Monday, 15 February 2016


Patrick Weeks in an interview mentioned Twine as a good tool for learning to write interactive fiction, so I decided to go see what was what and see what people had made.

There are a number of interesting uses of twine, which include text based interactive stories using parser or multiple choice and  or even ASCI based games such as The Temple of Apshai (Connelly et al 1976) . I prefer the multiple choice games, highlights for me include the lyrical poetical Beware the Faerie Food by Astrid Dalmady (who has done work for the wildly successful "Welcome to NightVale" podcast show), and the philosophical Creatures Such as We (2015) by Lynnea Glasser. There are also many parser text games, but finding the right verb noun combinations is not so much fun for me.

Creatures Such as We (2015)  feels like something that Phillip K Dick would have written, if he wrote with a more feminine voice and used interactive fiction, it has a game within a game structure, similar to the book within a book structure that The Man in the High Tower  (Phillip K Dick, 1962) uses. Why I describe it as having a "feminine voice" I will detail later.

Also there is an approach to represent political actors using AI, Versu, that has been described to me as a clever use of an Alice type parsing program and text based hierarchical structure. I remain hopeful for that AI of the future (already used for telephone reception and telemarketing), knowing too well that it will be replacing employee positions, but maybe in the future, when I'm, like, 70 years old, the pan corporate state will assign a carer AI to my retirement village, that only has slightly murderous tendencies, so that it only tries to kill me when I'm sleeping. Which will be comparatively nice.

Emily Short has produced a number of Twine based interactive stories on a regular basis since at least 2000, and is part of the Versu project and appears to be a significant figure in the Twine community, if it can be described as such. She has a website. I will be checking out First Draft of the Revolution (2012), which because of its alternative historical setting, looks interesting to me.

This type of small scale game, interactive fiction, clearly allows a more personal vision to be created by the author/ designer, which means that more of the authors language and thus experience is transmitted. Creatures Such as We (2015) has the player enacting a carer role in a kind of tourist facility, the player is able to select their gender and other characteristics but the empathetic nature of interaction and central caring issues that the player faces feels to me feminine. There is a series of actions each morning that involves a ritual of beauty maintenance, use of makeup, done irrespective of gender, but it feels female. Sure I may think about moisturizer in the morning but I would think about this action in different terms than the language used by Lynnea Glasser. The tourist facility of Creatures Such as We (2015) has a futuristic setting and thus it is possible, even probable, because she does include transgender as an option, that gender is represented differently because it is a more androgenous, malleable characteristic in the futuristic setting of Creatures Such as We (2015).

This is part of what makes Creatures Such as We (2015) interesting, and diversity seem to be an issue addressed by Choice of Games LLC, who clearly attempt to write inclusive games. When a product is written that is not intentionally offensive but is non inclusive, people will initially become aware of it by a sense of a lack of agency, which entails a value judgement at some point. An extreme example is given by Mattie Bryce in the article "Death of the Player"  (2013). Mattie Bryce argues that agency in interactive games can be reduced, especially in games that don't follow conventional wisdom. Small scale games that are not monetized can be more about the designers personal vision than player agency as profit motive may not be a predominant incentive or may event be potentially absent, as a form of self expression or art.

This potential is what makes Twine interesting for me, though it is necessary to pay attention to the various rating systems in use to help decide if a Twine file is actually worth your time, the potential to find something unique or clearly artistic is there. The best, potentially quirky examples are those entered into competitions, although the professionally written interactive fiction is quite entertaining as well.

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