Their Angelical Understanding by Porpentine
TW: Suicidal ideation, ableism, abuse, possible epilepsy trigger
Their Angelical Understanding is a compelling example of Interactive Fiction, and creates enough tension and anxiety to motivate the viewer to continue interacting. It has so many surprising twists that it leaves the viewer wondering what is left to discover within this narrative.
At first, this piece appeared to be the simplest form, with plain text on the screen, and highlighted words to direct the viewer towards a link to click, and move forward through the narrative. The first few clumps of narrative are structured the same way, in that one paragraph has a few different words/phrases highlighted as links, and depending on which word is clicked, they will eventually loop back to that same paragraph. One of those links may bring the viewer to a continuation of the story, only to encounter more narrative loops.
However, this introductory form is highly misleading for the number of different methods the viewer is eventually presented with to interact with the narrative.
There are sections where the highlighted word does not function as a link, but instead, if clicked on, simply changes to a different word or phrase. For instance;
“In the bottle float blue eyes, lips cracked with dehydration, and your crooked nose. You shake it a little and see purple freckling on your nose and cheeks.”
Or you could switch those phrases, with many options available;
“In the bottle float amber eyes, lips soft and innocent, prone to trembling, and your upturned nose. You shake it a little and see a lip ring with spiky nose studs.
Then again, sometimes if the viewer clicks on the link, it simply extends the paragraph a little bit longer. Or in other cases, the only way to extend the narrative is to pass the cursor over the highlighted word, to reveal a temporarily longer sentence, that disappears as soon as the cursor is moved.
At other points during the story, the screen goes completely black, or completely white, taking the viewer by surprise. And the moments when auditory stimulation is included seem random and limited. During the first section, the music is serene, the sounds of ocean waves gently crashing, seagulls and other birds softly speaking, and wind chimes (both metal and wood) delicately playing off of one another.
What I love about this piece is that the viewer has control over which direction the narrative takes. It is not as plainly laid out as other works of interactive fiction we have encountered. It does not require mindless clicking of the obvious links, but instead leaves options for the viewer, from something as basic as choosing if the friend you describe is a male or female, to choosing which environment to explore next, the sea, desert, or jungle.
Sometimes, the narrative goes in circles, making the viewer feel as though they are not progressing forward towards a goal. Other times, the viewer feels as if s/he is missing a vital part of the story due to the path they chose to take.
The lyricism of this work is beautiful, and there is a deep sense of loss interwoven throughout the narrative that I cannot quite grasp. I would encourage anyone to spend time with this impeccable illustration of interactive fiction.