Tu allan i fy ffenest, he says in his far from native Welsh, the cacynennau papuri have many choices in life. Breed, chew wood, hibernate, sting something, die with the hope of reincarnation as Susan Cabot, or write another creative non-fiction piece about how humans undertaking their mammalian activities resemble, or at least analogise, waspish activities.
This week’s lurch into the realm of digital literature is about choices. Hypertext literature, as we saw last week, offered the reader choices in a given narrative about where the story could go, but to make the reader more involved in the story, another digital literature has evolved—the game.
The CY(O)A book and electronic texts are types of interactive fiction. But the interaction with the books is pretty minimal, consisting of one or two decison followed by some page-flipping. Interactions with Hypetext can be just as detailed, but there’s no page-flipping, and you can have visual and aural modes in the text.
My introduction to the Choose Your (Own) Adventure genre came from my first game of Dungeons & Dragons back in 1978. My friend wrote the first module we played, because I couldn’t get my head around a game where there was no board or playing pieces. How could I play a game where I couldn’t be the battleship and secure those vital orange properties? Once Michael wrote the first module, and I got a handle on it from that, I wrote the second one we played. We could’ve played The Village of Hommlet which came with the books, but the damn thing was huge and not a great deal of fun. Plus, I like writing.
D&D was different to the CY(O)A book I discoered later, when I bought my first one, because it was a game. The players were different to readers not only because they could make a much wider range of decisions at a given point of choice, but that those decisions had consequences beyond the night’s playing. Hypertext literature could, but doesn’t seem to, have consequences for the reader that exist beyond the narrative. In a D&D game, if it’s properly run, anyway, choices about who you kill, what money you spend, whether you’re faithful to the gods, whether picking a fight in the local tavern with the apparently old but actually immensely peeved and ill-tempered hermit was as good an idea as it seemed before your sword just bounced off his forearm and two seconds later your codpiece was wedged into the chandelier with you still in it have consequences when you next assemble to play, or when you use your same characters to play in another module. The most common example of this is gaining experience, measured in experience points (XP) and gaining new powers and abilities, or osing them, as the XP increase or decrease..
Processing and accommodating those choices is best handled by a person which would leave it out of the realm of electronics. However, simpler decisions can be handled by computers programmed by people or, perhaps at some future date, other computers. They can be programmed into a game that has literary conventions, or an electronic text with game-like characteristics.
Enter TWINE. This is software that uses webpages to present your inteactive ficiton. The code is essentially just writng like you would a story, but with a few extra ‘punctuaiton marks’ such as brackets ‘[ ]’ to set up the linsk to move to the next webpage and continue the story. But the interaction can be more detailed, as you can set up conditional statements, such as
IF $haskey=FALSE "The door is locked" which might prevent you as the reader/player from entering a room or exting a room or bedding the princess or whatever it might be.
So, we have been set the task of remediating our narratives into a TWINE game. I am loving the hell out of this. I’m no coder, and I can handle HTML up to the point where it stops looking like a printed page and CSS unless it’s on a WordPress site where I can’t even find it, but I’m handling the mechanics of this pretty well. It’s doing what I expect it to do and there aren’t any surprises, which is a comfort to me as I try to think back to ‘winging it’ around the dining room table on those warm D&D nights when someone would ask “What’s behind this door?” and I’d have to scramble to say something like “There’s a thin crack at the bottom of the door through which you can see a cold, eldritch glow like moonlight. There’s the sound of snuffling and grunting coming from behind it, and you can hear the clank of chains against a stone wall.” Then they’d say “I kick the door in!” And I’d say “Give me a roll” and they’d make the roll and the door would cave in and the sixth level werewolf would rend them four ways from Sunday and I’d ask “What the hell made you think you could beat a fucking werewolf?”
Why didn’t girls like us?
In fact, questions like that can be asked and given several answers in a TWINE game. The game writer can put as many possible responses as they can think up, or actually ask the player for input. The story can move on ased on player choices orinut.
Story is what does does move on in a game. Interactive fiction can be very literary, but if you are designing a game the story has to move along. But you can still make each individual scene, or ‘passage’ as they are called in TWINE, as literary as your talent can make it.
Fundamental to this framework is the idea that games are more like artifacts than media. By this we mean that the content of a game is its behavior not the media that streams out of it towards thMDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research
Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, Robert Zubek,
The authors seek to design a taxonomic system such that games can be described into how they manage three aspects of the game itself. These aspects are Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics. The mechancis are the nuts and bolts of the game, the dynamics are how the game is played, and the aesthetics are what the player gets out of the game.
For example, in Monopoly, the mechanics of the game are the rolling dice and the numbers that generates and the design of the board; the dynamics of the game are the movement of players, the exchange of money in rent and fines and the actions imposed by the Chance and Community Chest cards; and the aesthetics are what the player derives from the game.
In electronics games, there’s the possibility of an artificial intelligence being used to provide the dynamics of the game. The better the AI, the more realistic a game can get, as the choices and consequences can mirror those in ‘real life’. I’m putting apostrophes around that because the ultimate simulation of real life would be if real life were itself a simulation that we’re all living in.
Turning a narrative into a TWINE game, or any kind of game, is a form of remediation. The MDA mechanism for classifying games could also work as classification for narrative text, especially poetry. When remediating a narrative into a TWINE game, though, one question is ‘How faithful to the narrative do you have to be?’. My narrative, or the one I supplied for this class, was more or less a simple travelogue with a (hopefully) logical end to it. It isn’t very deep, and short sentences to describe a particular ‘passage’ are sufficient to cover everything I was going to say in the original narrative e. Somebody else would, or had better, have a more deep, complex and sensitive narrative than mine. If that complexity, depth and sensitivity can be expressed in text, then it can be expressed in TWINE. The choices you can make are how the game expresses its particular group of aesthetics, and if it’s faithful to the original narrative, it will express the narrative’s aesthetics, too. You can even work backwards from the game to determine what the aesthetics of the narrative are, and then decide whether the author has got them across.
The possibilities for creating drama and deeper narrative in a game are themselves drmastised in Four Tanks and a Healer (Longstreth 2011).
Finally—oops, penultimately, it’s fun to write these games. The game has simpler phrasing and sentences than my original narrative, but the desirability of giving the reader/player multiple choices at each point, or in TWINE terms, multiple links from each passage to give choice, has meant the game can move off into strange new directions. Good ones, I hope. Not ‘Revolution No. 9‘ So, I have had a whale of a time venting my spleen on crap movies, Gippsland, pseudo-intellectual cab drivers etc which weren’t in the original narrative.
Finally, a note on the title. PANOSE, TWAIN and TWINE were acronyms that I didn’t and, in the case of TWINE, don’t understand. PANOSE doesn’t stand for anything – it’s the group of letters whose shapes, when defined, show up differences between fonts. TWAIN doesn’t stand for anything, either, and is apparently derived from the phrase ‘never the twain shall meet’, reflecting the difficulty of connecting computers anad scanners. I don’t know what TWINE stands for. Because there are three of these things, I connected them with Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. So there.