Creation Under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution

Our global network is composed of human minds uploaded into word form.

On this plane the word is the most potent unit of force.

It costs a couple of keystrokes to control someone else’s brain for a second, and longer if you do it right.

 

I N T E R A C T I V E  F I C T I O N

 

When it comes to feeling something true, a handful of words can outweigh millions of dollars of investment in cutting-edge graphics.

Say I want to communicate that a jungle exists. I could create a jungle out of code, sound files, art assets, or I could describe it in a few well-chosen sentences. They aren’t the same, but one is cheaper. If we acknowledge that humans have an imagination, maybe we could make something of these, what do you call them, interactive fictions?

Most importantly, anyone reading this sentence can make interactive fiction.

But I can understand why not everyone would feel that way, given interactive fiction’s history.

 

THE DOMINANCE OF PARSER

 

What do we see when we search interactive fiction? I mean, the first couple pages of actual search results.

Dead pages full of links to past glories of the 90s, maybe early 2000s. A lot of the active stuff isn’t very welcoming to minorities. I see stories set in colleges, mansions, middle-class homes, generic fantasy worlds. I’m not college, I’m not mansions. What is that to me?

But above all else, they all have one thing in common. They presume parser as the default.

The principle modes of interactive fiction are parser and hypertext. Parser is when you type to get shit done. Hypertext is when you click to get shit done. Both live in the two arms of the computer–the keyboard and the mouse.

Historically parser has dominated interactive fiction culture and for some is synonymous with interactive fiction to the point where non-parser interactive fiction is discouraged, aka hyperlink-powered games.

Some people say that non-parser is unreviewable without puzzles, say they didn’t know how to review a game because it had no puzzles, and puzzles are worth up to x points in their scoring system.

This way of thinking is so inflexible and foreign to me that I am unable to formulate a response.

Some say non-parser isn’t interactive fiction.

If the words can be interacted with, it’s interactive fiction.

 

 

HOW PARSER GATEKEEPS INTERACTIVE FICTION

 

1) Parser represents an idiosyncratic language to be learned, one that varies like a dialect from author to author. What combination of words did this author think best described opening a door or climbing up a tree?

2) Because parser is the default, you get stories striving for emotion but hamstrung by parser’s innate weaknesses. I’ve seen extremely linear, emotional stories written in parser because people weren’t aware of any other options. They made more work for themselves and more work for the reader.

> hug is not recognized

5 minutes of fighting the parser to hug someone is not ideal. It’s like your movie has 5 minutes of someone drooling during a romantic interlude.

Parser is good for puzzles–for creating a period of time in which the player is thinking about how to solve a problem, how to combine elements in a certain way.

I’m not saying people don’t tell great stories through parser. But there are many kinds of stories and we should be aware of our tools.

3) Parser as an invisible god figure that punishes you for failing to understand, as a representation of the smirking nerd, the obnoxious dungeon master.

JP LeBreton said to me on Twitter during a parser vs. hypertext discussion, “To over-reduce, parsers struggle against false freedoms, hypertext trades in honest restrictions.”

4) Parser is something people can be elitist about because it uses code. The valuation of tech shit over actual content.

*

This sounds like I hate parser.

I love parser. Some of the best games I’ve ever played were in parser. The first game I ever wrote was in parser.

I appreciate the atmosphere, the complexity, the sense of exploration. There is a capacity for struggle that is not present in most hypertext.

I don’t hate parser, just the presentation of parser as the dominant choice.

 

 

HYPERTEXT

 

Some people don’t read my stories because they’re games, and some people don’t play my games because they’re stories.

Hypertext is caught uncomfortably between literature and games.

Why is that? What do we see when we look up hypertext fiction online?

I’m thinking, no wonder hypertext fiction had a lull–they hid behind middle-upper class literary pretensions, acting like it was some kind of avant-garde science. I’m seeing academic essays on hypertext buried behind passwords, I’m seeing a hypertext editor like Twine for $300, I’m seeing stories selling for $30. How many people are buying those?

