The novel House of Leaves stands as a prime example of Espen Aarseth’s definition of a “simulation”. In their article, “Genre Trouble” Aarseth goes into extensive lengths about the art of “simulated” game space, and how a virtual world bound by its own set of rules fosters healthy academic study. Based on Aarseth’s standards on what constitutes a “simulation” versus a narrative, House of Leaves fulfills not only the positive traits of a simulation, but also embodies the weaknesses of one.
While Aarseth indeed chose to focus on the merits of computer games and digital literature – a particular statement he makes about hypertext fiction frames House of Leaves under an intriguing scope, “In the case of hypertext fictions, we are explorers, but without recognizable rules, there is no real game.” While it is true that House of Leaves is by no means meant to be experienced purely through a digital medium, as is customary of hypertext literature, the novel does carry the important facet of the hypertext genre – mainly, to inspire more interactivity from the readers through the usage of textual and bibliographic codes. Danielewski subtly transforms his readers into “explorers” and allowing for them to create their own subjective “rules” as they experience his work. In this sense, Danielewski’s is a literary “simulation” where instead of concrete rules and boundaries that tie a computer game’s world, there are instead bibliographic codes and a myriad of secrets; and these become the true substantial content of House of Leaves: the experience of embodying and performing the madness and paranoia-induced thirst for answers that the novel’s protagonists experience. On the other end of this spectrum, House of Leaves also carries the negative characteristic that plagues simulations, as Aarseth puts it, “When it is there at all, the story in these games is superficial, like a bored taxi driver whose only function is to take us on to the next ludic event. In the case of Heroes of Might and Magic, story fragments pop up at specific times in a level. They are completely superfluous, like illustrations in a storybook, and ignoring them will not affect the gameplay at all.” This fits the novel perfectly, as House of Leaves progresses it steadily becomes less and less about a concrete narrative, but rather the pursuit towards truth while sifting through hypertext-styled components that could possibly be lies.
Danielewski’s House of Leaves is the equivalent to a novelized simulated space – where readers become conspiracy addled explorers in the descent into insanity. The supposed story becomes a means to an end, a backdrop used to paint the stage for readers to “perform” their roles.