May 10, 2019

Day of the shred: interactive PC game invites you to destroy a book


“That was a first edition!” (Public Domain; CC0 1.0)

In a move that will prompt shocked-face emojis across the publishing world, Bristol-based indie game developer Alistair Aitcheson has released The Book Ritual, an “interactive art-piece played using a real-world book of your own choice,” that connects via USB to a paper shredder—and then invites you to systematically feed a book, page by page, into it.

The point-and-click style game is narrated by a cute book-shaped character (just to rub salt into the wound), who asks you questions along the way, inviting you to record your thoughts as you shred.

You will have questions at this point. Namely: why?

Well, far from being a meaningless act of bibliocide*, The Book Ritual is less of a game, and more of an exercise that helps people cope with grief by accepting impermanence. According to an article on Aitcheson’s blogspot,

The story is about dealing with loss and accepting change. It is about coming to terms with decisions that can’t be undone, and the souvenirs which will lose their meaning to time. It’s about guilt and regret. My hope is that the book can [be] a prompt to get people to think about why they value what they do, using a tangible book as a way for people to act out these feelings in a physical way.

As well as shredding pages, players are invited to cross out, cut extracts from, draw and write in their chosen book. Aitcheson hopes ‘to ask players to question how they emotionally attach to something … asking them to destroy it prompts them to consider how and why they feel connected to it.’

Aitcheson rightly posits that we feel especially attached to books – and selected them as sacrificial objects exactly for that reason:

My objective is not to tell people they are wrong to be protective of books. It is to ask them why they put value in what they value. Can the same reason we hang on to books be the same reason we hang on to distant memories, impossible desires, and unanswerable questions? Does a book still have value if it can’t be made sense of?

The Book Ritual, which is free to download, went on general release late last year—and has already been exhibited several times in galleries across across the UK and Europe, causing a stir among gaming critics. Reviewing it for PC Gamer last week, Joanna Nelius writes:

To get the most out of it, you not only have to be willing to tear and shred pages from a book, but you also have to be willing to explore the darkest caverns of yourself. It turned out I was more ready to shred a book than I was to explore those caverns, but ‘The Book Ritual’ has a way of making you feel comfortable enough to share your most personal thoughts.

Alice Bell at Rock Paper Shotgun also praised the work:

Ripping out pages of a book felt wrong. It felt transgressive and savage… [yet] as I played The Book Ritual, I began to really relish tearing out the pages. The physical act—the papery resistance before the book gave one up, and the noise of the shredder, and the heap of word spaghetti growing ever higher on the show floor—became more and more satisfying.

I must admit, even as a hardcore book-hoarder, the urge to play The Book Ritual is a strong one. The only question is: which book to choose? We might be here some time…




*I may or may not have just made that up



Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.