ArtVermis

Vermis I (2023)

Vermis I (2023) is a narrative art book by Plastiboo. It’s a gorgeous and darkly layered homage to a variety of influences, new and old—Souls games, old videogames like Shadowgate, more recent ones like Shadow of the Colossus, perhaps Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, perhaps Warhammer. There are many possibilities. And yet it also stands as very much its own thing, a world unto itself. The book’s central question “Which flesh is your flesh?” goes a long way in establishing the sorts of horrors we’ll find on our journey.

There are two things that really make Vermis come to a diseased sort of life. The first is the decision to arrange the book as if it were a strategy guide for a videogame that doesn’t exist. This allows for the introduction of little icons and hints at mechanical systems without committing to building them, which is an enticement to brains like mine to figure out how they might work. And by providing level maps and strats for boss fights and profiles of magic items, I wind up playing the game on a meta level, reflexively, through the act of reading. This sensation is strange and unique and made for one of the most memorable book-experiences I’ve had in a long time.

The other thing is the texture of the art, the way everything is buried under pixelation, cathode grain, moire ripples and other distortions. It unifies all the book’s visuals in a sort of murkiness that add an almost painful sense of mystery and danger and inscrutability to the narrative.

Vermis is a dark masterpiece of creeping dread, and anyone who tells you it isn’t a game to be played isn’t to be trusted.

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