But the problem is bigger than any failure on the part of hypertext pioneers.

 

 

 

 

C R E A T I O N  U N D E R  C A P I T A L I S M

 

 

 

THE DEATH OF HYPERCARD

 

HyperCard, ancestor of the Internet and Wikipedia, was packaged with every Mac at one point in time. Anyone could use it.

HyperCard programs were made out of a stack of virtual cards, each card had interactive shit on it. People made calculators, virtual museum tours, games, and it was easy. The first version of  some little old game called Myst was built in HyperCard.

Like Twine, you could start creating right away out of intuitive parts.

Like Twine, you could see the parts spread out in front of you.

Apple murdered HyperCard and now they represent the freezing pole of that ideal, a world with no personal creative input whatsoever, technology as consumption, not augmentation.

*

The reason for this is that HyperCard is an echo of a different world. One where the distinction between the “use” and “programming” of a computer has been weakened and awaits near-total erasure. A world where the personal computer is a mind-amplifier, and not merely an expensive video telephone. A world in which Apple’s walled garden aesthetic has no place.

And Mr. Jobs had a perfectly logical reason to prune the Apple tree thus. He returned the company to its original vision: the personal computer as a consumer appliance, a black box enforcing a very traditional relationship between the vendor and the purchaser.

The Apple of Steve Jobs needed HyperCard-like products like the Monsanto Company needs a $100 home genetic-engineering set.

 

 

CREATIVITY AND CAPITALISM

 

Not hard to see the difference between a world where something with the sensibilities of Twine is packaged for free with every computer vs. a world without.

Our world where the average person is separated from their natural creativity and artistic agency isn’t an accident. It’s been carefully, deliberately engineered that way, not just by Apple, but by our entire capitalist society.

Raised to believe that a select few create and the rest are just fans. Rich white people create and we suck it up. This is an extremely profitable system.

So they place unfair expectations on what you create. Tell you it’s too short, too ugly, too personal, ask you why it doesn’t resemble what already exists. And the answer is, why would we want it to?

They impart the subtle idea that a handful of geniuses are born and the rest clean up after them.

They want us to believe that our thoughts are not worth voicing.

How the fuck is life worth living if the brains we have right now aren’t good enough? The audience/performer dynamic as it exists is built on capitalism, on academia, on a proper way of doing things defined by people who do not have our best interests at heart and indeed don’t care if we live or die.

Like I wrote here, “Under our capitalist system, to accept other ways of communicating is to devalue the cash value of the communication style learned in college.”

They don’t want your stories because the idea that someone can tell a story without going to college or someone can make a game for free is a betrayal of capitalism, it’s a betrayal of an industry that says creativity can only be imparted for money.

People are taught to believe they aren’t someone. Taught to believe they aren’t a Creator. Not an Artist, not an Intellectual. No one is taught that more than minorities.

The idea that creation is a mystical white process. That you need to go to their schools and read their books and worship their idols.

We’re supposed to be crippled by our unawareness of the previous body of work which everyone knows but us, the required reading list of straight white dudes, and the Latin of academic theory.

We’re supposed to be afraid to contribute.

They’re the voice in your head telling you you’re shit.

The system they desire is one where a select few create for the many, instead of the many creating for each other.

When everyone is creating, we’re destroying the dollar sign.

 

 

SYMPATHETIC DEPICTIONS OF MINORITIES

 

Don’t aim to be civilized. Don’t hope that straight people will keep you on as some kind of pet. To hell with them; they put you here. You should fully realize what society has made of you and take a terrible revenge…Have the artistic *courage* to recognize your own significance in culture!

*

I’m not telling anyone what to like but sucking off the mechanized tit of BioWare (the games equivalent of Glee) or any organization or cultural icon doesn’t sit right with me. What? Look for tidbits tossed from some huge, focus-tested corporation? Stare at these anemic, mechanical representations of lesbian sex?

Should we cringe when a new show comes out, mumbling that we hope it will have a “sympathetic depiction” of minorities and that we hope Straight White Male Writer won’t fuck it up? Should we eat scraps under the table?

