Vesp: A History of Sapphic Scaphism (Porpentine)

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Vesp: A History of Sapphic Scaphism  is a Porpentine game commissioned for Vice. It tells the story of a person obsessed with wasps, desiring to be a wasp, and inhabiting a world where wasps are pestilentially omnipresent. Leaving our apartment requires exiting through a wasplock, lest they get into our flat. (Edit: I originally misunderstood the titling scheme and thought the title was “Wasp”, but I’ve been corrected – sorry!)

There is a lot I might say about this piece if it were the first Porpentine piece I were writing about, but now it feels redundant to tell you that her worldbuilding is surprising and terrifying; that her words come in small servings per page, and that this is as much as you will be able to take at a time, because they are poetically intense; that she is inventive in how she deploys her links and that she is adding to the rhetorical toolset of hypertext with each new thing she releases; that the story concerns a protagonist at odds with the world around her; that it touches on a trans experience in the world even when it is not explicitly about gender (and it is often about gender). These things are true each time, but the effect does not become boring.

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Neon Haze (Porpentine, Brenda Neotenomie)

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Neon Haze is this week’s release at Sub-Q Magazine.

A side note: If you are interested in IF, especially Twine IF with a speculative fiction focus, you should be paying attention to Sub-Q: it’s an ambitious venture, a website with stories and interviews that pays pro rates for interactive fiction. It provides some resources for matching storytellers with people who can implement content for them, if the author doesn’t already have those skills. The guidelines would allow for parser IF, but possibly they simply haven’t been offered any so far that met the other requirements. Sub-Q is paid for by memberships and donations, but it’s free to read; I’d like to see it continue, though, so I’ve signed up.

So, Neon Haze. It is the story of someone living in a dark-rainy-night-plus-neon kind of environment. The protagonist suffers from Vessel Syndrome, a condition that produces a sense of not really being oneself, or not being in one’s own body; a sense of being occupied by other spirits. Sometimes they seem to dissociate. Often they use language drawn from therapy sessions to describe their experience.

One of the game’s key moments comes when you’re allowed to choose which of two people you were in a scene: someone safe and surrounded by friends, or an outcast who has gotten into a fight? Whichever you choose, the game does not contradict you, and either way provides an interesting way of understanding the situation. Perhaps the protagonist has always been an outsider and imagining themselves as someone different and safe was a way to escape that experience. Or perhaps the protagonist comes from a background of safety that is now lost, one in which they acted entitled and did not understand how difficult things could be elsewhere, on the outside.

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The story is supported by CSS effects that make the links glow on the page against a dark cityscape, and by Neotenomie’s music, which loops and hums with seductive energy. Sometimes, at least for me, the music was more than a mood-setting device. It communicated hope, or perhaps some not-quite-hope will to live, even when the text itself was describing a bleak situation.

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