Silenced

My story, entitled “Silenced,” follows a young female college student who is a victim of sexual assault and is unable to heal from her trauma because of society’s rape culture, victim blaming, and slut shaming. I chose to write my story in a medium built for locative narratives, 7scenes, because I felt that by incorporating the actual locations, it would force the reader to actually have go from place to place and feel the pain the main character has to go through, putting him or her in the shoes of so many sexual assault victims, many of whose stories go untold or are trivialized into shame and silence.

Although I think that locative narrative was a particularly effective medium for my story, there were also many constraints that 7scenes imposed. One of the biggest ones was that, unfortunately, the free version does not come with any other option other than Sight Seeing, which meant that I could not lock the locations and force the reader to go on a prearranged path. Since my story was a pretty traditional narrative that had a certain order of events that should not be read out of order, this was particularly constraining. For instance, I had a location that was quite close to one of the other locations found earlier in the story, so if you walked past it to get to the right location, there is a good chance the wrong text box will pop up when it should not be read yet. I found a way around this by asking readers to head a certain way at the end of a text, but I felt that it detracted from the story and the immersive element. Not only that, the reader doesn’t actually have to go to the location to read the text, which really kills the entire point.

I also was unable to format my text in any way; this meant that I could not bold, italicize, or center any of my text, and I would have wanted to include italics in order to convey Amanda’s inner thoughts to herself, such as her talking to herself when she blames herself for the incident. Another constraint was that I had only 2500 characters per block of text. Fortunately, you could add a multimedia marker that would allow you to create two slides at a location, but I still had to think about where I would leave off on a block of text and start a new one.

7scenes also had a lot of really great affordances, many that I did not take full advantage of or explore at all. Granted, many of the affordances were more suited to a game-like story and would not have fit my theme. I did play around with adding pictures, audio, and video in hopes that it added more realism or at least connected what you were viewing on your phone with the world around you.

I don’t think that any other medium would have been more effective than 7scenes, but I think an interesting take on these themes would be to express them through a hypertext fiction such as Twine. Sexual assault is the most under-reported crime, with an estimated 63% not being reported to the police for a variety of complex reasons, and Twine with its affordance of choice and alternate routes could illustrate how victims deal with the aftermath and their wounds in different ways.

I hope that although my story may be lacking in many ways, especially coming from someone who has not experienced this personally, it still has the ability to make one feel empathy towards the main character and sexual assault victims everywhere.


If you would like to read through my story, download 7scenes and search for “Silenced.” Download it and start at the green marker.

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Rowdy in the Work Place

http://dcc.umd.edu/portfolio/akim/hdcc208/rowdyintheworkplace.html

I wrote a story called “Rowdy in the Work Place” about being sexually harassed at work. I chose Twine as my medium.

When you write a story, I think the main objective is to immerse the reader. Mobile locative narratives do this by using real life locations, and VR does this by dropping the reader in a 3D virtual environment. Twine stories do this by giving the reader the power of choice, and that is one of the affordances of Twine. I can create different paths that change depending on the reader’s choices. I did this by creating a main office and adding hyperlinks that send you to different sections the office such as your desk, the break room, and the meeting room. For my story, however, I kind of created the illusion of choice. The reader MUST go to their desk twice a day to do work but has the option to go to the break room or have lunch every day if they want to. But regardless of the reader’s decisions and where they go and what they do, the sexual assault still happens and the ending is essentially the same for every route. I wanted to send a message that the actions of a victim of sexual assault does not cause sexual assault to happen to them.

Also, with Twine I am able to create different paths. I think it worked especially well for my story because you can choose the gender of the main character. I thought about making the gender of the main character ambiguous, but I think sexual assault is closely related to gender and I wanted to incorporate that into the story.

Twine is also good because the user has a lot of freedom to code and change things. I added backgrounds to different tags to help the reader visualize the office and help immerse the reader. However, it would have been interesting to re-create this story in VR and place the reader in an actual office setting. Then the fear of going to certain places and of seeing certain people would become more real. I think it would be interesting if the player were to see the assaulter from far away and purposely turn around and avoid that person to protect themselves.