They don’t love you. They will never accept you unless you remove everything good and interesting about yourself and replace it with their poison.

Capitalism takes everything we care about and turns it into a product.

*

Independent cultural producers look for forms of reward that are not exclusively monetary.
Things like reputation, friendship, personal empowerment and so on.

But the capital eventually catches up and restructures itself.

It changes shape in order to capture and extract value from these new energies and dangerous desires.

*

The only sympathetic depiction we can trust is the one we make ourselves, in love and tenderness and the desire for justice. We don’t have to wait. We have the power to create those depictions right now because those depictions live in our bones. They couldn’t give us shit with a budget of $25 million dollars. We can do better for the price of food and shelter.

*

We have a problem, which is not admitting the degree to which we rely on games for anesthesia. They’re disposable alternate lives that slowly devour our real ones. “Gamers” are junkies, games are their junk, and there’s a kind of game criticism that’s primary function is enabling them to deny that. When we don’t ask more from games, it’s because we don’t want them to get better. We’re afraid of the world and we’d rather explore the boundaries of these fake, facile ones. We hate ourselves and we hate our bodies and we’d rather inhabit fake selves, fake bodies.

*

Make for people like you. Make for future lovers. Make for people who don’t exist yet. Show people what they didn’t know was hot and sexy.

There are 7 billion people on Earth. Someone shares your interests. Make a beacon for them.

 

 

CREATION AS A WEAPON

 

Our culture is taught to react, not to create. It is easier to dribble out a knee-jerk opinion on everything that passes through our feed than to make something.

Ours is a culture of pundits, not creators.

Not that we shouldn’t fight back and reject with every atom in our being. We should. But there’s fighting back and then there’s pathological snark that replaces praxis.

Creation is the most powerful form of criticism, because it has the power to destroy that which it criticizes.


T W I N E

 

 

INTERACTIVE FICTION

 

I say if Jesus was born today he would make a text game.

– Michael “Vryce” Krause

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Text adventures, visual novels, CYOA, gamebooks, interactive poems, sprawling hypertext…

Inform 7, Twine, ChoiceScript, Varytale, StoryNexus, inklewriter, Undum, Ren’Py…

There are so many options for writing interactive fiction it can be overwhelming. If we’re going to write something, we don’t want to waste our time!

Read about them, ask people about them, and most of all play games written in them to find their strengths and weaknesses.

This is about Twine though.

 

WHY TWINE?

 

ACCESSIBLE

Anyone can learn the basics of Twine in less than a minute. Anyone reading this can play your game. No one has to download or install anything to read your story. It’s just an HTML file.

FREE

No one owns Twine. It belongs to everyone.

SPATIAL

Twine shows you the story as you make it, like notecards on a table. You don’t get lost inside a morass of code. Each story is a unique organism of information.

LEGACY

It scales up with the entire legacy of HTML, CSS, and Javascript. It will not become outdated unless the entire internet is replaced by a global consciousness grid. The thousands of tools for those languages are available to us for extending, augmenting, colorizing, and aestheticizing our stories.

You can use the same palette generator used to design a webpage to give your story a color scheme.

TIME FRIENDLY

A side-effect of being a minority is exhaustion, loss of time. I have time for Twine. The stories of people who would not write them for lack of time, lack of energy, can be told. When you remove the code barrier, people are free to experiment without burning out.

VERSATILE

Hyperlinks can power an interactive poem, a choose-your-own-adventure full of gruesome deaths, a dungeon crawler tracking stats and inventory, a strategy game, wherever yOuR iMaGiNaTiOn TaKeS yOu

PERSONAL

So many people tell me their stories start to get personal no matter how they start out.

Twine’s default color scheme is blue on black, not black on white. Black on white is daylight, it’s mundane. Twine invites us to write our secrets into the night. We can make it light in a line of CSS, but that the default is inverted feels non-trivial to me.

More significantly, when we write in natural language, as opposed to code, we’re in the element of the diary, the notepad, the confessional.

