BAWRT 2004

Week 6 — TWINEing for the Fjords

The autumn is closing in. Virus panic and coronaphobia have meant that I’m more or less sealed in the house, with occasional outings to the supermarket for the necessities of life. What social life I did have before COVID-19 swept up out of Asia and plunged us all into an economic and social future resembling a cross between Nineteen Eighty-Four and some Steinbeck-y sort of thing about how life was real during the Depression, is largely online now. It was largely online then. It’s a smidge colder, but the news isn’t crammed full of rugby crap, so it balances out. Except for the pubs being closed, life has hardly altered at all.

Not so for the paper wasps. Self-isolation has cut them off even from other paper wasps next door. Across the road might as well be another country for them. Not only can’t they get there, but the airline they booked to get there on has somehow crumpled like an abandoned nest which has been run over by a pre-abandoned shopping trolley.

So much for topical references. I might not—I definitely don’t—understand why Virgin has gone under. I’ve flown them a couple of times and, having discovered they’re not much different to Qantas domestically, wouldn’t fly them again. Less service for the same price? fFights scheduled to leave at 2:30 which never leave at all? And two or three hundred regional airports they don’t even bother to serve once a week? I have the flying kangaroo for that! They could’ve offered an alternative, but they chose not to.

Will TWINE do any better at competing with older, more normal forms of literature? Can we even legitimately stretch an airline analogy to cover the activity of two modes of narrative? Damn right we can!

Because, if we can’t, this isn’t creative non-fiction.

After all, TWINE and conventional narrative are attempting the same job, just as Virgin and the other airlines are doing. The ultimate goal of narrative is to tell stories, the ultimate goal of airlines is to inconvenience the peripatetic and make them pay for the privilege.

Posted TWINE

This week, a lot of the people in BAWRT 2004/3004 posted their first TWINE games. Most of them were much more literary than mine, but then so were the narratives that each person had written and bzsed their game on. My original story was more or less a travelogue (around Ballarat, too) with a cute logical ending, and the game became that, too. Even though we were supposed to keep them simple, we had a two-week break over Easter, and these things are so easy to write, and so easy to make narrative branches of, that restraining myself to keeping it simple, by keeping the word count of the game close to the word count of the original story, meant I couldn’t restrain myself. I put branches in the narrative that seemed fun at the time. I wasted an inordinate amount of verbiage, even for me, taking out my spleen on various types of movie that you might see in a cinema nowadays—or would’ve seen before what I’m hoping future people will call, in a science-fictiony way, the Covidity.

Some people have remarked on how humorous mine was. Well, that was the idea. The original narrative was meant to be light-hearted, so the TWINE story should match that, and it seems it has. But others have been literary, or quite moving, or both. Some have had much better hooks than mine did, and some have left me wanting more, so I hope they do their final project as a TWINE game. I sure will be.

Writing the game has shown a few problems with TWINE, though. I was wondering how you’d cite a TWINE game. You could put page numbers on each screen or ‘passage’ in a game, but they wouldn’t have a sequence unless you, by some happy chance or just being railroaded into one narrative line, be in any sequence. But if you’re citing the game, you could refer to the page number and hope someone found it eventually when they wanted to verify your source.

Also, saving a game has proven problematic for a few people, including me. But then, a couple of people were able to read my first saved and submitted game with no problems, whereas I wasn’t able to. It seemed to save the game as a text document, not a HTML file. You’d think WordPress would’ve gotten me used to bizarre shit happening with HTML in the name of convenience, but I had trouble actually getting a HTML file out of TWINE. Other people seemed to have none. (Parenthetically, I’ll say that the problem is solved by renaming the file with a .html extension.)

What does it mean, literature-wise?

The most important thing about electronic literature, especially where it’s interactive and requires some action from the reader, is that the reader has an effect on the from of the narrative. Where choices exist, the reader shapes the narrative by making those choices. In TWINE, you can even shape the reader’s choices by adding in additional consequences from each choice, and thus motivations for the reader to make a given choice. For example, you can add measureing tools to affect the character’s happiness, boredom, dedperation etc and the reader can, through their choices, affect how the character is feeling and what they can do.

This addresses a complaint about ‘choose your own adventure’ narratives. In these, the protagonist’s character doesn’t grow because the reader is the protagonist and their character is outside the author’s control and, since the adventure can go all over the place based on choices and page flipping, the protagonist can get to certain character-growing incidents more or less randomly, or through different chains of scenes. Ideally, any chain of scenes will read like a normal narrative, but jumping around various scenes to get to the ‘growth moment’ for the character strains credibility for the reader.

