Electron Dance

Counterweight 12: On Fear of Twine

It's Twine Week on Electron Dance. This is the fourth of five posts.

In this specially extended episode of Counterweight, Eric Brasure and Joel "HM" Goodwin go through the Fear of Twine exhibition (2014), curated by Richard Goodness.


Room One

01:30 Debt by Tony Perriello "It's almost like a text movie"

05:30 Duck Ted Bundy by Coleoptera-Kinbote "It is manic"

10:00 The Conversation I Can't Have by Morgan Rille "She wasn't writing as a victim"

14:00 The Matter of the Great Red Dragon by Jonas Kyratzes "This is the kind of thing he does and he does it well"

Room Two

19:15 Zombies and Elephants by Verena Kyratzes "I really like this twine"

27:45 Workers in Progress by Konstantinos "Gnome" Dimopoulos "It makes sense to view it as a work of speculative fiction"

Room Three

32:45 When Acting as a Wave by David T. Marchand "This is my personal favourite of the entire set"

37:00 The Girl in the Haunted House by Amanda Lange "This is an example of something you couldn't do in the short story format"

40:30 The Scientific Method by Evil Roda "I like this one because I'm a sucker for end of world stuff"

44:00 Drosophilia by Pippin Barr, Gordon Calleja and Sidsel Hermansen "What is going on?"

Room Four

47:45 Abstract State-warp Machines by Ivaylo Shmilev "It had a lot to say"

51:30 The Work by Cayora Rue "You don't know it's secret, do you?"

57:45 Coyotaje by Joseph Domenici "It's not about big picture, it's about what people go through"

63:15 TWEEZER by Richard Goodness and PaperBlurt "It's kinda charming, right?"

Closing Thoughts

70:10 "My feelings towards Twine have changed"

73:15 "Look at the twines I found most successful, they were probably also the ones that were the most technically complex"

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Comments (19) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Re: “I don’t know if this is just because we’re old, and this is not the generation – you know, we didn’t grow up with this stuff. And kids who grow up now are going to be fine with reading 5 and 10 thousand word essays online…”

    Individual anecdotal experience, I know, but I’ve been happy reading massively long things on screens. Old CRT screens to boot! Not sure of total length but I read at least a dozen novels in this way, and I’ve regularly read long, dense articles well in excess of the 5-10k range.

    I do this a *little* less nowadays, but I’d say that’s as much a product of having less free time as it is getting distracted or tired whilst reading from a screen.

    I’d agree with Eric that ‘Workers in Progress’ is a short twine. That’s if you’re not reading the different resources each ending points you towards. I imagine each of those essays takes longer to read than the game takes to play. :)

    Not sure if I’m gladdened or saddened to not be alone on the blank verse front.

    “Can’t afford a real computer” – ooh, you snob!

    Really interesting discussion on these Twines, anyway. There’s probably a lot more to be said on some of them but I’d have to listen through the podcast a second time to explore the optimal route.

  2. Firstly, http://translate.google.com.ar/#es/en/david%20marchand

    Secondly, http://translate.google.com.ar/#es/en/coyotaje

    (There’s a nice “pronounce” button there longing for the touch of your cursor.)

    Now, on to the actual content:

    Zombies and Elephants felt like a chore the first time I saw it and it surprised me how easy it was to read when I actually sat down to do it. I like that I finished it without wishing it were shorter, but sadly I’m now learning it has branches and endings and its length will probably be the main cause I won’t replay it. Totally agree with twines having the Problem that you can’t know how long one will be when you start reading. And there is no general trend of designing them in a way that makes it clearer to the reader. (Though there’s always the “check this twine I found, takes about X minutes” that I think you’ve used at some point and it’s also a main Forest Ambassador feature.) (And by the way, Twine has always included a “remember” macro for saving progress. Nothing that I know of ever stood in the way of authors just saving progress in a $progress variable and having a title page with something like “if $progress eq 2 >> Welcome back, would you like to start [[Chapter 2]]? >> endif”)

    I find it surprising that anyone can feel Workers in Progress is long in its current state. Definitely looks like it wants to become a large thing though.