Our engines shape our output. We can’t pretend that the history of game design has been designing on a blank canvas or a white page. The history of game design has been working with a canvas that screams at you and changes shape and rejects your strokes if they aren’t just right–working with machines.

Not all of us want to become machines, some of us just want to have frank discussions with the machines.

Twine is the closest we’ve come to a blank page. It binds itself and it can bind itself along an infinite number of spines extending in any direction.

It’s hard to visualize our problems and emotions when they get interrupted by code, but we know the feel of words. They’ve dwelt in us our whole life. They are alive and they want to come out.

Twine is the invitation to be personal.

 

 

TWINE BASICS

 

Download Twine here.

*

Making Twine look good is CSS and HTML.

Making Twine more complex is Javascript.

*

Here’s a great guide by Anna Anthropy on the basics of Twine. Here’s the official documentation.

*

Twine has two default templates: Sugarcane and Jonah.

Sugarcane lets you explore multiple branches. If you come to the end of one branch, you can just hit Back. Sugarcane displays everything on a single page.

Jonah locks you into a choice and by default, cascades down the screen so you can see the passages that came before.

The advantage of Jonah is no take backs.

If you want people to explore all your passages, use Sugarcane.

If you want people to be locked into a choice, use Jonah.

In the Twine snippets section up ahead I describe how to get the no take backs effect of Jonah on one screen like Sugarcane.

*

To use snippets of Javascript, create a passage and give it the “script” tag. Code goes inside this passage.

 

*

To use CSS, create a passage and give it the “stylesheet” tag. CSS goes inside this passage.

If a CSS styling already exists within the template, remember that you’ll need to override it by appending “!important” to the line of CSS. Example: “a {color:white !important}” changes your links to white, ignoring the default template.

*

 

TECHNIQUE

 

Leon Arnott made a macro that basically obsoletes this: <<replace>>

PRESERVED FOR HISTORICAL INTEREST: To cascade text on a single screen, create a variable and set it to 0, then increment it every time that passage is visited.

passage called “self”:

<<set $var = $var + 1>>

<<if $var eq 1>>

You’re falling through a shimmering [[void|self]]

<<endif>>

<<if $var eq 2>>

You’re falling through a shimmering void

birds encircle you

<<endif>>

IDIOSYNCRASIES

 

Twine doesn’t let you link back to Start. Make a copy of Start and link to that or make Start say “<<display ActualStart>>”.

Twine code takes up whitespace so use the <<silently>><<endsilently>> macro to enclose code and remove whitespace. That can break certain things, I’m told, so for a back-up solution,you can delete space between lines:

<<if $var = 1>>

ARGH

<<else>>

BLARGH

<<endif>>

becomes

<<if $var = 1>>ARGH<<else>>BLARGH<<endif>>

 

 

HACKING YOUR TWINE

 

CUSTOMIZE TEMPLATES

To permanently change a template, say you want Sugarcane to always have a more readable font size, go to your Twine folder, go to /targets, and edit the HTML/CSS of whatever template.

For instance, mine has a larger font and no Share or Rewind on the side, just as one example.

CLEANING UP THE SIDEBAR

I like to go and tweak the following lines:

<li id=”snapback”>Rewind</li>

<li id=”share”>Share</li> (I remove this or change the links to preference)

<li id=”credits”>

This story was created with <a href=”http://gimcrackd.com/etc/src/”>Twine</a> and is powered by <a href=”http://tiddlywiki.com/”>TiddlyWiki</a> (can be modified or discarded)

If you remove Rewind, be aware that Restart is bound to Rewind for some reason. For this reason, instead of deleting

<li id=”snapback”>Rewind</li>

just delete the words “Rewind” and leave the line

<li id=”snapback”></li>

and it’ll work.

ONE SCREEN JONAH

I don’t care for the way Jonah cascades down the screen. If you want one-screen Jonah, put this snippet in a script-tagged passage:

It should look like this:

Whoop!

 

 

 

TWINE SNIPPETS

 

ASK PLAYER TO NAME SOMETHING

<<set $name = prompt(“What’s your name?”)>>

MINIMAP

A real time minimap in one of WelshPixie’s games.

