“One way or another, the dream will come. Fight.”
(*I recommend checking out my first post on this work before delving into this one~)
Porpentine’s With Those We Love Alive is a dark, twisted, and fantastical Twine game that invites readers to become participants in the act of experiential inscription by asking readers to draw sigils on themselves as they work through the piece. These sigils are meant to represent experiences typically invisible or intangible or hidden like “new beginnings” or “pain you can’t show” or “shame that taught the ocean everything it knows”. Of the work and its design, Porpentine states, “After playing, the reader has a tangible record of their own choices and identity beliefs in the drawings on one’s skin.” These physical acts of personal and social inscription paired with the work’s re-imagining of abuse, loss, and trauma is meant to provide readers with new insight into the complex and often complicated and conflicting mechanics behind both. More, readers are able to make these experiences their own and engage in a kind of self-reclamation and renewal through in-scripting their lived experiences themselves on their person. In many ways, this work seems to encourage and be designed to help readers navigate the recursive nature of abuse and trauma and realize it is not something to overcome and defeat so much as cope with and manage day-by-day (a very difficult lesson to learn through any other way than experience).
This work, like Juliet Davis’ Pieces of Herself, affected me deeply and personally. I found the recursive/looping interface Twine affords to provide an apt representation of the cyclical nature of trauma and abuse. It never really ends so much as loops back on itself, moving from good to bad and back again. Balance is found within making peace with the loop and learning to navigate those forward and backwards motions (“Every day is damage”). Moving forward can mean going backwards (returning to your “chambers” every night or checking on the “statues in the garden”, peeking through the telescope on the balcony to the “wastes”) and vice-versa because progress has no set direction. Progress is a process.
Narratively and word-choice-wise, I found this work also to be dead-on. Throughout the piece, our narrator (who is also you as indicated by the use of the second-person POV–“you make a diadem out of heretic bone and fleshsilk”, “you drag the glass across your skin”, “you no longer dream”, you receive a letter from the people “whose blood is your blood”, etc.) mentions losing the ability to dream as well as mentions seeing dead people wherever they go. “A dead person stares at you from beneath the lake.” “A dead person stares at you from the trees”, “a dead person stares at you from behind the hamper.” This loss of dreams seems to communicate the lasting trauma of abuse on the subconscious while seeing dead people everywhere seems meant to illustrate how trauma and abuse colour how you see the world. It’s a kind of living death, every memory another murder. You cannot forget but you also cannot move forward unless you forget. The evil, larval queen is representative of the power an abuser has over the abused, even long after the experience. That power never fades, merely manifests in different ways, requiring different things from you along the way. Accomplishing those things brings “little pride”.
When our friend, Sedina, appears, so does hope, though. Sedina’s presence seems to represent the importance of having a way to discuss or illustrate or otherwise work through/have an outlet for your trauma. There is no escape without that. Also, though, there is no escape without reclamation and reconciliation. “i’msorryforeverything”–It’s important to apologize to yourself, to be able to forgive yourself, even if it’s the last thing you want to do. You need to be able to own what happened to you in order to learn how to live through it. While “there are many ways to destroy someone”, it is important to learn that “power is wounded by anything that refuses to be destroyed by it”. Experiencing trauma, being abused–it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. The only way to beat it, though, is to live through it.
Perhaps, again, I am imposing too much of my own lived experience on a work. But, given the invitation of this work to write how I feel all over my skin, I would say my reaction to its content is not only welcome but desired. By drawing my experience of this work out on my skin, I am connecting the content directly to myself. “What they did to me on the outside, they did to you on the inside”–this story is not mean to occur purely within a screen. At least half of it must occur inside of me. On me. I become a canvas, the art a record of my navigation through this piece, yes, but also a record of everything I have survived.
Overall, I find the design and content of Porpentine’s work to create a compelling narrative and illustration of how trauma and abuse are cyclical experiences that can have lasting and haunting effects. Through this work, we can gain new insight into our own traumas as well as insight into the varied nature of trauma itself. We can understand that we have been traumatized and still hurt and long for the people we trusted and who betrayed that trust. We can understand holding onto letters from those who have hurt us because we used to love them. We can understand that trauma is like being a “chasm person”, separated from everyone, a feeling of being bottomless and empty, of being good for nothing better than swallowing everything you come in contact with. Hope can feel like a shameful thing, when you exist as a chasm. With Those You Love Alive captures all of this nuance and asks you to remember it as an experience–so you won’t forget it. So you won’t forget you lived through it.
I know I won’t forget.
~Till next time~
*For this piece, too, I wrote another post about it a while back. This post goes a lot more in-depth about the narrative aspects of the work and its symbolism. At the time, I was working on a project meant to explore the cyclical nature of abuse and so I was very taken with this work. Really, this post is an in-depth look at this piece. I could go on and on about everything I loved about this work and what it represents. Like, reading it was a turning point in my life. I still think about aspects of this work from time to time in my on life. It left a lasting impression on me and I highly recommend reading my other post on it. This post is more of a continuation to my first.
*I also wrote a prior post on this week’s other work we’re reviewing High Muck A Muck if you’d like to check it out. That’s another very profound and compelling work that explores the complexity of navigating a multi-faceted identity in our increasingly global community.