It’s Been One of Those Weeks, But I Still Live

This is the entry that I should have been working on last night.

Wow, doesn’t that just feel like history repeating itself. To be fair, I actually should have written this weeks ago. And I did. At least, I tried.

When I last left off (this is the point where Marvel would have a footnote under one of my sentences, referring to my previous “issue” of Mythic Bios), I went on vacation for the weekend. I’d just come from finishing off my interview with Will Brooker and creating some press for Poets in Hell: where I have a short story published.

It was a nice trip. There was good food, a cabin, a forest to explore, a river and some really nice company. After so much time in front of a computer, I found myself staring into a great bonfire right in front of me. As the warmth of flames replaced the cold glow of the screen on my face, grateful to be away from my parents’ place for a while and all the other distractions, I began to become aware of something.

It’s as though I keep forgetting it. When you spend a lot of time by yourself, for extended periods, you begin to forget things. I mean, even in the days when I went out more often, I was shy and introverted regardless. I get very quiet and overwhelmed by a large group of people: even people I know. But after I moved to Thornhill, this became even more pronounced. Most of the time I was camping, I mostly talked with a few people about very specialized geeky things and, well, that was about it.

That’s generally about it. You see, I like the things that I like and when I’m nervous or feeling awkward I either “talk shop” or I don’t really talk at all. I’m not really one for small talk and I don’t really talk much about other parts of my life under most circumstances. But, even though I didn’t do any archery, or golf, or even sing karaoke, I did have fun. I even had some really cool discussions with some people towards the end of the second night after a massive rainstorm came down on us all.

After that, I actually found myself used to being around people again. One other thing I’ve noticed about being by yourself a lot is that you forget how to talk with people or even relate to them. So after that weekend, I actually wanted to be around people again. I had these thoughts about going out and hanging out with some friends: even working outside of my house and exploring again.

I’m not quite sure what happened, to be honest. I genuinely meant to do all of these things. Then I had some projects I wanted to work on before dealing with anything else. I thought I could get those out of the way and then do what I needed to do. Of course, none of these went as planned and I am still working on them. I was enthusiastic and as clear-minded about these projects and goals as I could be but I began to get bogged down in a slow, creeping sort of fashion.

I took on some tasks and obligations as well. And then, one day, some people from the city were fixing our side walk and destroyed our cable. It took over a day for them to replace it and even now it’s only a three month temporary one.

Now, this might not sound like a very big deal. I mean, most people would take that as a sign to relax and do something else. But I’d already gotten used to my rhythms back here. The fact is, I had no where really to go in Toronto. Not really. And a lot of my work is dependent on the Internet: personal projects and otherwise. But what is worse, for me, is that somewhere over time a lot of my even more personal relationships have become dependent on the Internet. And when my Internet is not working, I am cut off from a majority of my long-distance friends and loved ones.

I get very angry when someone meddles with the Internet primarily because of the fact that if something happens to it — and cable companies that are near-monopolies have no reason to really expedite or even take the time to fix something properly without endless hassle — my means of communicating some of the few people that keep me sane is gone.

When I spent over a day without the Internet at my own house, I became aware of just how … alone I was.

After that, when it was fixed, I just continued doing what I was doing. But I also noticed I wasn’t really going outside as often anymore. I was staying up late again. And I found I had nothing really to say on Mythic Bios. My mind began to become clouded and murky. I was avoiding people, even people visiting, because I already felt I had work to do that, conversely, I felt I wasn’t doing fast enough.

It even got to the point where communicating with people online became very disassociative. I suppose the signs were an extreme need for perfectionism leading the way to a lack of concentration and then, lately, a sense of frustration and anger. Sometimes, to make a Vampire: The Masquerade reference, I’m like an Antediluvian — an ancient and vampire — waking up from torpor and going into a blood-thirsty rage at existence. Or something suitably melodramatic.  Sometimes anger is easier to feel — to actually feel active and present — than detachment.

But why shouldn’t I just go out? Why not just meet people outside or go to Toronto regardless? The truth is, there are few people I can meet in Toronto. Some others have already moved on with their lives or have their own difficulties to deal with. And I’ve had some bad experiences downtown and I feel very reluctant to open myself that way again. With a very apt, and now unfortunately timely, moment of insight Robin Williams once said something to the effect that the only thing worse than being alone is other people making you feel like you are alone.