I found the biggest constraint of Twine is the coding language. I included a lot of coding with true/false and if-else statements so I could create different paths. However, if I nested two or more if-else statements inside of each other, it became very confusing and hard to keep track of them. I found myself testing the story very often to debug. Twine does have a debugging view, but I also had some integer variables that changed throughout the story to show different pages which prevented me from being able to check a lot of the code in the debugging view. In the end I had to go through the story myself, many times so to make sure that the right text was showing up at the right times.

Overall, I still think Twine was the best medium to tell my story, but different mediums could have added their own interesting twists and features to the story.

Leaving Home: An Illustration of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

My Twine story illustrating a perspective of the Syrian refugee crisis, “Leaving Home”, was very dynamic and changed directions many times while I was writing it. At first, I wanted to continue and expand upon my previous Twine Story about the plane crash. I really wanted to make the endings more interesting and consequential and possibly include some character development. However, I ultimately decided that it would be more appropriate to start fresh and create a new story that will allow me to write without constraints to what I have already done.

Analyzing the current events in the news, I decided that I wanted to create a story that would communicate a message on a more personal level to the audience. I wanted the story to catalyze people to action or at least allow them to gain a new viewpoint on an issue or event that they may have initially been unfamiliar with.

I didn’t want to be political or choose sides in the issue that I chose to write about. I wanted to appeal to the pathos of the audience and bring them into the world of the people facing the issue. A prominent issue that I felt needed more attention was the Syrian refugee crisis. The Syrian civil war has been going on for 5 years now and has torn apart the country and marred the lives of its citizens. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 4.8 million citizens have moved to the surrounding countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. 6.6 million have been internally displaced within the country. Even so, 1 million Syrians have requested asylum to Europe.

I was curious about the experiences of these refugees. A refugee’s story really never ends. It has a definite beginning but an indefinite end. Their whole life is forever changed by the experiences they had to face. This is why I wanted to focus on the beginning of the journey of the refugees. I wanted to illustrate the choices that they had to face during such a big transition. I was also interested in researching about the current conditions in Syria. As I learned more about the state of the cities in Syria, I wanted to explore what could happen there. I researched what kind of altercations civilians had with soldiers and used those stories as inspirations for the interactions the character has.

I also wanted to provide the reader with a sense of agency but still show how often in tense situations, the choices made lead to endings that are indeed not much better than other outcomes. For example, when the character is approaching the checkpoint they can choose to either go through it or avoid it. Whatever choice they choose will lead to a different interaction with the soldiers manning the checkpoint but ultimately the interaction is negative and leads the character to decide to leave Syria with his family.

Twine was a great media to tell this story. The affordances of adding pictures and video to slides really added to the immersive nature of the story. I used pictures to illustrate settings and to provide the reader with a visual with which to associate the text to. Changing the background color to a brownish-red also set the feel of the story to urgent yet nervous.

I really enjoyed creating this project and learning more about the implications and effects of the Syrian refugee crisis. I am now more informed and sensitive to what is going on in the lives of those affected.

You can check it out here: Leaving Home

 

Urban Tumbleweed II

Play now!

Urban Tumbleweed II is simultaneously an outgrowth of my original Twine game and a self-contained exploration of the medium.

I understood before I began my project that working in Twine comes with some very significant constraints – primarily, the fact that it is a text-based platform vying for attention in a world of pervasive and breathtaking graphics. The original Urban Tumbleweed contained only one image: its namesake, a plastic bag, frozen in midair on the start screen. I chose to use this same image in my second Twine game to capture the same entropic aesthetic and to convey that original metaphor of the homeless as rootless and discarded by society as a whole. But while experimenting with embedding additional images and videos, I became increasingly aware of the constraints of Twine’s text-based format. Embedding media is clunky at best, and at worst it interfered with what I was attempting to convey through the game. This is not to say it cannot be done – I was impressed by Ryan’s incorporation of National Geographic documentaries in his own Twine game, for example – but I feel that it enhances some projects much more so than others. I believe that my own work was influenced by my exposure to Porpentine’s Twine creations; the potency of which is nearly always derived from bare text.