    No one is talking about the Girl in the Haunted House ending where you gradually become a ghost and/or realize you’re a ghost? And it’s weird because it’s kind of an awesome ending? Hey Amanda I think that was kind of an awesome ending?

    The Scientific Method felt weird especially after reading The Work’s source. I’m now wondering if, regardless of not changing the player experience at all, I would’ve preferred that it determined your outcome randomly, instead of simply having a right decision and a wrong one. The opening scene is marvelous, I think we can all agree.

    Abstract State-warp Machines is pretty great. My only problem with it is blank verse makes it difficult to quickly tell passages apart, so building a node map in my head is very difficult. I never know when I already read something and I can’t have that twine-reading moment of “oh so these two paths lead to the same passage here.” I understand node map picturing is not what Ivaylo Shmilev wanted from readers but I kinda feel my experience of it would improve if I could map it.

    There’s more stories I want to talk about but I’m sleepy now.

  3. Much as I like Eric, I think he’s completely wrong about Twine. I have nothing against experimental works, but I don’t think they’re the future of Twine (or IF). They get Eric’s attention because he doesn’t enjoy this particular format in general, but – as theatre has proven all too well – novelty by itself can quickly become fetishized and then normalized, leading to a world where constant “rule-breaking” is the actual rule and actual content is irrelevant.

    No, personally I think the future of good interactive storytelling will depend on the *storytelling*. That’s what captures most people’s attention, that’s what makes people care. In that sense, Twine games like Zombies and Elephants are actually quite rare, since the primary association most people seem to have with Twine is with “innovative, ground-breaking” games, except that the innovation part is in the choice of subject matter (usually identity) and the self-presentation of the artist rather than purely in the technological or formal aspects. Not that such works can’t be meaningful, but there’s only so much space for “a game made by a person from category X!” before people start saying “yes, but what kind of game?”

    Ultimately what will make or break the future of Twine, at least in terms of relevance, is the ability to tell people stories that they will care about.

  4. Hmm, I’d have guessed that Porpentine is the first author most people think of when they think of Twine. And it doesn’t seem to me that your description applies to her games. It might be what people associate with Twine, not having played those games, but it doesn’t seem to me to be an accurate picture.

  5. @Shaun: You’re encouraging me to keep writing articles as long Stop Crying About Chocie. I read a lot on screens these days, but I’m not sure I’m into reading a novel. For me, navigating a twine for too long gets on my nerves, as opposed to playing a shooter for an hour or more. How-ever, TWEEZER didn’t have that effect because it was less like reading and more like, well, “playing”. I wonder if all the CSS changes and mental mapping it forced upon me was a distraction from text. Also note that TWEEZER is extremely clipped in terms of text – which brings me back to finding twines with lots of words an uncomfortable experience. Gawd, I think it’s time to talk about something else.

    @Dubeed: I don’t think Zombies and Elephants earns replays. I don’t mean this as a slight to Verena, but Z & E feels complete after a single playthrough. I played through a second time, quickly, just to see what could happen and I noticed things were different indeed. But I was satisfied with my original.

    I also got reached the “ghost” ending in Haunted House. That was weird. It didn’t stand out to me as much as it did to you but did leave me wondering exactly what had happened – what we had forgotten. Unless, of course, the fog was actually responsible for the change.

    On Abstract State-warp Machines, Shmilev mentioned it was possible to get a good ending. I thought I ran that twine pretty hard, so am annoyed not to have located it. (I found stories which were “satisfied with life” but not something I considered victory.)

    All you haters have silenced me. I will no longer mention the word “long” in a discussion about Workers in Progress.

    @Jonas: I don’t think Eric or I had played a lot of twines before Fear of Twine, so our impressions are probably coloured by the few twines we engaged or caught wind of. And I think Matt is probably right that Porpentine is probably who most people think of in the same breath as Twine, especially in the wake of Hofmeier’s IGF vandalism.

    As I indicated in the “On Writing Twine” piece, I do worry about a drive towards innovation in presentation and form. Perhaps the writing in Fear of Twine was too lacking from her perspective to win votes, but two out of three of Emily Short’s picks used gimmicks. Merrit Kopas proposed the “naked twine” jam to combat this kind of march towards presentation addiction and wrote: “However, while visual modifications and external modifications can produce lots of interesting results, they aren’t at all necessary to tell compelling stories.”