So this past while, struggling to write, I’ve been mostly watching interactions. It’s felt easier in a lot of ways: just as corresponding with people over the Internet is still easier for me as I can, usually, express myself well through the written word instead of with the awkward chagrin of dealing with people “out of my element.”

At one point an acquaintance of mine made a joke that I was “better than the rest of them.” Now, when I was out more people did tell me that I have this mien of aloofness. But let me just state that I hope it goes without saying that despite my manner, the way I write and my “big words” that I don’t think I’m better than anyone.

Trust me, I know I’m not.

So, where does this leave us now? Well, I definitely knew my depression was getting stronger when I stopped writing Mythic Bios for a while. I will try to keep up this Blog and there are some other things I’ve wanted to write on here for quite some time. But at the same time I do actually need to do some writing.

I’m also still going to therapy. And my budgie is a source of ridiculous entertainment. I have other plans to actually meet some people as well as some tasks that I still need to fulfill. I think I’ve said everything I’ve needed to in this post. Sometimes, as my friend Fairytaleepidemic once mentioned to me about a year ago now, I wish I had a group of friends that I could just meet and marathon StarGate SG-1, Dr. Who, and other shows and films with — hell, even those bloody Clone Wars cartoons — just to be able to go to someone’s house and have that kind of contact and presence of like geek minds.

Who knows. Maybe it will happen again one day. That all depends on others. And myself.

Also, budgies.

That is all.

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An Interview, A Poem, And Another Journey

I’m tired.

I won’t lie to you. I am really tired. It’s that kind of tired where everything has been happening on a time limit to the point of it all blurring together and becoming something of a singularity.

One of the major things I’d been working on for over a week, and in email correspondence, was My So-Called Secret Identity: An Interview with Will Brooker. I was on Twitter a while ago and, one day, Will Brooker asked me if I wanted to ask him some “difficult questions.” And that was how I gave my first interview.

My So-Called Secret Identity operates on the premise that superheroes, villains, and anti-heroes are celebrities that engage in an act called “the theater” in which they fight and capture each other: with average citizens suffering collateral damage as a result. This “theater” takes place in Gloria City where one young woman, a university student named Cat, has decided she has had enough and uses her considerable intelligence to attempt to actually save people and dismantle “the theater” from the inside.

It is a nice subversion of the superhero genre and trope. I can only think of Neil Gaiman’s Black Orchid series as another example, but I’m sure and I hope that there is more from that branch and fruit out there. It is definitely worth reading and supporting.

In other news, I’d also like to plug the fact that Klarissa Kocsis’ Klarissa Dreams has finally come out in paperback and on Kindle. A while ago I mentioned that I actually have a poem in there inspired from one of Klarissa’s paintings called “In Her Hand.” A few friends of mine, including some fellow Hellions, have some poems, short story and excerpts in this book. All proceeds from the anthology will go to charities for cancer and lupus research. So if you have the time, or the inclination, please check it out.

So an interview and a published print poem later, along with my Heroes in Hell story also released, I find myself pretty exhausted: so much so that I really don’t want to move. But I need to. I am going to be away from social media for a while: mainly this entire weekend. I consider it the beginning of my vacation.

It will be a challenge. I have always had Internet and writing to do along with a certain set way of things. It’s a weekend getaway outside in the sun and I am not sure if I will be used to that. I’m going to attempt to get out of my solitary workaholic shell a bit, socialize, network, and do things aside from work. It’s true: I will be bringing writing stuff and books. I am never that far away from those. But maybe this time I won’t need them.

I’ve done a lot of good work lately: so much so I think I leveled-up at least two times. I think it’s time to relax: at least for a little while. In any case, thank you for reading this far and I hope to see you all next week. Have an excellent weekend.

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What Scares You Will Be Its Soul: My Dead Girlfriend and Project: Dark-Seed

This post contains horror, disturbing images and, worst of all, *spoilers.* Reader’s discretion is advised. 

When Dream created the Corinthian a long time ago in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, his original aim was to construct a sentient dream that represented humanity’s fear of its own darkness. In the end, of course, he became more like a simple serial killer than anything as grand as a being that could make dreamers face the worst parts of themselves.