If Twine’s reliance on text is its greatest constraint, I would argue that agency is its greatest affordance. Hypertext fiction affords the author/designer a great deal of control over the amount of agency that a reader/player has (or believes that he has). In several instances, I force the reader/player to switch out of the role of the main character and instead assume the persona of a character who seeks to do her harm. In the instance when she encounters the businessman in the metro tunnel, the reader/player takes on his persona and must choose whether to kick over her paper cup full of money or to steal it. Both of these possibilities harm the main character, in whom at some level of empathy has been invested by this point in the game. The reader/player must then immediately resume the role of the main character, who must decide how to react to what took place. This motif allowed me to explore both sides of the equation. It can be easy to empathize with a character experiencing extreme poverty, particularly once you are forced to make choices from their perspective. But I believe that experiencing the perspective of someone like the clearly bigoted businessman can make the experience all the more potent.

Ultimately, I enjoyed being able to experiment with the illusion of agency (à la Porpentine) in this way. From my original Twine game to my Practitioner Presentation to my final story, I have spent a great deal of time working with hypertext fiction throughout this semester. Though I would by no means consider myself well-versed in the medium – I would need to work considerably more with the affordances of HTML and CSS in order to claim that epithet – I believe that I have grown considerably in my understanding of the nature of stories and storytelling. Twine is versatile and intuitive enough that I can realistically see myself continuing to work with it in the future, and not just through the rose-tinted glasses of the end of the semester.

 

The Desecration

INSTRUCTIONS: Find “The Desecration” on 7Scenes. Start with the blue pin and save the green pin for last. If you wish to do the story during the weekend or between the 21st of December and the 3rd of January, use the attached PDF to create your tokens or come to me directly. tokens

 

This story was something I thoroughly enjoyed making. I took a lot of liberty in the things I make the players do in the story. I wanted to focus on the interaction between the story and the real world. Because of this, almost all of the pins have some physical interaction with the space. I thought that this was the best way to exploit the affordance of real world interaction. Unfortunately, I don’t think I did a very good job of appealing to the aesthetic of the world. Most of the pins are in areas for their practical usage in the story rather than their scenery.

In terms of constraints, I found that making these interactions with the real world might fall flat. This is especially apparent in the interactions with props. The tokens used for a large amount of the story are harder to distribute than I thought they would be. This is mostly due to the poor timing of the TAWES office shutting down for the holidays. Luckily, I was able to find ways around this problem. At the same time, these methods take away from the story and the situation is still fairly unfortunate. The second prop that I am concerned about is the maze book. I was unable to find a place for it directly next to the maze and had to settle for somewhere somewhat close by. The other problem is that this area where I put the maze book is also used to house another book. While this may not be a problem, it still presents some conflict that I hope will not result in disaster.

Another constraint was my ability to coherently make a point with the narrative. Often times, the areas are more about the actions done rather than their implications. In one way, this kind of amplifies my point (that being people get caught up in their own trivial pursuits to realize the full meaning or opportunity in what they are doing). It was also very difficult to lay out any complex back story to the world. On the one hand, this is due to the desire to convey through the locative medium rather than plain text. In a way it makes me unwilling to make a wall of text in the beginning for people to start out with. However, this constraint also allowed me to keep the reader ignorant of most things, which, as a new member to a society, is somewhat realistic.

I regret a few things about this project. I wish I would have been able to think of a way to flesh out the power structure of the Desecrated and get my political point across more concisely without coming out and saying it in plain text. I also wish that I would have thought of more creative powers for people to gain along the way. Despite all this, I enjoy what I made and I hope those who play it have a fun time embarrassing themselves across campus.

No Politics at Dinner

“No Politics at Dinner” puts you in the shoes of a liberal-leaning college student navigating different conversations with their parents, most about social issues. You’re presented with different choices as to how to respond to questions or statements with which you disagree.

Read it here: http://dcc.umd.edu/portfolio/bkitts/hdcc208/nopoliticsatdinner.html


“No Politics at Dinner” is my attempt at bringing to light the choices that my peers and I make daily in interacting with an older generation that often doesn’t understand or share our views. It is a story for a niche audience, and will not resonate even with all millennials. I cannot speak for everyone and do not pretend to have all the answers even for those who have similar experiences, but I hope that this story is taken as my unassuming nudge toward openness, civility, and productive discourse.

Each month begins with a sort of prompt in the form of some comment that a character in the story makes or some shared experience (for example, a newspaper lying open on the kitchen table). Narration summarizes the main character’s response and may give an external link to put that response in context. I wanted to be sure to reference the experiences and media that led to the formation of those views, hoping to provoke some thought about how the other participant in the conversation might have different prior experiences and corresponding beliefs. (I had previously considered more explicitly showing the other side of the story, but I just don’t feel qualified to write it.)

The story evolves primarily through changes within passages rather than by moving onto a different “path” (i.e., a unique sequence of passages). I kept track of player choices using the (history:) macro along with variables specific to my story (e.g. (set: $silences to $silences + 1) to make a note of a silence). Then, I used Twine’s (if:) macro to rearrange the order in which choices  appear. May appears the same way for everyone, since no information about the player has been collected at that point. June/July and August show the option that most resembles the user’s most recent decision as the first choice (e.g. (if: (history:)’s last is “name of a passage where the player character chose to be silent“)[show silence as first option]). September shows the silence option first if the player chose to be silent a majority of the previous times. December is similar, except that it randomly chooses which option to display first if the player chose to be silent exactly half the time. January shows an “ending” to the story based on which kind of choice the player picked the most.

The base content of the story remains the same; in other words, no matter what choices you make, you still have to go through the basic events that happen May through January. What changes is the way that you experience them: whether you choose to speak up or stay silent, whether the tone of the conversation is casual or tense. Additionally, those choices predispose you to make similar choices in the future. Twine’s ability to collect information and then adjust output makes it a great medium to express that idea.

On the other hand, Twine’s dependence on text can limit how immersive it can be in comparison to something like an interactive series of videos (for example, my HDCC106 project). A video in which you can actually see the other person talking and are then given the ability to “respond,” sending you to the next video in the sequence that corresponds with your choice, could be really powerful. Then again, you would lose the ambiguity about the story’s characters that Twine easily supplies: if there is a voice actor speaking the words that you select, you’re not imagining your own voice; likewise, if you see an actor on screen, you’re not imagining your own parent.

I think that my story is well suited to Twine. Twine has useful affordances in the ability to link to external content and to design the story to evolve with player choices. The ambiguity of text allows the player to more easily slip into the life of the main character. And you can’t argue with the efficiency of what you get out for what you put in: an aesthetically clean, interactive story that is easily managed through a visual web mapping the connections between passages. There’s value in a medium that anyone can learn to use, especially for a topic like this.

Decision

http://dcc.umd.edu/portfolio/fdenhard/hdcc208/decision.html

 

The 2016 Presidential Election was one of the most divisive elections in the history of the United States. Since Trump’s victory, society has perpetuated fear, disappointment, and hatred for the voters of the opposing side. This rampant animosity has become a plague on society. People are free to voice their dissatisfaction with the results, but it has come to a point where they are demonizing half the nation.

With this project, I wanted to explore the some of the social decisions people make with Trump or Hillary supporters alike. To do this, I chose to use Twine as my storytelling platform. My experience with Twine this time around differed greatly from my previous encounter, where I basically used it to tell a linear story that could be explored and the reader was able to take closer looks at the world of the narrative. For this story, however, I chose to put a larger emphasis on the ability of the reader to change the story based on their decisions. The events of the story are always the same, but it’s the player that changes. The player makes a decision almost every page, resulting in a wide array of unique experiences. This made writing the story particularly cumbersome, almost like fighting a hydra; I would write one page only to triple the number of pages I needed to write.

What I want to explore specifically was how the decisions the reader made shaped his or her social interactions with his or her friends and family. No matter how you vote on the first page, your father is always Republican and your friends are always Democrats. You can play with the dynamics by determining whether or not to bring up politics, who you get lunch with, and where you view the results. Each of these decisions provides a unique set of conversations. Depending on your choices, you may end up weakening or strengthening your relationships between your dad or your friends. There are multiple endings, but none of them are exactly satisfying. There is maybe one I consider the “good ending”, but even that is laced with uncertainty.

