Suicide Discussion as an Art Stunt

by Jed Pressgrove

Earlier this month developer Porpentine released a Twine called “Everything you swallow will one day come up like a stone” for a limited time only. This event was as much about Porpentine’s statement as anything:

This game will be available for 24 hours and then I am deleting it forever.

You can download it here until then.

What you do with it, whether you distribute, share, or cover it, is up to you.

Suicide is a social problem.

Suicide is a social failure.

This game will live through social means only.

This game will not be around forever because the people you fail will not be around forever.

They are never coming back.

This game’s title:

Everything you swallow will one day come up like a stone

This game’s title when you feel uncomfortable with the topic of suicide and would rather indefinitely forestall your inevitable confrontation with reality:

Anyways, this is dedicated to Sasha Menu Courey & all the others.

Suicide is indeed a major and complex social problem, as established by Emile Durkheim’s groundbreaking sociological work, “Suicide.” Porpentine’s game, now hosted at StoryCade (among others), does not address suicide as broadly as Durkheim, who identified several types of suicide and numerous related social facts. Porpentine focuses on a type of suicide caused by abuse and neglect. The developer’s reference of Sasha Menu Courey might seem disrespectful following a flippant “Anyways,” but Courey’s case is significant: Courey committed suicide in 2011 after the University of Missouri failed to respond to Courey’s report that she had been raped by one or more UM football players. I say without hesitation that it’s better to spend time learning about the broken system of UM, and what that says about American culture’s handling of rape and mental illness, than playing Porpentine’s game.

“Everything you swallow will one day come up like a stone” comes across as an art stunt. The game’s poetry, addition/subtraction, and suspense don’t promote broad understanding about a serious subject. Rather, these elements, along with the “for a limited time only” approach, appear to be designed to build the mystique of Porpentine as an unconventional artist. And like Porpentine’s accusatory tone, all of these things play with people’s emotions. By distributing, sharing, or covering, the audience becomes part of an art marketing campaign.

(Let’s place the criticism aside: from a purely emotional standpoint, I don’t find Porpentine’s approach edifying. In the last few years, two of my loved ones have committed suicide. I loved both of these people unconditionally, but I still interrogated myself: did I ever do anything, however small, to contribute to their suicide? Was there anything I could have done to let them know that I was there for them? Eventually, I realized I probably wasn’t the only person who has asked these questions. I decided it was best to honor the memories of my loved ones, to discuss with others how important they were as people, and to be mindful of how much my action or inaction might affect people. I imagine almost everyone, at some point, must come to terms with the suicide of a loved one.)

Porpentine’s statements and game don’t acknowledge the complexity of a universal problem. One can be intrigued, impressed, or simply shocked by the game’s limited release, imagery, abstract yet blunt style, and mature subject matter. But the world needs more articulate dialogue about suicide, not more artistic branding.