Corinthian Uncreated

The Corinthian’s initial failure as a dark mirror in which humanity could see the other part of its soul is a fitting metaphor when you hear discussions about the horror genre: particularly how gore and spectacle can take precedence over slow, creeping, uncanny elements out of the corner of your eye and the fear of the unknown or the forgotten.

And then you have creepypastas.

Kris Straub is already doing a web series called Scared Yet in which he looks at and dissects creepypastas: examining how they work, and how they don’t. He said once, in his now defunct Ichor Falls Blog, that many creepypastas fall into a formula or a series of tropes. You know: Jeff the Killer that is the result of bullying and acid being thrown on his face becoming ala the Joker analogue, a whole series of cursed video games bought from a creepy old man who may or may not vanish after a purchase, every story about Disney symbolizing institutionalized and secretive evil, and all the rest of it.

Many beginning writers can do this: they find stories that appeal to that part of them and they imitate them. Even so, many of these pastas have somehow become viral memes as they tap — sometimes even in a shallow manner — into that sense of universal horror and dread in humanity.

But then there are others …

There. Are. Others.

I have talked about Candle Cove before: created by the aforementioned Kris Straub. But a few days ago this little gem manifested itself:

My dead girlfriend keeps messaging me on Facebook. I’ve got the screenshots. I don’t know what to do. It is a story that was created on a subreddit called r/nosleep: where people seemingly write stories that commenters respond to as if they are real accounts. You can find a more polished version of it right here. But in many ways the original is much more diabolical and I will explain why.

First of all, like Candle Cove, it uses its medium to effect. But while Candle Cove emulates a Message Board, complete with user typos and all that loveliness, My Dead Girlfriend is already on a subreddit: a forum that functions as a series of comments stacked up on each other in a grey background with faded white fonts.

But goes further than that. My Dead Girlfriend also has links to what seem to be screen captures of Facebook Private and Public Chats. It utilizes Tags in empty spaces. And then there is the writing style to consider. While Kris Straub utilizes typos in Candle Cove, natesw or Nathan — which I suspect are personas — writes this from the first-person in something of a epistolary format: a series of journals or reports of the phenomenon occurring. Moreover, the writing from natesw’s persona on r/nosleep is clear, with no typos whatever, and possesses proper sentence structure, spelling, and grammar.

Yet the Facebook Chats he has “screen-captured” have the typos and fragmented sentences. And the dialogue between him and his dead girlfriend gets juxtaposed and played with like a twisted form of poetry. These two modes, the first-person of the subreddit text and the third-person and visual aids of the Facebook images complement each other. Unfortunately, if you go by the subreddit the ending could be lost: if it is indeed the ending.

Read the second, cleaner tickld version though: and look at the very last image that it shows you.

Creepy, no?

Remember, you have to find Candle Cove. My Dead Girlfriend finds you.

Ghost Writer

It’s still finding us. When Candle Cove was first sent to me, it had been around for a few years. Right now, though, My Dead Girlfriend is still spreading.

And the story had me before that image too. My friend and I were talking about this into the wee hours of Sunday and she told me that it had her at “FRE-EZING.” This was the only original word that “Emily” was able to construct, or revealed. You see, we never know whether Nathan’s torment is the result of a sick hacker, Nathan’s own subconscious mind projecting the grief of his trauma into messages from Emily, or … the fragments of Emily’s traumatized essence not completely realizing that she is dead and going to the place and person that she knows more than herself: perhaps even trying to make up for the reluctant displays of affection that she showed Nathan in life before she died on her way to their apartment.

Basically, the story is left open-ended. And there is the challenge in the recipe right there. You have to basically know that balance between detail and that open-endedness. If you have too much detail, people will question the specifics and your creepypasta will deflate into skepticism. On the other hand, if you are too grandiose and you try to encompass everything your structure will either never grow or will fall apart at the seams.

I think one element to know what medium you want to use and how you want to structure it. At the same time, you need to know what story you want to tell. Images, photoshopped or otherwise, help too. Another advantage that My Dead Girlfriend has is the fact that it has many commenters either playing along (being the poster’s friends or general fans of the subreddit) or are so taken by the Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds Effect that they are genuinely giving the poster natesw advice. But this story also manages to tap into the general and the specific. The characters and personas have names. There are dates. The accident that took Emily is revealed in slow and painful detail. The uncanny is tapped.

And that is the difference right there: that last ingredient. You can study the remnants of a miracle, but you can’t really reconstruct its soul from what is left. Or, in my case and in the case of other writers, you can’t create an original soul of a new story by purely examining leftovers alone.

I can tell you how these stories work, but it’s like deconstructing a joke. It’s just not funny after. It’s just not horrifying. And anything that I make from this, as it has been a long-term goal of mine to create a viral horror meme after my girlfriend had showed me Candle Cove, would just be a shallow or empty form.

I have many ideas for a creepypasta. It was the very aim of my Project: Dark-Seed. But after that conversation with my friend last night, I realized something. I realized just why the Corinthian was such a failure to Dream.

Dream even admitted that the fault was his own. Dream created the Corinthian to embody humanity’s fear of its own darkness, but despite the fact that Dream is an embodiment of the sentient impulse of imagination and dreaming, he isn’t human. Until his imprisonment in Preludes and Nocturnes, and slowly before with his human friend Hob he never tried to get close enough to humans to actually understand their perspective.

Dream could observe human darkness, but he didn’t really know how they experienced it. He couldn’t relate to his audience. The Corinthian, who was intended to be a classic horror tale became a gory spectacle because he only engaged humans on that superficial level. Unlike Dream’s other stories, other dreams and nightmares, the Corinthian wasn’t made from a pre-existing concept or a sentient being made into something more. He was Dream’s attempt at original creation and imitation of life and he failed.

He was an empty shell that tried to fill himself with gore and eyeballs and attention. As Dream’s creepypasta to humanity, the Corinthian falls short. That is the same reason why some creepypastas and horrors stories fail because the creator doesn’t try to relate to their audience. In terms of comedy, the joke doesn’t amuse them.

The story doesn’t scare them.

But what would have happened if the Corinthian scared Dream? What would have happened if Dream thought about what scared him and made the Corinthian in that image? What happens when a horror writer creates a monster that scares them, that makes them feel goose flesh at the mere thought of it: of that thing at the corner of their consciousness that they logically know can’t happen or exist, but deep down knows?

Who knows. Perhaps Dream’s re-creation of the Corinthian after his own imprisonment and exile changed the model. Perhaps he just needed a catalyst to tap him into that deep black pool of universal horror and white noise, take a piece of it, and fashion from its substance a soul to fill the emptiness.

Static

Perhaps a creator only needs to find something to be scared of in order to create a nightmare that can be shared with the world.

Now if that isn’t the beginning of a story of one’s descent into creative damnation, I don’t know what is. The powers help me. I think I have been writing too much in hell. But the moral of this story is that some people like their pastas filled with gore or emptiness.

I like my pastas to be filled with darkness: from the heart.

Corinthian

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An Interview and A Voice for Hell

I promise that, eventually, I will stop talking about hell. But it will not be this day.

Instead, allow me to present two new developments. ZombieZak, or Bill Snider, and his team have compiled a POETS IN HELL Playlist. Vocal recordings are still ongoing, so look forward to seeing more audio get added to this list. Let me just add that Chris Morris, the primary interlocutor before each clip, reads beautifully with a wonderfully diabolical cackle of glee.

I’m also very proud to say that my vocal clip has also come in. Usually the sound of my own “normal” voice grates on me, making me feel a certain amount of chagrin, but I rather like how this — albeit short — recording turned out. And you get the added bonus of hearing my voice for the first time if you haven’t already.

But that is merely one voice in hell. For the first time ever, I actually had an interview. In fact, not only did I get interviewed by Alex Butcher of the Library of Erana about my work in POETS, but she even managed to get Nietzsche himself to speak a few words about his current existence in Janet Morris’ hell.

It was challenging. I seem to be saying that a lot, but it’s no less true in this case. Having to explain your creative process, especially with regards to how it works in a collaboration is difficult enough, but also needing to speak for a man who has been dead for a century or so, whose original language isn’t English, keeping all of his facts straight, and trying to figure out how to reconcile all of these issues in a supernatural realm really keeps you on your toes. Nietzsche’s character interview pushed me to about a similar limit as it does attempting to write from his perspective in my story. Sometimes I don’t know if I understand it or even get all of the facts right, never mind translating his own particular tone, but fiction can be forgiving and I hope that my readers are, if not forgiving, at least understanding of the matter.

