Author: Dan Cox

Bio: Dan Cox is a graduate student at Old Dominion University studying identity creation and maintenance in video games with research interests in digital humanities, technical communication, and writing studies.


In the few years since Twine was declared an integral part of a growing revolution and renowned developers like Anna Anthropy and Porpentine were championed for their work, we have seen  story-oriented projects that reject industry labels climb up the Interactive Fiction Database charts to become some of the most played and highly rated video games. Twine itself has undergone a transformation through the often uncelebrated work of its supporters from a mostly unknown desktop application to a fully-featured online editor capable of running on nearly any device with a web browser. The ability to host games on anything from to Steam has seen interest in using Twine explode to unprecedented levels, which in turn is changing the landscape of game design for players and developers.

Yet, the fight for inclusion continues. Despite the release of Depression Quest (2013) on Steam signifying a new era of Twine games officially recognized by large commercial marketplaces, the ongoing struggle for access and accessibility of projects across platforms and social media is as fierce as ever. In its search for a firm self-identity, the game community continues to wrestle with the very real problem and question of who can call themselves a developer. There are healthy debates over the preservation of certain definitions and over the necessity of letting some aspects fade away, but these discussions can also serve as sources of division between us when we have far, far more in common than not.

What we need is support and what we need to be is supportive. All too frequently, the community is reminded of the passage from Anna Anthropy’s (2012) book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: “The problem with videogames is that they’re created by a small, insular group of people” (p. 5). Although accessibility is ostensibly greater and opportunities to create games are numerous, the knowledge to create is often limited to only a few people. Even with users like VegetarianZombie — and myself to a much smaller degree — posting YouTube videos on how to create and use different functionalities in Twine, and even with the always active Twine forum ready to reach out a hand to those struggling, there are many who face a discouraging lack of helpful resources.

As educators, we face the same issues the community does but transformed through the lens of academia. While the classroom is rarely the front line in the identity wars that rage far away from us, the concerns reach us still in small ways. We rarely have to justify if something is a game or not; instead, we shift to justifying their use in the classroom in the first place. Our imperative, then, is to challenge the assumptions of our students and sometimes other faculty as to how games might help them understand themselves and others. In the process, we may uncover new ways to build empathy and embrace diversity.

Where educators can achieve the most good is in utilizing games as part of carefully-designed pedagogy. Teachers have always sought to enable students to pursue and engage in lifelong learning; games represent the process and product of such learning by showing students how their work can build to something larger outside of the classroom. The idea that students could merely pick up a tool like Twine and make an award-winning game or story — or even a simple expression of their lived experience! – can seem outright alien to many. Because of the impact of large commercial games on the marketplace, students sometimes assume they must be able to do the work of hundreds, if not thousands, of people to make a game. They do not consider, as Rise of the Videogame Zinesters argues, that all that is required is themselves and a small amount of time for composing.

Because some in the greater community can sometimes flounder when looking for help through older guides and dated videos, we as educators can step in as guides who allow our students to safely fail before finally succeeding. By learning from the Twine revolution, we can then equip students to be better stewards of their knowledge and selves when they leave our classrooms. Let us emulate the model of many developers and allies and push against those who might exclude anyone for any reason from trying to make games.

The sparks from 2013 continue to burn. But these passionate, inspired individuals need our support. As educators, developers, writers, editors, and readers, it is up to us to nurture Twine, to help others, and to encourage accessibility through the links of our combined knowledge. You do not need advanced knowledge to make games. You do not need to know coding (although it helps). And, yes, you too can make games through tools like Twine and many others. The first step is a click away.


CBB Editors’ note:

I stumbled onto Dan Cox’s site, Digital Ephemera, while preparing for a series of CBB posts on Twine. None of us here had that much knowledge about the engine, but through those like Dan – and Michael Lutz – the learning process became much easier. Both of them were instrumental in helping me see that Twine is capable of creating much more than basic, digitized fiction. I found that as I experimented with different story formats and endeavored to use only JS/CSS, I wished there were more tutorials (especially for Twine 2’s Snowman) and a larger range of sample products like Dan’s (again, for Twine 2’s Snowman).