Vesp: A History of Sapphic Scaphism (Porpentine)

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Vesp: A History of Sapphic Scaphism  is a Porpentine game commissioned for Vice. It tells the story of a person obsessed with wasps, desiring to be a wasp, and inhabiting a world where wasps are pestilentially omnipresent. Leaving our apartment requires exiting through a wasplock, lest they get into our flat. (Edit: I originally misunderstood the titling scheme and thought the title was “Wasp”, but I’ve been corrected – sorry!)

There is a lot I might say about this piece if it were the first Porpentine piece I were writing about, but now it feels redundant to tell you that her worldbuilding is surprising and terrifying; that her words come in small servings per page, and that this is as much as you will be able to take at a time, because they are poetically intense; that she is inventive in how she deploys her links and that she is adding to the rhetorical toolset of hypertext with each new thing she releases; that the story concerns a protagonist at odds with the world around her; that it touches on a trans experience in the world even when it is not explicitly about gender (and it is often about gender). These things are true each time, but the effect does not become boring.

Hover over a link in Vesp and it fractures into four versions of itself:

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At some point the first person narration gives way to third person, as the protagonist loses herself under the influence of an invasive therapy. Later, faced with an object that is dangerous and alluring, we have the choice of TOUCH or DON’T TOUCH – but hovering over DON’T TOUCH converts it into TOUCH, a statement that our choice is not really a choice.

Vesp reads to me as a kind of companion to Neon Haze in particular, not because there’s any particular commonality between their worlds, but because both of them raise the question of whether the protagonist should choose to partake of mental health as defined by the (unquestionably unhealthy) surrounding culture. Of Neon Haze I wrote that there were no companions, no one well-disposed to the protagonist, and so consensus reality didn’t seem to have much to offer. Vesp is less lonely. Our therapist is also our lover, sometimes, and we are also fascinated with a terrifying/beautiful wasp lady who does not have the kind of lips we can ever kiss.

For other people, though, we have a lot less concern, and a lot less capacity for concern. Our actions in Vespat least potentially hurt a lot of bystanders. At one level this seems almost incidental to the story, since we are so inward-focused, but – as with the terrorist act at the end of Bruno Dias’ Mere Anarchy – it is impossible to ignore the implications entirely. The struggle between individual and society is on-going and never without victims.

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