If I could have told myself that one day I would be attempting to write from the perspective of Friedrich Nietzsche, I would have thought that my future self was insane.

Of course, we all know by now the answer to that implicit question.

The very least I can say for myself is that I don’t think that I’m Dionysus yet.

So please visit the Library of Erana with its fine Mage, listen to an account how I found hell and how I find it, and give some time to Nietzsche. He may not be the most modern individual and I don’t always agree with what I understand of him, but he can be genial if somewhat self-deprecating, and despite his experiences there is still a bit of mischief in him somewhere: especially when you consider the things that he doesn’t tell you.

And if that doesn’t catch your fancy, there are other interviews with other fine writers: including Janet Morris and the Devil himself. Now there is the real voice of hell.

Poets in hell press release 1

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Human-Hide Bound: Poets in Hell

My apologies for the false advertising behind the title, but it did grab your attention and lies are just one commodity that are trafficked in hell: where sometimes truths are far greater weapons and torments.

It’s been a long time since I’ve released two posts in one day, but to paraphrase the words of a co-writer you work at least twice as hard when you write for hell. So, really, why shouldn’t that philosophy apply to promoting POETS IN HELL?

So let me start this off by reminding you that POETS IN HELL, with my short story WHEN YOU GAZE INTO AN ABYSS, is available on Kindle. However, not only is it also available on Barnes & Noble’s Nook but it has finally been released in trade paperback.

And, to further entice you, we have the following. First, I now have the privilege of showing you a wrap around book cover:

Poets in Hell Full Cover

And, there is more. Secondly, my aforementioned fellow writer, Joe Bonadonna has written a review of POETS IN HELL for the Black Gate Magazine. In addition to an Afterward written by our leader and Heroes in Hell creator Janet Morris outlining practically every challenge we faced in getting this book to see the light of infernity, you will find a blurb about every story written by every writer involved in POETS.

It’s a big deal to me. When I was younger and back when the Black Gate accepted epic fantasy stories, I very much wanted to write something for them. And so, in a round-about way, I finally did: or at least I got my name and work mentioned in good company for an article written on their site. If only twenty-something year old Matthew could see this now, he’d … probably be shocked at how I write now and where, but I think he would really like it. The fact is, I agree with Joe: it takes a great deal of effort to write for a place as infinite as hell. It challenges you every step of the way, but its white-hot rewards are worth it: along with all the laughs, pathos, and screaming that you earn along the way.

Speaking of being vocal … our fellow writer Zombie Zak and his crack team of Hellions decided to begin a little … project. I’d like to present, to you, some recorded excerpts from POETS IN HELL.

First up, we have a hint of Yelles Hughes’ RED TAIL’S CORNER:

Followed by a little bit of Joe Bonadonna‘s own WE THE FURIOUS:

There will be more excerpts coming, including one of my own. Some of you will even get to hear my actual voice for the first time. I hope I don’t sound too terrible … in a bad way. ;)

In the meantime please fan out the flames of hell and aid us in spreading the word of POETS.

And as I said before, my story in Poets is called: “When You Gaze into an Abyss”: starring Lilith, the first wife of Adam and the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Here are the places where you can find our book:

By Book
By Nook
By Kindle

Finally, please have a look see at our publishers’ site: Perseid Press. They make some awesome books.

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After Hell, Other Dragons, Other People: Gaming Pixie’s She Who Fights Monsters

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146

When last we left off in my article Life and Identity, Eden and Hell: The Twines of a Gaming Pixie, said Pixie left us in a second-person perspective hell of “You”: having left her penchant for placing us in the autobiographical of her Twine shoes and moving on to other worlds entirely.

But some things always come full-circle before revolving outward into a spiral.

swfm-title-final

Gaming Pixie writes a little bit about the origins behind why she made She Who Fights Monsters, this interactive combination of autobiography and fiction, far better than I ever could. If you want more information about that, read the previous link or look at her other posts on the subject on her developer’s Blog Gaming Pixie Games. This is not what I’m going to be focusing on.