TIMER

A beautiful timer by Stefano Russo to make your Twine games real time.

Example

Right click to download as Twine file

LOOPS

How to simulate for, while or do loops in Twine by Emmanuel Turner.

DISPLAY RANDOM TEXT

Macro by Emmanuel Turner for displaying random text along set probabilities.

Download macro

MUSIC

 

HTML5 Macro

or

you could just ask the player nicely.

 

DESIGNING FOR HYPERTEXT

 

So we aren’t Games and we aren’t Books. We’re something else.

We must learn our strengths.

MORE THAN A PAGE

We can avoid design that is the equivalent of clicking forward and backwards on a page.

Hypertext is more like holding a camera than working with a page. Zoom in, ellide, show us what you care about, moving, squirming, crawling around. Turn the link into a kiss, a trigger, a hesitation, something unsettling noticed out of the corner of the eye.

Not the corner of a page.

DON’T TEXTDUMP

The number one mistake I see is people dumping a bunch of text when we have the power to nest details. Instead of a page, we can craft a single paragraph that flows into other paragraphs, a bristling shrub glittering with info-jewels.

COLLABORATIVE WORLDBUILDING

We can ask the player what they think, what they feel, what they’re looking at. Is there a forest beyond that mountain, or a desert? What did they name their cat?

All games are collaboration. I think about the best lessons of tabletop roleplaying when I design.

Beware the “clomping foot of nerdism”.

CLICHES

Cliches are whitespace.

“CORRECT”

Don’t try to write “properly” if it holds back the story. Write to be read, write to convey.

EDITING

Pacing isn’t another word for boring.

We don’t need to describe everything. Jump cuts, in media res–the human brain is a powerful filling-in-the-blanks machine.

MECHANICS

Hypertext is a design terrain of its own where traditional mechanics and puzzles don’t necessarily translate. There are more interesting ways to resist anyways.

To plagiarize myself:

“Most of the crunchy bits in my games are just crystallizations of narrative, emerging and receding interfaces–a system for traversing your lover’s back or a crowd turning into a flurry of links.

The purpose of a puzzle is to provide resistance. For me, that resistance doesn’t need to be coercive or challenging, just interesting and aesthetic.”

We value resistance as a way to differentiate interactive fiction from fiction. A game fights back.

Fighting back doesn’t have to be logical, traditional, or artificial.

THOUGHTS ON REPLAYABILITY

The design behind every game creates an optimal replay value. It is useful to be aware of that value and what influences it.

For example:

A Place of Infinite Beauty is designed for a single playthrough. Seeing all the branches is trivial because they’re so short and you can use the Back button to quickly explore them. It invites you to enjoy each failure but ultimately succeed.

Metrolith is designed for multiple plays. It uses Jonah code to prevent takebacks, so in order to see other paths you have to play again.

That’s just a code restriction though. Why would someone want to play it again?

1) The design invites multiple playthroughs by offering up three randomly selected characters at the beginning.

a) However, their randomness is limited enough that picking a character you’ve never played before isn’t frustrating.

2) The world reveals itself on multiple playthroughs–glimpse a far-off detail in one run, come face to face in another.

BULLSHIT

And most of all, fuck the rules, fuck ideas about how people should create, these are just general suggestions to take or leave. Do what you want, put me in a garbage can, crush the lid down, break my skull!

 

 

 

INTERACTIVE FICTION SITES

 

Official Twine documentation

Anna Anthropy’s tutorial

My Twine resource page (snippets, game jams, etc)

TwineHub (massive list of Twine games)

I like IFDB. People should post their games on it. It’s probably the best interactive fiction repository we have, at least in terms of structure. You can upload, rate, tag, and review games, make lists, etc.

Emily Short’s blog

Twine Google Group

 

 

 

 

LIST OF HYPERLINK-POWERED GAMES

 

Here are some cool things people are doing in Twine. Some of these I list because they make interesting design decisions; others are simply good stories.