    Alternatively, maybe Twine is still evolving to something that will eventually be considered standard, with built-in support for pauses, link substitution and timed responses.

    But I get this sense that the simple narrative form feels played out – perhaps because there are so many twines now? – and that presentation and trickery increasingly matters. I can’t prove that, of course. It’s just a hunch. I’m actually surprised Fear of Twine generated interest in the wider indie scene because there is no shortage of twines out there if you’re looking. Why would this collection be different?

  6. Did you guys read this interview with Richard Goodness? I think he covered what Twines tend to be like and what more they can be quite well.

  7. Thanks for the link to the interview! I hadn’t seen it.

    But I think there’s a difference between pointing out that Twine was adopted by a queer gaming community and used as something of a badge of identity and a vehicle for confessional works (in the sense of “confessional poetry”), which I think is what Richard was getting at, and saying that the most praised Twines are innovative primarily in their choice of the author’s identity as the subject matter — which, as it applies to the most-praised Twine author, is incredibly reductive at best concerning her games.

  8. Yeah, Matt, I don’t know if Richard is really saying that about Porpentine’s work. It’s a sweeping statement for sure, but I doubt he’s tarring every “praised twine” with the same brush. And Jonas couches it as “what Twines tend to be like”. To be honest, I haven’t played enough to draw a conclusion like that, but I have seen my share of personal twines. And the rallying call for Twine, Porpentine’s “Creation Under Capitalism” piece made the point that “Twine is the invitation to be personal” although it’s up to you how you interpret that.

    But going back to this point that Eric was attracted to gimmick/complex twine rather than straightforward decision tree… are we just old fogies who can’t enjoy a naked hypertext story without something to distract us? As I said in “On Reading Twine”, I can enjoy twines if I have some compulsion to engage them – but now Fear of Twine is pretty much over, I don’t think I will be chasing down new twines any time soon.

  9. I’m not sure why you assume I’m talking specifically about Porpentine; I was talking about the praise Twine games have gotten in general. (I prefer to avoid talking about people who bear me personal animosity, anyway.) There certainly have been quite a few authors whose works have been praised primarily from the perspective of representation; in fact, I’d say it’s quite unfair to the Twine scene to identify it exclusively with one author.

  10. To be clear, I wasn’t criticizing anything Richard said or Jonas’s statement that Richard had said that this is what Twines tend to be like; that was what I meant to agree with when I said that Twine had been adopted by a queer gaming community (whatever that means). It was Jonas’s original statement that “Twine games like Zombies and Elephants are actually quite rare, since the primary association most people seem to have with Twine is with i’nnovative, ground-breaking’ games, except that the innovation part is in the choice of subject matter (usually identity) and the self-presentation of the artist rather than purely in the technological or formal aspects.” Now, this is a statement about people’s perceptions, but it seems to agree that games that don’t conform to that perception are rare. And I think this is reductive; I’ve played a fair amount of Twines outside of Fear of Twine and a lot of them can’t be boiled down to “Look, a game by X!” or even “Look, a game about being X!” (the latter of which might be a fair characterization of say The Impostor Syndrome). And of course it’s a particular trap to take a game by or about someone with a marginalized identity and say that that’s the only thing notable about it, when it really isn’t. Porpentine is just an example here, though as I said probably the most prominent one.

    About Emily Short and the gimmicks: I thought it was really only one of three; she praised Drosophilia particularly for its presentational gimmicks but When Acting As A Wave’s gimmick is largely textual — you could take out the macros and the gimmick will still be there. So I count that as an innovative way to write hypertext. The problem I see with the decision tree is that branching decision trees get all explody and putting together the sort of world model required for an interesting decision tree that isn’t based on pure branching (more interesting than, say, Choice of Games’s stat-based models) is going to be a honking pain in Twine, because you’re basically programming it in Javascript and figuring out a way to shoehorn it in. I’d really like someone to code up some nice Inform hyperlink games, which would make handling the model much easier.

  11. We’re rapidly approaching subjects we all tacitly decided not to comment on. Tease the elephant in the room a few more times and it’ll suck your brains through its trunk.