Instead, I’m going to write about my impressions the basic plot and structure of the game, examine a bit of its creative evolution, and focus a bit on some of the game’s implications: especially with regards to its premise, its protagonist, and its ending. I will admit, right now, that I had a lot of trouble initially coming up with a way to write about She Who Fights Monsters. But it was Gaming Pixie herself who told me, when we last talked about the matter, to write about my own reactions to the game. There is something ironic about talking about the personal — about my feelings with regards to interacting with this game and its subject matter — in lieu of scrutinizing the autobiographical.

But in any case, do not read on if you don’t want to be exposed to potential triggers or spoilers. Reader’s discretion is advised.

It is no accident that this article begins with the above aphorism from Friedrich Nietzsche though, when the Alpha Demo for the game first came out, I had no idea this would even play a part in it. The Demo itself was called Fighting the Monster: which took place on Day One of the game’s chronology.

The story premise presented in this Demo translated over to the Beta Demo — called She Who Fights Monsters — and the subsequent game of the same name. You, the player, control the sprite of Jenny: an eight year girl who must survive the presence of a monster in her home for no less than seven days.

Of course, it becomes clear that Jenny’s battle is not merely with one monster.

This distinction is all the difference between two ideas embodied by the Alpha and Beta Demos. I will admit, right now, that I thought it would have been easier for Gaming Pixie to remain with, and work from, the spirit and aesthetics of Fighting the Monster. But make no mistake: both of them came from the same idea.

Let me try to articulate this as best I can. The overt antagonist, the monster, in She Who Fights Monsters is Jenny’s alcoholic father. Fighting the Monster, the Alpha Demo, was simpler. It was crude and more elemental for it. For me, it felt a lot more like a generic RPG: especially when you look at Jenny’s room and the imaginary haven inside her closet. But there was an old, faded texture to even these safe childhood places: like that of an old memory. The darker places, however, were dingier. Grittier. It set the tone of a stereotypical, old and dilapidated home where dysfunction and abuse are almost always typically depicted. And even here, it still felt like the aesthetic shell of an old 16-bit role-playing game.

screenshot04

And the monster is clearly Jenny’s father. If you judge the context by the Demo alone, he is the threat that Jenny must avoid. He breaks through all of her childhood illusions of magic, fairness, and innocence through cursing at her. Her Tears and her Innocence do not save her in the simulated turn-based RPG battle. In this one Demo alone, her father’s words feel like a slap in the face but the atmosphere of this world has been building to it. Even so, with Jenny’s mother’s revelation at the end of the Demo, that her father is an alcoholic, it sets a straightforward tone for the game and makes the Demo itself feel self-contained and continuous.

But Gaming Pixie never meant her game to be straightforward. So in the process of changing the game’s name, she also developed its aesthetics in the She Who Fights Monsters Beta Demo that would inform the rest of her game. And I will admit: it felt jarring at first.

screenshot02

Gone are the dinginess and grit and the fading of peeling memory on the walls. You find yourself with Jenny in a much more colourful and vibrant world. Her toys are brighter. The details around her stand out and the temple that is her imaginary place in her closet is grander and more elegant. Even her home looks more comforting: as much as any middle class home made by 16-bit pixels. Everything, even the nightmares, is vital and alive with colour: as much as any child’s world is at that age.

swfm-room-final

I feel it was designed this way: to make the player feel safe before immediately and brutally introducing them to the world of abuse and its effects on Jenny’s highly impressionable and figurative mind. And, this time around, when the trauma of encountering her verbally abusive father passes she finds herself in her room and her mother entering without even a single explanation. It was most likely made to function as an interactive preview in order create more ambiguity: so that the player could gradually, through the rest of the coming six days, see past the daydreams, imagination, and nightmares of a child to the adult reality of an alcoholic parent.

In some ways, it is even worse this way: to depict a normal childhood and have it impinged upon by the violence of an unknown and terrifying adult world, and the understanding that it will change Jenny’s life. It is a real life horror story of an ordinary world shattered by something aberrant and always lurking under a façade of normalcy.

I felt that both Demos were almost dress rehearsals for the psychodrama that was to come. The title itself says a lot: in that there is more than one kind of monster at work, and as such there are consequences for facing them.

