(Content Warning: Existential Dread, Death, Epilepsy triggering VFX warning)

There is a friction, a loud churning in my skull whenever I hear the words “Interactive Fiction”, my sensory nodes become disrupted, my enthusiasm modules go cold, and my fingers seize up as the cursor hovers over the application. My mind’s eye starts to blur, I lose interest and my sense of disbelief, and whatever drive I had to progress through the most luminary works of our time goes temporarily quiet.

……… Support systems flicker on, I receive a strange transmission in my email inbox with a subject header… “Lysogenesis“.. An electrical impulse fires somewhere deep within me, and the reflective surface of my eyes go white.

Here’s a little writing prompt:

There’s nothing like a freshly spun yarn

If you read the above statement and visualized something akin to a giant, lo-fi pixelated ball of twine juxtaposed against a rural cornfield in Kansas, you can relate to the sensation I normally face when examining an interactive fiction piece. It’s nothing personal, just a profound inability to cope with the overwhelming stimulation of voluminous text that represents too many possible narrative spaces for my optical nerves to easily digest. Twine games especially excite me in the way fiber-laden cereal does: I know it’s good for me, I just don’t feel enticed by it

oh ASCII, you hyper-card..

Presentation goes a long way, and Lysogenesis utilizes it’s wrapper to present something not quite akin to a dry interactive fiction piece, nor a visual novel, instead falling somewhere in-between the two in delightfully experimental fashion. A surreal exploration of existential dread, Lysogenesis doesn’t waste time quibbling over questions of what it means to be human, instead focusing on the hubristic folly of making that assumption in the first place.

Vehicles, suits, homes, identity are all things we see as extensions of ourselves, utilitarian detritus we can afford to slough off in a metaphysical molting when the constraints of a scenario necessitates it. Why should our bodies be precluded from the same? How much does our substrate define who we are?

Are you Theseus, or are you his ship? Are they one in the same?

Lysogenesis’s underlying subtext has a full awareness of not just the narrative lattice it was crafted upon, but the presentation it relies on in creating an exceptionally appetizing experience. Suddenly, I am free, my meat-casing no longer an obstacle that prevents me from engaging with the spiritual essence of the medium, Leah and Penelope’s intermingling of spartan avante garde visuals and precise application of narrative scaffolding left me feeling liberated.

If you’re anything like me, perhaps you too can learn to let your material apprehensions go and finally love interactive fiction.

Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice