This week, I had the opportunity to play “with those we love alive,” an interactive text fiction game created by Porpentine. One of the game’s immediate surprises was the instruction to grab a pen and draw “sigils” on our own bodies throughout pivotal moments and milestones in the story. With this mechanic, I felt that I am more incentivized to take my time with the story and fully immerse myself into the narrative. The game also challenges the traditional portrayal of female characters in games by making the player themselves the character, flaws and all, thereby disrupting the idealized image. It fosters interaction with one’s own thoughts and creativity through open-ended prompts such as “draw a sigil of new beginnings on your skin.” Moreover, it promotes assurance by assuring the player that “nothing you can do is wrong.”
The relationship-building aspect with a visiting friend, who is later revealed to be dead, adds a heaviness that juxtaposes with the game’s title, “with those we love alive.” Furthermore, the overly ornate pose, meditative music, and slow pacing create a contrast with the monstrosities occurring in the world. However, players are given safe spaces – they can always retreat to their chamber, where they refuel by applying ectoplasm. Another notable game mechanic is the use of pink and purple colored words or phrases. Clicking on a pink word or phrase reveals more text, while purple words allow toggling among different text options. The use of juxtapositions, safe spaces, and text choices symbolize the ability to choose one’s attitude or reaction to an uncontrollable situation, giving players opportunities for control within an unbalanced power dynamic and oppressive system.
The game excels in depicting the inner struggle between the self and the world, effectively conveying the nuances of the human psyche. The choices offered in the game resemble the act of selecting one thought over another in a conversation, highlighting the distinction between what we say (the chosen option) and all the thoughts we have (the other options). This mechanic further humanizes the character in such a subtle, delayed way, positively affirming the emotional labor it takes to navigate such a monstrous world.
In terms of feminist theories or other mentioned theories, the game encourages us to reconsider elements of our own lives and fosters empathy. The story revolves around a character who has endured past traumas and showcases emotional growth and strength by highlighting internal monologues and the hatred the narrator has towards the Empress, a ruthless ruler who hunts humans. This narrative demonstrates agency in challenging a system of power, evoking feminist rage, especially in the scene where I either had to exterminate evil spores by stomping them to death or watch them live and terrorize others.
“With those we love alive” is a remarkable feminist game because its ambiguous language allows space for players to interpret the meaning of the story elements for themselves. Personally, as I explored the Palace and various locations within the game, I found that the lack of significant changes over time led to impatience and repetitive actions, mirroring the mundane aspects of real life. The requirement that you have to sleep multiple times consecutively for a new event to happen further conveys the bleakness of real life. The oppressive Empress could be the expectations society has imposed on us, and perhaps the game itself is a portrayal of the gaming community, that it can easily be excluding, destructive, and hurtful.
Discussion question: How can text adventures more effectively promote more diverse gaming communities? Are having strong visuals important in bonding players and player identities?