So now we come to the real She Who Fights Monsters. The graphics are further improved — with even greater attention to detail — and you can explore Jenny’s entire house. Day One happens pretty much like it did in the Demos: with one interesting exception. Gaming Pixie ends off Day One from the part depicted in the Alpha Demo where Jenny’s mother flat-out tells her about her father’s alcoholism: the part that did not exist in the Beta Demo. And the scene where Jenny goes out to get some cookies becomes a background reminiscent of strange organic Giger-aesthetics of the horror game Yume Nikki or the Earthbound Giygas battle.

swfm-darkworld02

You, as the player, now know what you are facing and you must play through the remaining days. Yet there is one more thing that you need to consider.

The Memory Bloom is a giant flower that you find past the Temple in the closet. It didn’t exist in the Alpha Demo and I almost missed it in the Beta until Gaming Pixie pointed it out in one of her developer’s blog posts. In the Demo the Bloom itself tells you that it will only become important in the main game and, make no mistake, it is crucial. You will get Locked Memories throughout the game and it is critical to interact — or not interact — with this flower. If you do, you will also realize that not all of Jenny’s memories and experiences with her father are bad. In a lot of ways, it makes it even worse: in that these positive moments and traits in an abuser often make a victim feel bad in attributing negative emotions to that person. It makes the situation all the more complicated than simply Fighting the Monster. What you decide to do will determine Jenny’s future.

swfwm Memory

After all, it took Seven Days, in the Christian New Testament, for God to create the world and its inhabitants and She Who Fights Monsters demonstrates that seven days can create an entire human being depending on the choices that you make, and how Jenny responds to the monster in front of her and the ones forming inside of her head.

There is a quote often attributed to the writer G.K. Chesterton which states that “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” However, there is another quote, from the fantasy and horror writer Stephen King that is also equally true, that “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”

These are both words to bear in mind as you progress: when on the Seventh Day even the illusion of childhood safety will be ripped away and Jenny will have to start on the path to self-actualization — to adulthood — far sooner than she should. For me, that and my scary and heartbreaking decision to unlock her Final Memory were the hardest parts of this game: to deal with them and to determine what Jenny should do beyond it.

Do you remember when I said that in some ways She Who Fights Monsters is a subversion of a 16-bit RPG? This still holds true even past the Alpha Demo: but in an even more subtle way. I mean, you already understand from Day One that any attempt to fight the game like it is a turn-based battle will end in failure. You already know that not fighting will end in failure. The fact that the game narrative text boxes are in third person-limited perspective, always referring to “Jenny,” “her,” and not “you”: the distance only provides you some illusion of safety.

The perspective is perhaps designed to make you feel that disassociation that a child facing ongoing emotional trauma and abuse would experience: only made more jarring during Jenny’s first-person interludes. These narrative perspectives are very notable departures from Gaming Pixie’s previous Twine-based games: not unlike Christine Love’s don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story where you are not the character, or even acknowledged as a player. This simply isn’t your story, even if you do influence it.

And when the game does get to the point where it feels like a turn-based RPG battle? Be careful — be very careful — because the thing you need to remember is the end of the first “battle” with Jenny’s father, particularly the words, “Nobody wins.”

The subversion goes deeper when you also consider that there will come a Day where Jenny is hiding in her room and there are clues around. They are extremely clever elements of potential foreshadowing and they are a nice contrast to the beginning of the first Day. For me, the freedom of exploration in Day One — of finding the bathroom, the kitchen, living room, basement, and crawl space —  seemed to set up the beginning of a horror survival game, of knowing all the hiding spots and thinking you have discovered potential secrets only to make it purely about the psychological and the inner world of demons. Aside from the clear mindscape influence of the Silent Hill series, this game is reminiscent of the game Eversion in that sense: only instead of the aesthetics and gameplay changing over time from something brighter into something grimmer, it is a dynamic that goes back and forth between states of atmosphere — always in Jenny’s head, because we are all seeing this from Jenny’s head — until a final decision is made.

When I first heard about the concept behind what would become She Who Fights Monsters, I was reminded of another game based on a child creating an imaginary world to deal with an alcoholic parent called Papo & Yo. Yet aside from the fact that both games have autobiographical elements, child protagonists, and monsters for fathers that hurt them even as they love them there are obvious differences. Papo & Yo takes place in a fantastic equivalent of a favela –a Brazilian slum — and in all realities it is three-dimensional, while despite the aesthetics of its Alpha Demo She Who Fights Monsters takes place in a normal looking middle-class home. Monster, the Papo & Yo protagonist’s enemy is sometimes his companion when he isn’t in a rage, while it is clear that despite some good memories Jenny’s father is never really her friend nor does he help her in her game. While Papo & Yo is more distinctly a puzzle and deadly hide-and-seek game, She Who Fights Monsters is indeed a story that you mostly observe: sometimes very helplessly. And, of course Quico is a young boy and Jenny is a young girl.

