‘With Those We Love Alive’ is a hypertext piece by Porpentine. I would describe it as a dream/nightmare-like interactive fiction as it relies on hyperlinks to move the story forward and is filled with descriptions that boggle the mind. It starts off innocently enough with some vague text that draws you into the piece followed by some multiple-choice options to “customize” you character—options like “what’s your eye color”, “what’s you month of birth”, etc.
The real fun with this piece starts when you’re introduced to the matriarch of the story, the “skull empress”, despite the very descriptive title of the empress you’re allowed to customize her too. You’re given a couple of choices whenever the option of picking out your “choice” for a descriptive feature is opened to the reader. This comes up again multiple times throughout the piece but most notably whenever you’re tasked with creating something. The reader is handpicked by the agents that serve the skull empress to come and live in the palace and craft weapon, armor, and artifacts for the skull empress.
As far as the story goes it’s a choose your own adventure that seems to be limited to how much variety the reader wishes to experience throughout their playthrough. I explored this piece from the beginning to the end once, and got a semi-satisfying conclusion by the end. My character seemed to do okay, until the meeting of an old acquaintance. There seemed to be an underlying romantic plot to the piece but to be honest with you it was all terribly vague and suggestive so I might’ve just imagined the entire romance part on my own.
Design-wise, the electronic literature is created through Twine, which I’ve had my own short run-in with myself but I dropped it after I couldn’t seem to string together more than 4-5 sections of my work. This, however, seems to work flawlessly. The design is simplistic, the backgrounds used are basic melting between various colors that work to set a general mood atmosphere, and the music—which changes alongside the backgrounds for emotional or thrilling scenes—does a serviceable job.
The piece does a good job at immersing the reader into a dream-like world that is made up with both the horror and marvel that dreams/nightmares can offer. The language used is often both eerie and rich, making the painting that the author is offering us frightening, while it keeps a certain amount of suspense throughout.
‘With Those We Love Alive’ asks the reader in the start to participate with the piece in a rather refreshing way. The reader is asked to go and find a pen before they start the piece and as the character throughout the piece draws down markings on their body—or “sigils”—the reader is asked to imagine and create their own interpretations of said markings. The author even dedicated a webpage on Tumblr for people to post and share their own interpretations of the different markings that comes up in the story. For those who want to check out the various interpretations, you can click this link: http://porpentine.tumblr.com/tagged/glory-2-with-those-we-love-alive