At this point I’d like you to imagine a play like that. Actors come on, do their thing, but in each performance scenes are ordered randomly. Does it strain coherency to the breaking oint? Does that even matter? In the sense that art is supposed to generate an emotional response, no. But there ought to be more to more to narrative than just feeling bamboozled, enlightened, quizzical or $110.95 more broke.

But, if certain choices cause reduced happiness, or increased hunger, or radically changed dandruff in the protagonist, and the reader can choose to make that happen, then the author surrenders some control of the narrative to the reader. At least, the author can provide the illusion that he’s surrendering control. After all the author has written down all the choices that the reader can make in the TWINE game, so where does the control really come from?

Well, the control of the reader comes from the author, who can limit the choices the reader has. The control of the character comes from the reader who makes those choices. Both have agency. The reader’s is immediate because their choices affect which screens they go to and what happens to the character in each reading. The author’s control is more remote, but they provide the framework from which the reader’s control comes, and they can control the reader, or at least motivate them, by what consequences for the character they can contrive within the narrative.


The author’s control extends by designing consequences for the reader to embrace, avoid or ignore. By including other modes within their electronic narrative, something beyond the power of a printed work, they can influence the reader’s emotional responses to each screen within the text. Music is the most important tool here, as it is in other meida like films, but colour can also work, as can sound effects. In my own TWINE game, for example, bells are an important part of the story, so I could put the sound of a bell each time you transition to a new screen in the game. The bell sound could be pitched higher or lower depending on the situation into which the reader has clicked. A hight pitch bell is a happy bell, a low-pitched bell is a sad bell. The pointhere is that I, or any author, creates these effects by the scenes they create.

And that’s only sound. There’s colour, font and background pictures to use, too. One day, there might be smell. Another aspect possible with some really adroit coding is to deduct money from the reader’s bank account so that they literally pay if they make the wrong choice. Questions of the legality of that last one aren’t germane to the study of electronic literature, but we can discuss them in greater detail as soon as I can find a nice island without an extradition treaty.

New Art, New Critique

Electronic literature, of which TWINE games are a subset, is a new form of literature. Well, it is using a new medium, with possibilities that traditional media didn’t give literature. Some people have taken this to mean that it is a new type of literature since, they argue, it isn’t bound by the constraints of storytelling, narrative, characterisation etc but can still be good. But if it can neglect those things, how can it be good? The quality of literature, certainly if it’s not ‘genre fiction’ is storytelling, mirative, characterisation, so how does changing the medium change what makes it good?

This new art demands, or perhaps generates, new criticism. A much better discussion of that is over here. I’m not buying the parts of this new critique I can even understand. Sure, there’s a new medium, but to repeat myself, the criteria of quality don’t change. What criteria can you add to e-lit to show its differences from conventional, printed literature?

Of course, you can be arbitrary about it. People did make commentaries on what constituted a good website as soon as browsers were invented that could make a webpage resemble a magazine page. But the criteria were the same as those applied to a magazine page. Ultimately, what changes between conbentinal prined literatutre and hypertext, e-lit or the combinaton of HTML and other effects that is summed up as ‘hypermedia’ is that flipping pages went from a lengthy process that required some surveying of page numbers and, at least in magazines, the possibility that an ad would grab your attention and you’d read the copy, to a simple click. That’s the difference the electric Internet and ‘computers’ (where we define a phone as a computer) that access it provides.

Esoteric criticism, database replacing narrative, naïve amazement with the miracle of communication that is the World Wide Web that always reminds me of the fascination film critics have with the moving image, even if the moving image isn’t doing anything of consequence – these all count for nothing against the traditions of narrative that have gone through the natural selection of the literary ecology and won out because they best match what we’ve evolved to like. Or rather, those characteristics of literature that are the least worst solution to whatever need or gap stories satisfy or fill. Will e-lit develop to the point where it has conventions that satisfy us, but which we – well, I – can’t even guess at?

It’s all at the whim of this damn virus.

And, need I say, the wasps.

BAWRT 2004

Week 5 — PANOSE, TWAIN and TWINE — An Eternal Golden Braid

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 th

MDA: 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.

Much better minds than mine have covered the idea here and here.

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.