You might think that the latter distinctions mean very little and indeed, they are both children placed into situations that no child should ever have to deal with: confronting their parents as enemies. But then there is the elephant in the room to consider. In a segment of her article regarding Gaming Pixie’s epic Twine game Eden, Soha Kareem observes that the former is “an accidentally political game.”

swfm paths

The fact is, Jenny is not only female but she is also “a person of colour.” It can’t be stated enough that, at least to my knowledge, just how rare and unique it is to be playing a game with a young Black girl as its protagonist: in her own story. In a medium that is still struggling to represent different identities in its games, it is definitely something to take note of. However, I am not qualified to talk about “race” or its implications: and how the race and class of Jenny’s family affects her story, if at all, is a matter I will leave to more capable writers than myself. Indeed, this matter seems more “incidental” than “accidental” and Gaming Pixie herself is more focused on the situation and survival of Jenny as opposed to her background.

But there is something else I’d like to note that Soha Kareem also states. In her writing on Gaming Pixie’s Eden, she points out that “The game’s endings and achievements are determined by your karmic choices.” She goes on to explain how, in Eden, how Gaming Pixie subverts the video game trope of the protagonist needing to manipulate their love interest as an object into a relationship by making it so that the player must genuinely act like “a good person” in order to gain that level of trust. The point is, Gaming Pixie is both sneaky and honest in the sense that your choices have clear moral consequences. Even in She Who Fights Monsters, depending on what you do with the Memory Bloom and what you choose to remember, some paths will be open to you, some closed, and some will exist only for one tenuous moment of conscience.

temple-final

I won’t spoil the endings for you, but I will say this. When I play a game, particularly one with this kind of detail, I like to get all of its information so that I can actually make an informed decision. Even so, remember what I mentioned about being careful when you find yourself in a combat situation in this game? Well, if you make a certain choice and you like to be violent and go all Sith you should know that, if you do, there are consequences. You may become the monsters that you are fighting, the demons in your mind, and it might well lead … to a whole other game entirely.

So please, download Gaming Pixie’s She Who Fights Monsters — which is supported by donationware — and determine how this horror story ends, and where others might well begin.

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Poets In Hell: Kindling the Flame Till Wildfire

I’m going to warn you, right now, that I will be promoting and talking about POETS IN HELL for some time.

There is still a lot more left to do. The infernal delights of hell are not finished yet and I will definitely keep you all posted on those: or, rather, they will keep you posted.

It’s funny, you know. When I started Mythic Bios about two years ago, I was in an autobiographical head space. Many of my stories were personal, or taken and worked from personal material.

And now? Well now, I find that I have quite a few ideas for story and projects but –with a few exceptions — none of them are really about me anymore. And perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Before my work in hell (take that phrase any way you’d like), I wrote about my life as though it was pretty much academic at this point: as though many of my greatest achievements had already been put behind me and I was just existing to record and rework what was left. It was a quiet, contemplative core of time within a chaotic sea of workaholism.

But now, it’s less about me and more about the work: if that makes sense. The work will always be a part of me and my experiences and knowledge-base will inform it. Nevertheless, I like working in other worlds … and making my own.

So now, let me finish this post off by presenting to you our first press release of POETS IN HELL:

Poets in hell press release 1

This was created on Friday the 13th on a full moon. I’m afraid that unless it was also made and released on all Hallows Eve, you can’t get more hellish than this. And that isn’t even taking into account the pain, suffering, diabolical delight, metaphysical explorations, philosophical quandaries, myth-making, and maniacal humour found within these pages. And seeing my name next to all of these awesome writers makes it all worth while.

I’m still a workaholic. There is still chaos, but now my core in this madness is active. And, as I said before, there is still so much work left to do.

So please: spread this release to herald the reign of Poets and consider, if you pardon the phrase, helping to kindle its flame.

Posted in Books, Creative Process, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments