Skulljhabit, the new game by Porpentine, is a wonderful thing that you should play. Like the rest of Porpentine’s work – especially their angelical understanding, Ultra Business Tycoon III, parasite, howling dogs, CYBERQUEEN and everything you swallow will one day come up like a stone – it’s intelligent, funny, unplaceably moving, and startlingly original.
Like many Porpentine games, Skulljhabit takes place in a strange, fantastical world. And the worlds she creates are wonderful places – vacillating between surreal humour, quiet magic realism, and painfully raw displays of barely-contained suffering. They’re fragmented, disjointed things – pulled in a hundred different directions at once, but they never feel strained or unnatural.
And Skulljhabit is no different. Immediately you’re thrown into a strange, fantastical landscape. One that’s sparsely described, but with language so tight and evocative that a handful of sentences conjures an entire world of mysteries and feverish implications.
The vast majority of Porpentine’s games are hypertext games, but they’re so consistently inventive that they feel unlike any other hypertext game – or any other games at all, for that matter. One of the great things about starting up a new Porpentine game is the process of working out the verbs. Discovering what exactly the game is, and then later, inevitably, being surprised to find it isn’t as simple as you thought. Despite the fact that they’re tightly-authored stories, they feel open and expansive in a way that few other games can manage.
Skulljhabit is an explicit collision of expansive freedom and tight restriction. It’s largely a game concerned with routine – you’ll live your life in the Skull Village day by day, week by week, ploughing steadily through the tedium of work. But it’s also lit up with brief, unsettling bursts of activity and exploration. Moments where the world opens up into something endless, before snapping back shut around you again, returning you to the routine.
As with any Porpentine game the heartfelt writing drives the experience, and as with any Porpentine game people will focus too little on the mechanical and structural aspects of the writing, and the painfully funny humour on display throughout. People too often see Porpentine as a talented, raw writer who’s in the business of getting across her weighty pain to the world through a barely-interactive story. But while she’s one of the medium’s most raw, poetic writers, she’s also one of the medium’s funniest writers, and one of its most skilled game designers. Her writing isn’t simply writing in the sense that the writing in a novel is writing – it’s a structural, mechanical force that powers the heart of her games. Her games are, almost without exception, strongly mechanics-driven and traditionally game-like, and if there’s anyone more accomplished at using the mechanics of games in expressive ways, I’m certainly not aware of them.
I could say more, including more specifics about Skulljhabit itself, but I’m not sure there’s much need. Just, if you haven’t played Skulljhabit you can play it here. And if you haven’t played anything else by Porpentine you can play all her games for free here. Try them out – they’re some of the most incredible works I’ve experienced in any medium. And, finally, if you like what you’ve played and you want to offer her a little financial support you can do so through Patreon, right here.