Electron Dance
7Apr/14Off

On Reading Twine

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

reading-twine

So I wrote about how I had problems with the Twine format. But this year I participated in the Fear of Twine exhibition and, as a result, forced myself to read the other 15 works in the exhibition so I could write about them.

Do I still have problems with Twine?   

Yes! And no.

I still possess a natural resistance to Twine. Persuading myself to click a link to just open a twine requires determination. And I still have to put the brakes on and slap my mousing hand whenever it gets itchy and wants to click out of a page before it has been read. The entire Fear of Twine exhibition was tough for me because I also wanted to do these twines justice, not just play through them once and say “done, got my narrative, bro”. I wanted to understand them. That meant patience and, normally, replays.

Yet my respect for the form is very real now. Previously anything I wrote positively about Twine would have been very technical: I did not have fun with twine and found it difficult to get excited enough to make observations and analysis. Having sat down and spent quality time with more twines in the last couple of months than I’d ever played before, I’ve been converted. I appreciate what Twine can do and understand how the format can really work for others.

Short twines were easy on the soul. In contrast, if I saw 20 links on a page, I would begin to palpitate and hope some of the links were just description passages that went nowhere special. My brain liked fewer choices and picket fences of text. Walls of text were terrifying.

So the first entry in Fear of Twine, Debt (Tony Perriello, 2014), was a piece of cake. Debt is a movie in text with no branching. Funnily enough, this means it is accessible enough for everyone to come in, bitch about “dude, where’s my agency” and ask for their money back because “it’s not a game”.

On the other end of the spectrum I had the text jungles of Zombies and Elephants (Verena Kyratzes, 2014) and the wild branching of Abstract State-warp Machines (Ivaylo Shmilev, 2014). Regardless of whether they are good or not, I wonder if such works are naturally unpopular as they are not so easy to consume. Clicking the mouse button for headshots is so much simpler than digesting pages of text.

One of the items that came out of the Counterweight podcast on Fear of Twine is that twine is an unknown time commitment. Is this a long twine or a short twine? Who knows? Twines are meant to be consumed in one go, like a gaming snack, except many of them take a great deal of time to work through. Normally, a twine doesn’t impress you with any sense of how much is left before the story ends, particularly as branching messes with that. There are no page numbers. There is no book spine to gauge length.

Plus, it’s hard to save your progress in a twine. The new version of Twine does support “bookmarks” but if you’re one of those twine developers that hate the sidebar because it messes with “your vision” then the bookmark option is unlikely to be supported in your twine.

In sum, I get Twine now. But I don’t know if that has actually changed anything.

Twine Week

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  1. Excellent! Looking forward to seeing what comes out of this week’s posts.

    I’ve still not gotten round to writing about the rest of the exhibition myself – might just do a short post on AR and point people your way. I have however explained Twine to some new people and pointed them to the exhibition. My girlfriend is playing through it at the moment, and may try making her own, which is awesome!

    I wanted to like ‘Abstract State-warp Machines’ more than I did, but I’ve never overly cared for poetry, nor science fiction poetry (of which I’ve read more than most people, I’d imagine). I did explore it a fair bit though and enjoyed the branches. ‘Zombies and Elephants’ I really enjoyed, but only played the once. Things ended badly for our hero under my direction, but then it was my story.

    I shot over to Hammerport last week and read through the 7-part ‘Truth is Ghost’ story, which I found clarified elements of the story from a slightly different perspective – but still left things somewhat occluded. I also thought the prose in your Twine was rather better, and the overall tone not as awkwardly misanthropic (I am always suspicious of stories in which every human being is depicted as odious).

    Okay, so. I clearly want to talk more about all this, but I guess I should wait and see what comes up over the course of the week!

  2. Hey Shaun, thanks for reading. Tomorrow will be the big reveal-all for Truth is Ghost and I will also admit there the original Truth is Ghost is written in proto-Joel style. I know what you mean about “every human being depicted as odious” as I’m sure we can all remember stories where the narrator snipes and snarks at every human being around them. That uber-sarcasm seems standard in a lot of amateur writing prior to the writer levelling up a bit. I’m not sure why that is, but it is!

  3. I enjoy most those twine games which are the simpler (more accessible/lazy) ones, such as Chris Klimas work of fiction (which are very non-gamey), or perhaps michael lutz’s work (“Tower of the Blood Lord” and “my father’s long, long legs”, both of which are under an hour for playthrough). Text games in general take effort for me to sit down and play, and parser-games I’ve given up entirely, having scouted long enough for the Rameses’, Baron’s and similar story-driven games, to know that I’m done with everything worthwhile for me in the backlog of the IF community.

  4. @Ava: It’s like how I found The Scientific Method too straightforward for my tastes but part of me was relieved that the twine was easy to navigate. It’s interesting how we both gravitate towards “lazy” hypertext!


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