Twine also afforded me the ability to use image and video. There are a few pages with a picture or video that I feel adds to the experience. The presentation is definitely enhanced by these scenes that help the reader visualize the story.

Overall, Twine gave me everything I wanted to tell this story. It is possible to translate this story to perhaps a locative narrative, but I would lose the ability to let the reader make decisions that change the narrative. Another early consideration was the write the story as a full-fledged text adventure. This would allow the reader to truly explore the world, but again, I would fail to tailor the story to the reader’s individuality.

Twine is a medium that is able to tell story with empathy. With this story, I tried to understand the feelings of people with differing ideologies. I think anyone can read my story making the decisions they visualize themselves making, but there is also merit playing it as someone else and trying to understand them, rather than demonize them.

Snapshot

http://dcc.umd.edu/portfolio/rscott/hdcc208/snapshot.html

The link above will lead you to a Twine game I created dubbed “Snapshot”. The idea behind the game was to increase awareness about and help people understand what social anxiety feels like. I have some level of social anxiety and, from my perspective, I think most people acknowledge that social anxiety exists but don’t know what it’s like to have simple situations changed by its presence. For that reason, I chose to try to get my point across through Twine. Twine allows me to create decisions for the “player” to make that will change their story. I wanted the “player” to feel like they had close to the same level of autonomy as one would have in normal life. However, because you yourself have social anxiety in “Snapshot” I decided to take away some of that autonomy.

Since it’s quite difficult to describe in words what social anxiety feels like I decided to exploit the links in Twine to create frustration from the player as they try to navigate what seems like a normal day. It was easy to create extreme frustration but difficult to hold a balance between frustration and the story. Too much frustration would detract from the reader but too little wouldn’t make this story seem any different from any other story about a kid at college. I have what I think is a good balance, but there are still some aspects of living with social anxiety that I couldn’t figure out how to add, ironically they’re the same aspects that are hardest to explain.

I think it would have possible to do this through a locative game as well. If I had chosen that route, I would have instead focused on the environment around where you’re standing and describe what that feels like when you have social anxiety. Then, the player would have been able to compare how they feel currently with what I wrote within the game. There isn’t much value in walking around when it comes to my story; that only would have allowed me to talk about multiple places and situations that are fairly common. The main problem with using a locative media platform, such as 7scenes, would have been that the “player” never would have had to make a decision throughout the game, and that is one aspect that I feel like is vital to the story.

This is one story that is possible to tell through many mediums, but each medium would focus on a different aspect of social anxiety and be able to show a different viewpoint at the condition. Twine would focus on the decision making, a locative narrative would focus on how one views the environment around them, and something like a machinima story could be the equivalent of a movie where the main character has social anxiety. To me, the last option is probably the least viable in this sense because movies like those have been made already, but there is a possibility for new viewpoints to arise if the movie is made by someone who lives with social anxiety themselves. All in all, I think this is a topic that, along with all other mental health conditions, needs more attention and stories like “Snapshot” are a step in that direction.

Corruption Junction

You’re a small-town journalist who is offered the opportunity of a lifetime. Should you join an election campaign full of surprises, or will you remain at your small-town newspaper for the rest of your life? Click HERE to play!

Critical Reflection:

In general, I enjoy working with Twine. I think that the visualization of the hyperlinks between passages is really advantageous when trying to create a cohesive piece of hyperlink fiction, and I like the coding aspect of the medium. Twine really allowed me to explore different paths when writing my story, and I think that the branching aspect of the medium was important when trying to avoid the “single story” that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talked about in her TED Talk. Part of this freedom to have many different storylines play out came from the ability to incorporate variables into the narrative. I used this many times within my story, perhaps in a manner that isn’t visible to the reader, but that affects the content of the story “under the hood”. For example, instead of creating branching paths at certain points, boolean variables recorded the reader’s reaction to an event and macros changed the content of a passage to reflect the appropriate reaction. I also used variables as a way to keep track of which passages had and had not been visited, when the order in which the passages were read didn’t matter. I also enjoyed using tags and CSS to customize the background of each passage based on the general physical location of the action in the passage. But, Twine had its drawbacks too. I found it very difficult to embed audio into the passages, and especially to control the audio once it was embedded. I eventually discarded the idea of using audio at all, because the medium made handling it so difficult. From the research that I did, it seems that this is a problem with HTML5 as a whole, and not just Twine, but it was still a disadvantage of the medium.