TWINE GAMES

Rat Chaos by j chastain

Seven Hours Pass by Loren Schmidt

V I L L A I N Y by chrisamaphone

Brace (two player Twine game!!) by merritt kopas

Ten by Maddox Pratt

finny’s stories

weird tape in the mail. by adam dickinson

bluelit by Berkley Staite

The Message by Jeremy Lonien and Dominik Johann

Any of my games

big list compiled by anna anthropy

NON-TWINE HYPERLINK GAMES

First Draft of the Revolution by Emily Short, Liza Daly, and inkle. Revision as a powerful mechanic for getting inside the head of a character.

Bee by Emily Short. Use of repeating events and yearly cycle to build a deeply personal story.

Atticus and Boy Electronic by Bloomengine. Clean, elegant design, great use of graphics.

Anamnesis, of Renascents and Monsters by Jose Ignacio Moreno Ferrer. Weird strategy game made in Ren’Py.

Choice of the Dragon and Choice of Romance by Choice of Games. Thoughtful gender choices, good use of stats, interesting decisions that go beyond binary morality.

King of Dragon Pass by A#. An important, unique game that everyone should play. Fantasy world Norse strategy CYOA hybrid where your decisions are based on tribal custom and personal understanding of game lore.

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There are so many more brilliant games out there, I encourage you to find them.

 

 

CODA

 

We’ve been part of the process since the beginning. We built computers. We built games.

Only a systematic whitewashing process has tricked us into believing we are not part of games, part of the world.

 

Links to individual sections

Interactive Fiction
Creation Under Capitalism
Twine

header excerpted from an image by Kilian Eng

32 Comments

  1. orestesdrinking

    “4) Parser is something people can be elitist about because it uses code. The valuation of tech shit over actual content.”  There’s definitely an annoying sense of “how difficult it must’ve been to make =  how quality the work must be” linear valuation of effort-to-output in the IF community, and not just the IF community, either. Also, neat article altogether, and thanks for the links.  I enjoy playing and working with parser games too but hypertext deserves its due.

  2. Pingback: Creation Under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution | PORPENTINE

  3. steveklabnik

    @chrisamaphone interactive fiction is the reason I’m a programmer

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  5. fightmybattles

    What about the people who wish to work on interactive fiction as a profession? Surely it is not a crime to charge a dollar for an iOS app, or to use Google Adsense on your website.

    • @fightmybattles i don’t care do what you want this article has nothing to do with that

  6. psientist

    the margin separating Artistspeak from Merchantspeak is measured in units of hypocrisy.
     
    The Artist: “Ponder pixel pipes providing puffing! We need testers!”
    The Merchant: “Testers?!?! We want smokers!”

  7. Pingback: The Message and Making Games | fucktotum.net

  8. Pearce

    “Not hard to see the difference between a world where something with the sensibilities of Twine is packaged for free with every computer vs. a world without.”
    What about a Notepad-style program? That should allow anyone who can read & write to express their creativity.

  9. aliendovecote

    @BarclayHanks yay!

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  13. Finding out that Myst was made out of hypercards was a bolt to the brain that I’ve never fully recovered from.

  14. How did I miss this article last year? This is superb.

  15. Pingback: Create something. « neillearnsjapanese

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  17. This is a goddamn brilliant article. I’m humbled by the way your technical overview blossoms into your lyric/rhetorical invocation of game design as creative/activist paradigm. I’m about a week into my sudden preoccupation with hyperfiction and Twine, and this article alone would keep me thinking about it for months longer. A small, anxious part of me really hopes hypertext and IF can help bridge the gap between literature as it’s traditionally construed (including the rich history of minority and subversive literature) and the fluid, decentralized emergent mass media.

    Anyway, thanks for this, and thanks also for Howling Dogs, which was is an exemplary artifact of the form.

  18. Jack Mcnamee

    What are the best lessons of Tabletop Roleplaying, and how does Apocalypse world exemplify them?

  19. gfhandle

    Very interesting and informative article, Too bad about the paranoia, though.

    • AnnettaGaiman

      (this comment amuses me)

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