Ephemeral Words, Ephemeral People: Suicide and Choice in Twine Games

Abstract (in English): 

On April 10th, 2014, game designer Porpentine released a game called Everything you swallow will one day come up like a stone with the intention of deleting it at the end of the day: “This game will be available for 24 hours and then I am deleting it forever. You can download it here until then. What you do with it, whether you distribute, share, or cover it, is up to you.” The game has lived on through what Porpentine predicted as “social means,” but it was designed as an ephemeral text, and one which the author deliberately destroyed as part of the act of creation. This idea of a vanishing text is interwoven with the experience of electronic literature, as Marjorie C. Luesebrink notes, as part of a practice of “text erasure” as embracing “self-undermining, undecidability, disdain for commercialization, ambivalence about technology, struggle against the presence of text itself, and response to overwhelming data” but also “the fragility of memory” (2014). Porpentine’s work, built using the hypertext platform Twine, is a reminder both of how easy it is to delete an electronic file but also how difficult, as the ghosts of “Everything you swallow will one day come up like a stone echo across the internet. Likewise, it asks us to engage with the aftermath of the “deletion” of a human life in a manner that makes use of the particular affordance of Twine, which Jane Friedhoff has noted as particularly suited to experimental works at the margins (2014).

The poetics of Twine embrace the uneasy boundary between the ephemeral and fixed text, as each traversal of a Twine text marks a path visible only as it is traversed. They question the assumptions of game systems, recalling Espen Aarseth’s question “what player…would actually commit suicide, even virtually?” (2004). That question, posed ten years ago, as part of a discussion of the contradictions and possibilities of “interactive narrativism,” is one Twine games are well on their way to answering by crafting literary contexts in which an apparent choice is no choice at all. In Twine game, there is often no way to win in the conventional sense, and certainly the outcome of Everything you swallow is pre-determined. Such works also recall the structures and mechanisms of hypertext novels and similar choice-driven interactive fiction. I will examine the engagement with suicide and the destruction of self and text through several Twine works: Porpentine’s aforementioned Everything you swallow, collective Tsukerata’s You Were Made For Loneliness (2014), Gaming Pixie’s The Choice (2013), Pierre Chevalier’s Destroy / Wait (2013), and Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest (2013). In each, the reader-player is invited to consider the mechanisms and social pressures surrounding the “choice” of suicide, and in doing so to confront the consequences of the erasure of self and text.

(Source: ELO 2015 Conference Catalog)

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Hannah Ackermans