I have spent much of this October making a silverfish costume out of duct tape and re-reading Joyelle McSweeney’s The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults. In the book (and on the now-inactive blog Montevidayo), McSweeney explores a variety of texts that employ necropastoral strategies: Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, CAConrad’s The Book of Frank, Jack Smith’s Normal Love, the work of Kim Hyesoon, and many others.
According to McSweeney, “the necropastoral” is not merely an aesthetic designation–that is, it’s not just about imagery of contamination and death; necropastoral works also enact a kind of wormy devouring, actively exposing and transgressing the (artificial) boundary between idealized Arcadia and blighted city.
I’ve also been playing a lot of games–mostly short, mostly Twine–and I think that games can be considered through this lens as well. Here are three of my favorite necropastoral games. Some spoilers ensue.
A Perfect World by Ansh Patel
Please mind the content warning on this game. It is extremely dark.
A Perfect World begins with a pretty straightforward pastoral scene: you are in a sunny meadow after a rain. As you advance through the story, however, the text begins to fracture and disintegrate. Words obscure words, creating paranoid, glitchy pairings: cracking/QUAKE, indecisive/panicked, action/inaction, feel/????, more confident and capable/it’s all a facade. The story, too, begins to disintegrate. Gone are the field, the sun, the stream, and the chirping birds. Instead, the game implores you to “drown yourself in the tainted water.” Here, the agent of contamination is you; your every move hastens the destruction of the perfect world.
With Those We Love Alive by Porpentine
In With Those We Love Alive, you play an artificer tasked with making weapons and adornments for a bloodthirsty Empress. A hunter of humans, the Empress is the ultimate death femme: She “smells like dead candy.” She leaves trails of putrid slime behind her as she drags her body, swollen with princess spores, from throne room to garden. It should be remembered, however, that the necropastoral is not just an aesthetic zone, it is a “political-aesthetic zone.” WTWLA is likewise not just a story about “empress juice” and “dehydrated femme carcasses”; it is a story about power, and it invokes necropastoral strategies such as warping and alienation as a means to resist and subvert that power.
Chyrza by Kitty Horroshow
Chyrza is a story told by a ghost–or, rather, a person who has been turned into a monument. The setting is a desert, faintly illuminated by a yellow moon and a few dull stars. There are several improbable edifices here, separated by expanses of emptiness. Exploring each monument unlocks fragments of the story: the appearance of a strange pyramid, the ensuing malaise, the flaking skin and weeping sores, the disappearance of your community, the appearance of these strange monoliths. The narrator of this game is both corpse and headstone, casting you, the player, as witness.