/quality of the writing you’ve doneMore detail to follow…


Billy on Billy


There’s no malice between myself and I, but you’re lying. Unfortunately, I could only vent my frustrations by typing this out. Related


Claggart in the Closet


Claggart’s “natural depravity” which is defined tautologically as “depravity according to nature,” and the accumulation of equivocal terms (“phenomenal”, “mystery”, etc.) used in the explanation of the fault in his character, are an indication of his status as the central homosexual figure in the text. (From Wikipedia) Related