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Life Changing, December 21, 2022
"With Those We Love Alive" was the first piece of online interactive fiction of this kind that I remember engaging with. Before it there had been webcomics, DeviantArt choose-your-own stories, Quizilla supernatural romances, online forum roleplays. But even among all of those, this was different. I got a marker and stared at the screen, sucked into this world surrounded by the darkness of my room, navigating imagination through the kind of ever-fraying sleep deprivation that is unique to schools.
I was an impressionable young creative who had a mind soaked in unreality and a longing for things as strange as I was. I played through much of the story in one sitting, within one night, and I believe I came to some conclusion after another day of play. Two nights, and even though it was eventually tucked away into some obscure corner of memory that I no longer have access to, I cannot overstate the deep emotional and inspirational impact it left on me. I have never forgotten this story-- not its name, its themes, its format, its style of worldbuilding. I was starstruck by how it constructed itself out of the mundane grotesque, how it structured the story navigation to allow for repetitive exploration while also rewarding curiosity. I had never considered before the possibility of creating a story like this, in this style, or having these kinds of themes. It was also, I believe, the first time I had ever encountered a canonically trans protagonist. I do not recall whether I was aware of my own genderfluidity at the time, but witnessing our main character apply what is explicitly an estrogen patch in the form of a glyph awakened something in my mind that would have remained neglected for years otherwise. I hadn't known that this sort of artistic expression or worldbuilding experimentation was allowed. I hadn't known it was possible.
All of that to say, now that I do have an account on this forum and have come across this game again, I did replay some of it. I have a more nuanced appreciation now that I am mature, but age and experience could never be what influence this review. No matter what my more modern experience of the game is, I would be doing everyone a grand disservice if I did not allow my younger self to finally be able to express the way this game bound itself onto a part of their soul. With each new symbol I was instructed to draw on my body, I was absorbing the game and this experience deeper and deeper into my skin, until it embedded itself upon my artistic psyche forevermore.
Thank you, Brenda and Porpentine, for being such a formative part of my growth. I hope to be able to pay homage to this gift you have given me with my own creative works in the future.