Critical Play: With Those We Love Alive

With Those We Love Alive is an interactive fiction Twine game made by Porpentine. This poetically written text-only game (with music) tells a story about a blacksmith/metalworker who creates tools and weapons for a monstrous empress. After various important plot points, the player is invited to draw symbols on their arm symbolizing the emotions that the story evokes at that moment. However, I played this game without drawing anything on my arm, since I have dry skin and I did not want to irritate my skin further. I looked up photos of the symbols that other players drew on their arms though, and I was surprised to see the variety in them. Some players drew symbols consisting of only geometric shapes, while others drew symbols that were basically full illustrations.

This game allowed me to see what game mechanics are possible within Twine. Although I didn’t entirely understand the story, since I didn’t have time to absorb all of the abstract prose, I feel inspired by it and I want to create a game with a similar feeling.

With Those We Love Alive is a single-player game. The player is invited to play in the same way any person is invited to read a book: they see it on a shelf and find the title interesting, or they learn about it from a recommendation. The role of the player is to absorb the story and make a few choices here and there, although the choices are largely flavor text and don’t affect the plot much. For example, I was able to choose what weapon the main character would make to give to the empress, but the type of weapon didn’t actually matter, since it was never used in combat. The player is also supposed to draw symbols on their arm at certain points in the game, but the symbols are mostly for the player’s own reflection at the end of the game and don’t affect the story either. The player interaction pattern of With Those We Love Alive is most like “single player versus game,” but is really more like “single player versus self” or “single player with game.”

The objective of With Those We Love Alive is exploration. As I played, I wanted to learn more about the world in which the story is set. When presented with a passage, the player has the option to click on different words and read flavor text about those characters, objects, or locations. The player also has to figure out what to do to advance the story forward, and they can only do so by clicking everything and trying all the actions. It took me a while to figure out that I needed to sleep in order to advance to the next event.

The only procedure in the game is that the player should click on some clickable text after they are done reading the text on the page. Occasionally, the player can also draw on their arm when the game tells them to do so.

There are no explicitly stated rules to this game, although there was a suggestion at the very beginning for the player to wear headphones and for the player to have a pen nearby with which they can draw on their skin. However, these suggestions were not enforced and not strictly necessary to enjoy the game. Perhaps the only “rule” in this game is that the player may only click on text that is clickable, and the clicked text may change or may lead to the next page. This is both a rule that restricts actions and a rule that determines effects.

The player has no resources to keep track of.

Besides the conflict in the plot, there is not much conflict between the player and the game. The only time I felt like I was against any “obstacle” when I was trying to figure out what text I had to click to advance the plot.

Since this is a Twine game in the browser, the boundary between the game and the player is the player’s device screen. However, the interesting thing about this game is that it breaches into the real world if the player allows it, if the player chooses to draw symbols on their skin when the game prompts them. While I did not, I read other players’ reviews of the game, and one said that they were left with a reminder of the emotions they felt while playing the game that remained on their skin for several days afterwards.

The outcome of the game is fixed, since it has a pre-written story, but the reader doesn’t know the outcome in their first playthrough, and so they are still enticed by the uncertainty. (If there are actually multiple endings, I am unaware.) An optional outcome of the game is the variety of symbols which the player chooses to draw on their arm, which comes entirely from the player’s imagination. With Those We Love Alive is a narrative, non-competitive game, and therefore a non-zero sum game.

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