  12. @David: Yep.

    @matt: There’s certainly a variety of Twine games, and not all of them can or should be reduced to performances of identity! But (and I swear this is the last thing I’ll say, to avoid death by elephant) I do think that a large percentage of Twine games come from a certain (post)modern understanding of art that sees the value of art as drawn from its connection to the author more than from traditional storytelling. But this is hardly unique to Twine, only more pronounced there because of certain political directions that are prominent in the scene (and the part of the world much of that scene is located in).

    And that’s fine, people should have the right to understand art however they please. But I do think games that come from a different direction in terms of what they value in a story are a bit rarer. Not that they don’t exist, but they tend to be valued/noticed less, as they don’t contain the markers of what many people now associate with art.

    This is where I’ll stop, because beyond this point I would have to talk about individual works and people, and I’d prefer not to.

  13. I see your point about the elephant! Perhaps I should divert the discussion to duck penises for a little while.

    I suppose the question about what’s valued/noticed depends on which scene is doing the valuing/noticing, to some extent. I come at things from the interactive fiction scene more (the ifcomp/intfiction/xyzzy scene, that is), and there it doesn’t seem like Twines are particularly valued for their connections with their authors — besides the, er, author we’ve already mentioned, the Twines that finished top ten in the last IFComp were all by authors whose previous games I’d known, but that’s as far as any connection to the author went. But I don’t read the Twinevangelists with the loudest megaphones that much.

  14. @Jonas

    I think you’re misunderstanding my point about Twine. I don’t really like the “experimental” works more (did I even say “experimental”? Maybe I did, I don’t remember), my argument is that the more technically interesting twines are where twine really shines. I don’t think that Twine is particular good as a medium for interaction storytelling–the defaults are ugly, hyperlinks make your eyes play a game of whack-a-mole looking for them and not actually reading.

    But I don’t really like interaction fiction, so maybe I’m wrong.

  15. @Jonas: “…quite unfair to the Twine scene to identify it exclusively with one author.” Not disagreeing although Dan Cox suggested in the “On Writing Twine” comments, that Twine is strongly associated with some high-profile authors (relatively speaking) and if they did not participate then Twine would not be where it is today. I thought this was an interesting point, considering I’ve not followed Twine closely at all. Those authors are mostly what I see from my remote point of view and not the great body of work beyond them.

    @matt: From my point of view, Acting As A Wave is still a gimmick – I like the term dehyrated twine, just add imagination – in that it plays with form and emulating its structure will lead to diminishing returns. This is no slur on the work, it’s wonderful. It’s why I like the Marchand’s Urquel so much, as it plays with perspective. It gets attention because it is very clever in structure – and we are fortunate that Marchand makes excellent use of it as opposed to squandering the opportunity. Most novels depict a sequence of scenes in chronological order – sometimes we jump characters or repeat scenes from other points of view. When someone experiments with conventions such as in novels like The Last Samurai, House of Leaves or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, they can garner attention through attempts at experimentation regardless of whether the work is any good. I guess whether we agree/disagree on this depends on how we draw the line on layout/form.

    @Eric: Interaction Faction.

  16. Let’s all agree that using the phrase “technically complex” when talking text games is very confusing. Someone will always end up confusing what “technical” classically means in literature and what it ostensibly means in the technology-centered discipline that games are. I always think of my games as gimmicky in a good way (Úrquel shifts perspectives, Eioioio revolves around verb tense, When Acting as a whatever is link-only) but I don’t think I would ever use Twine to do something audiovisually athletic. (For the record, I coy-pasted the “shudder” effect CSS from Leon Arnott’s neocities page because I felt the bare nature of my game would make it too boring. I like Eric’s interpretation of it though.)

  17. The more digging I’ve done, Dubeed, the more I realise how much has been copied and pasted. For example Morgan Rille’s piece uses one of Leon Arnott’s templates.

    The phrase “audiovisually athletic” is brilliant and I want to scold you for writing it first. The “shudder” seems to work well, it’s fitting. When the twine starts, you think PRETENTIOUS but once you get to “Ignore steps on hallway” you’re absolutely sold.

  18. Thanks, I wanted to touch the universally human theme of ignoring mysterious steps on the hallway.