Unraveling Twine: Open Platforms and the Future of Hypertextual Literature

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Abstract (in English): 

As the technical affordances that shaped early electronic literature’s frontiers have become commonplace, hypertextual structures abound in our experiences of online texts. Many tools make it easier than ever to generate these types of works, but one of the most interesting for its demonstrated literary potential is Twine: a platform for building choice-driven stories easily publishable on the web without relying heavily on code. In software studies, a platform is defined by Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort as a hardware or software system that provides the “foundation of computational expression.” This definition can encompass any of the tools we use to develop procedural content, as Bogost noted on his blog: “a platform…is something that supports programming and programs, the creation and execution of computational media.” Examining Twine as a case-study among current open, non-coder friendly platforms probes the future of interactive narrative on the web—a future that, outside the traditional scope of the electronic literature community, is highly determined by the affordances of platforms and the desires of their user-developers. Twine is an open source platform with an interface that resembles a network of index cards, “tied” together by threads of meaning as defined by the writer and embedded in text. Works built in Twine hearken back to early electronic literature, evoking Hypercard and Eastgate hypertext novels, but their relationship with these established digital forms is not straightforward. The reception and definition of Twine as a platform recalls the many debates of definition surrounding electronic literature: works in Twine have been included in interactive fiction competitions, displayed at independent games festivals, and built as part of interactive story jams. However, despite Twine’s link to the hypertext novel, it has not been as visible in the electronic literature community. In an interview in The Guardian, designer and writer Anna Anthropy has called attention to the works in Twine as part of a “revolution,” noting that they offer a solution to some of the dehumanizing aspects of mainstream games: “I think that what I want to see more of in games is the personal – games that speak to me as a human being, that are relatable, which is the opposite of the big publisher games that I see. People who are creating personal games aren't hundred-person teams, they are people working at home, making games with free software of their own experiences.” Key Twine works evoking this personal literary construct include Nora Last's "Here's Your Rape", Finny's "At the Bonfire", Anna Anthropy's "Escape from the lesbian gaze,” and Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey, & Isaac Schankler's "Depression Quest." I will examine the structures of Twine and its role in shaping a new genre of hypertextual literature, and the potential implications of Twine for the broader future and definition of electronic literature itself.

(Source: Authors introduction)

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Thor Baukhol Madsen