Hi, I’m Porpentine. I’m probably best known for making a bunch of games, like howling dogs and Crystal warrior kesha, plus organizing and curating around the accessible game design software known as Twine. I’m now going to say a series of words that will end in about 20 minutes.
I get asked questions like, what was your inspiration, when did you decide to do this.
I don’t believe in the intentional vs unintentional dichotomy. I feel like it diminishes the writing of feminine people. I believe that my subconscious is a skill, and no less important than anything I can identify as a conscious decision.Gender in my games
Nearly every character in my games is feminine, she or they. A lot of media spreads the belief that fems can't survive on their own, can’t have friendships and romances and alliances of their own. But I’m not really interested in anything else.
I like to imagine trans practices as unique as each universe: anemone genital implants , magical anti-androgen glyphs, a vampire schoolgirl sucking on estrogenated blood.
I approach hypertext like cinema or music a lot of the time. To me, hypertext is more like a camera or a lyric than a page of text. I like the intimacy that comes with individual sentences and words. People don’t want to read, they want to die.
Random generation I love random generation. I’m interested in creating narrative impressions from randomized parts, kind of like a poem that changes each time.
Each game of Love is Zero gives you a series of choices randomly selected from a pool. Your choices generate a lyric at the top of the screen.
I also made a game called Her Car Is The Edge of the World. It’s about being a woman who drives around in her car and murders people. You do this by looking at people on the road and deciding whether to give them a ride or not. The game presents you with a randomly selected set of characteristics, like their hair and clothes and whatever. These characteristics aren’t tied to any mechanics or bonuses. There isn’t much of an in-game persona to share responsibility with. This places responsibility directly on the player. I’m interested in presenting unusual choices to the player that interrogate them as a person, without the interruption of fictional incentives.
In Her Car is the Edge of the World, the protagonist is never caught. Like the monstrous fems from my other games, she never dies. Most media that explores monstrous femininity usually kills them at the end. People want to be entertained but they don’t want to consider what the day to day life of a monster is like. They might have to feel guilt.
Now i’m going to talk about walls and space in my games.
Armada is an action-rpg where you play a slimegirl who sprays slime. You go through the game hemmed in by walls and other barriers, like in many graphical games. One of the endings turns you into an agent of corruption. Now you spray glitch slime, which eats away at whatever it touches like acid, changing colors and destroying barriers. Instead of representing the chaos ending through dialogue or cutscenes, I made it so every time you use the most common command in the game it makes everything go to shit.
Pink Zone on the other hand has no walls, not the normal kind anyways. Things will slow you down, but never stop you from moving completely. There is only friction.
I like to use space in my twine games too. In Cyberqueen, which is about being hunted by an evil AI, it starts out with a more traditional spatial map where you can walk around a spaceship and pick up weapons, that kind of thing. Over time it dissolves into abstract space. You’re no longer clicking on places, you’re clicking on emotions.
Every time the game makes you think you have control again, like when you escape from Cyberqueen, it does this by re-asserting the map. When you’re caught, it dissolves again. The effect is of being toyed with by a far superior intelligence. Twine is really good at summoning up these changing states because of how amorphous the hyperlink is.
Physicality in my games
Everything You Swallow Will one day come up like a Stone is a game about suicide. People are afraid to let a living woman talk about suicide.
At the moment of death, the mental distress (untrustworthy, stigmatized) is translated to physical evidence (trustworthy, vindicated, manipulable). If you’re dead you get a million reblogs but a living woman talking about her experiences gets 165.
It seems counter intuitive to wait until people are dead before listening to them, but I think I understand.They don’t want to think about the sheer number of trans people who need housing and food and health care, because if you think about that, then you have to think about the system that creates those artificial scarcities in the first place and how fucked everything is. It’s way easier to solve a corpse’s problems than the messy problems of someone who is still alive. It's way easier to coopt a corpse for your agenda than listen to the uncomfortable truths of someone who is still alive.
I hosted the game for 24 hours then deleted it. Many important subjects are reduced to frictionless rebloggable fodder for neoliberal emotional consumerism, so I wanted to make a game that required outside intervention for its survival--just like suicide.
WTWLA is a game where you draw symbols on yourself to react to parts of the story.
I was surprised by how many people did this. It was actually really nice to get sent all these beautiful drawings because making something can be really draining for me and it was kind of like the energy I spent was being returned to me. the kindness I’ve gotten from strangers has been very touching. I call some of my games therapeutic, because they’re in dialogue with the body. In WTWLA you meditate, draw on yourself, and talk about trauma. There is kind of this active, curious voice in a lot of my games, curious about the person on the other end. A lot of the upgrades people have made to the internet have been really boring. I’m interested in the mysteries, the in between places, the people still up at 3 AM. I like to think about who might find something I made and how intimate that connection is. So I write intimately.
GAMES I’M WORKING ON RIGHT NOW
this is about a post-apocalyptic salon society
as a trans woman i really love cars and blood
This is inspired by thecatamite’s marker games where you draw graphics on an index card with marker and scan them in and make them into a game.
“Websites” “to” “sell” “art” “with”
A lot of what I make wouldn’t work with gatekeeping or big campaigns, so I use sites that allow me to focus on quick turn-around and smaller creations.
Teespring will print and ship shirts with your design on them, as long as enough people pledge to your campaign. Shirts can be a little expensive unless you reduce your take. This was off-set by not having to make or ship the shirts. If your main objective is getting people to wear your designs, it’s a good option. The “female” oriented shirts also run a bit tight, so I suggest selling a variety of shirt types since there’s no such thing as a female or male body.
