It’s almost impossible to separate the “Twine revolution“—the proliferation of small-scale interactive fiction created by nontraditional game designers—from Porpentine. The Oakland, California-based creator’s alien, poetic work has been a fixture of the Twine scene for years while also serving as a microcosm of all the best parts of it. If you’ve heard of Twine, you’ve heard of Porpentine.
Her latest game is titled No World Dreamers: Sticky Zeitgeist. It’s an episodic series, and the first episode, called “Hyperslime,” went online last month. Developed with artist and fellow game-maker Rook, it takes place in a distorted fantasy world of transgender catgirls, robots, and rolling ecological disasters. It plays out almost like a sitcom, or the pilot of an anime from another dimension; after a brief (and extremely NSFW) personal interlude, the game establishes setting and character, offering a glimpse of its preoccupations, and then just flits away. It’s fascinating.
“It started with an idea to have these extremely disposable Hanna-Barbera-esque episodes of janky [game] assets and, like, horrible things happening to people repeatedly,” Porpentine says. “But then we got attached to it. I really wanted to make something with characters. Like, actual characters.”
No World Dreamers in many ways resembles Porpentine’s past work—including an evocative mastery of phrase and mood and a way of synthesizing various ephemera of queerness—but the emphasis on characters is new. It tells the story of specific people in an unusual but concrete fantasy context. Most of Porpentine’s solo work, particularly in Twine, has previously focused on highly impressionistic, unreal worlds, with characters that are outlines, vessels for mood and experience, rather than full people. Porpentine called them her “award-winning collection of tulpas.”
“A lot of my games have been kind of submerged,” she says. “They’re written from a very dissociated perspective where the point of view is almost smeared into the environment. They have trouble conceiving of themselves as a person.
Her latest effort is a deliberate departure—both in style and tech. While the first episode was created using Twine’s open-source software, following episodes will be made using different game-making technologies: GameMaker for episode two, a tool called Hypercard for episode three, and another called Storybook Weaver for episode four.
No World Dreamers is a deliberate departure—both in style and tech. While the first episode was created using Twine’s open-source software, following episodes will be made using different game-making technologies.
It’s a part of what her and Rook refer to as a “narrative petri dish”—a chance to explore interesting themes and styles within each episode’s cartoonish framework, adjusting and iterating as they go. Rook’s art and sound design further sell this, gesturing toward anime and a sort of Lisa-Frank-by-way-of-a-queer-swamp aesthetic. Rook and Porpentine met via Twitter. (“I think I made a tweet about worms and she posted a GIF about worms,” Rook says. “Classic how-people-know-each-other stuff,” Porpentine adds.) They’ve been collaborating on the title since last winter, drawn by their mutual interest in games as a means of trickery and enthrallment.
“Games were the easiest way I could fuck off from reality when I needed to, which was most of the time,” Rook says. “The individual elements [of playing and making games] were important to me, but it became equally important to bombard my senses from all directions.”
Porpentine’s work is compelling because its attention to language and detail builds small spaces that feel simultaneously uncanny and warm. Even at their most wildly creative, Porpentine’s games have a core of lived experience to them. Stories of troubled, alienated people, communicated in vibrant and inscrutable aesthetics. It’s a powerful combination.
And it’s that combination, alongside the alchemy of Porpentine and Rook, that makes No World Dreamers worth playing. “Hyperslime” is a glimpse into what is certainly normal genre fiction in some more mystical timeline. But in this one, it’s something special.