Gumroad is good for selling smaller things. One thing I've learned selling my degenerate filth is that a lot of online marketplaces don’t like it when you sell explicit sexual content. They can be more lenient if stuff looks like it fits under some weird cultural standard of “art”, or if it’s more text-based. So, just a heads up.
Gumroad takes a cut of 5% + 25 cents. One thing I like to do is disable the option to ask people for a name when they buy something. Things that ask people for names can be daunting in a world where we often have to use or conceal dead ones.
Patreon is my main source of income, it's kind of a way to subscribe to a person instead of a product. The figure you see isn’t exactly what people receive,
because Patreon takes about a 9 percent cut, and some people’s cards bounce as well. You can set it to receive pledges monthly or per thing you make. People are probably more psychologically inclined to pledge per month, but it really depends on what you’re doing.
Harassment dynamics that trans fems face
People don’t really talk about the unique harassment dynamics trans feminine people deal with. If someone calls a woman a bitch, there is a general understanding that that is misogyny. But they call trans fems things that are harder to respond to. Rapist, sexual predator, abuser, pedophile, etc. They often call us the thing they did to us. They call us things so bad that even denying them is destructive. Who wants to stand up in public and say they aren’t those things? Who has the privilege to not get called those things in the first place? And of course, as a white person, I benefit by narratives that black people don’t have access to. These flattened narratives designed to get wider acceptance aren’t helping feminism, they’re putting people in danger.
Some other things I’ve dealt with: I’ve been sexually harassed. I’ve been misgendered. I've been intimidated away from conferences. I’ve been forced out of jobs. I’ve had other game designers harass me out of my home. I’ve been pressured, when I worked as a curator, not to cover the games of trans women who were seen as competition to other game designers. Working in game design gave me PTSD, a condition where I relive what happened to me every day. It’s been years since certain incidents and I still wake up and it’s the first thing I think about. A feminist culture that was unwilling to intervene at any point during those years does not make me feel included. You shouldn’t need to be some kind of cockroach just to make a game.
Like, in feminism there’s this pressure to be strong and brave and absorb a lot of pain. I don’t want to be strong. I want to be happy.
One thing i would suggest is moving away from community and scene and movement models, with their false promise of solidarity, toward what you can directly affect. The nature of idealizing a movement is that it becomes more important than people. This is why most of the harassment I described came from feminist and queer spaces. This is why a lot of spaces are rife with assault and abuse.
In the zine The Broken Teapot, an anonymous author wrote the following: “There are no activist communities, only the desire for communities, or the convenient fiction of communities. A community is a material web that binds people together, for better and for worse, in interdependence. If its members move away every couple years because the next place seems cooler, it is not a community. If it is easier to kick someone out than to go through a difficult series of conversations with them, it is not a community. Among the societies that had real communities, exile was the most extreme sanction possible, tantamount to killing them. On many levels, losing the community and all the relationships it involved was the same as dying. Let’s not kid ourselves: we don’t have communities.”
For a lot of trans fems, with their fragile health and socioeconomic status, exile is death.
Here’s what no one wants to say: we don’t have “diversity” because trans fems are regularly scapegoated and they always have been. Because we have fewer connections, many of us without family, friends, work, etc, it is easier to make us disappear. This violence is accomplished with character assassination, misgendering, gaslighting, mobbing, and ostracization.
It’s easier to victim blame than to take criticism. If you want to find the scene with the biggest problems, look for the one that says it has no problems.
We need disarmament, not diversity. Diversity is pointless as long as the ability is retained to make marginalized people disappear into thin air--an ability founded in capitalist colonialist constructs like masculinity, the western gender binary, and whiteness. It’s like waving a gun around telling people, it’s okay, I’m not going to shoot you.
Naturally, my next topic is making things with PTSD, trauma, you know, that fun stuff.
I feel like trauma, for me, has been more conducive to short form than long form. I hate thinking about my future. I’ve been trained my whole life to hate thinking about it. It's hard to put things into the world if you feel you won't be around for it. I made a lot of stuff in hyper concentrated bursts, like this talk, because doing anything that didn’t numb me was terrible. A lot of the coverage and marketing apparatus is based around larger work, which, like novels, are difficult to produce without the proper material conditions.
But this isn’t purely about physical resources. It’s important to understand the emotional barriers to creating--what they took away from us inside. All the technical by the numbers aspects of diversity don’t mean anything if you don’t repair a lifetime of being told our ideas don’t matter.
So we need emotional support. Diversity is not a substitute for friendship and warmth. A lot of trans fems who manage to get a job find themselves in a lonely, anxious, icy environment. Making games for years without access to social spaces and peers made me feel like I was crazy. I still don’t have access to many of those spaces. I still get hostility from many game designers. So if you've received similar treatment--don’t blame yourself. The world has a million excuses for trans exclusion, and you don’t deserve any of it.
let’s be pragmatic. Anyone who was going to treat trans fems like human beings would already have done it. If feminism wanted trans fems, it had hundreds of years to do so. If the alt scenes wanted trans fems, we would already be there. All this bargaining and begging for acceptance is the model of an abusive relationship. We are in an abusive relationship with the world. I write for the people who will never be accepted into these spaces, the ones who are unable to assimilate, and a survival waiting to be articulated.