One medium that I know handles audio well is 7scenes, since you can choose to incorporate audio and video into location markers fairly easily. But, I don’t think that 7scenes would be a good choice for my story, because the narrative doesn’t really rely on locations. Rather, my story is action-based. Therefore, I think Twitter would’ve been an interesting alternate medium to use. The story could’ve followed a journalist live-tweeting about their life, which would’ve leant the story a greater sense of urgency and excitement. Additionally, the first-person perspective of Twitter would’ve changed the level of immersion of readers. Instead of living the story themselves, they would’ve been experiencing someone else’s story. The nature of Twitter as an actual social media platform might have even convinced some readers that my characters were real, adding another (accidental) dimension to the story. However, I wouldn’t have been able to explore various paths to the same degree as with Twine, so the narrative would’ve been much more straightforward. The ability to incorporate backgrounds as location markers would have also disappeared, but the ability to attach a location to tweets might have ended up being even more effective. Overall, I think that while a Twitter fiction with the same plot as my story would have been equally interesting, it would have engaged with the cultural discourse in a very different way, simply due to the nature of its affordances and constraints compared to those of Twine.

Eternal Winter

This is an interactive hypertext fiction based on the fight for survival in the aftermath of a large scale nuclear war. In the story you will be forced to make decisions that will determine how long you will survive the deadly, unforgiving conditions imposed by nuclear warfare.

Click to begin: http://dcc.umd.edu/portfolio/ayuan/hdcc208/eternalwinter.html

Reflection

For this final project, I chose to create a hypertext narrative fiction on the topic of the negative aspects of large scale nuclear warfare, especially in terms of the long term effects on climate. I felt that Twine would be the most effective medium for storytelling particularly on this topic, because I wanted to make the reader/user physically feel an attachment to the story. By writing in second person and allowing them to make choices, they would feel more immersed and care more about the subject matter.

One big goal for this project was to make the user’s decisions actually matter. This is an area that I felt was executed poorly in my first Twine attempt. One way of finding success with regard to weighted decisions in my eyes was my implementation of an inventory system. For example, the first decision the user makes is between bringing more rations or gear for a shelter. If the user doesn’t select gear for a shelter one large branch (~15 boxes of text) is immediately eliminated from their experience. Not only does the use of inventory exponentially create more experiences for the user, but it also makes the user think about the problems they encounter. In making one do this, they would be doing critical thinking on the negative aspects of nuclear warfare.

A big challenge I found in the implementation of the inventory system was amount of writing required to progress the story. With the selection of different gear, the story would shift requiring parts to be written in a different way according to the items the user has and the conditions they are faced with.  This increased the scope of the project by a huge factor since I was writing parts of the story multiple times to account for the different possibilities.

I still support the idea that Twine is the most effective medium to tell this story; however if I was forced to use another I could have experimented with 7 Scenes. One potentially interesting aspect of 7 Scenes that is unavailable in Twine is experiencing an environment. For this story, a lot of the pain and stress for the characters are derived from the extreme cold as a result of climate change from the nuclear fallout. It would be interesting to utilize the current weather conditions outdoors to enhance the story. By forcing the user to walk around in the cold, they would likely feel more strongly about the topic through first-hand experience. One part I think this would be particularly effective for is when Ted and Nancy are driving to the cottage and get a flat tire. If the user hadn’t collected a spare tire prior to this event, they would be forced to continue walking in the cold until they inevitably die of hypothermia. By using 7 Scenes there is the potential to make the user walk in the cold (obviously not to the same extent as in the story) which could cause the user to feel more strongly about the climate change as a result of large scale nuclear warfare.

Overall I think Twine was effective in portraying the story in the way I had envisioned, being an interactive hypertext fiction that blurs the line between narration and story-based games. One constraint I found when using it however was implementation of media. I found it quite difficult to get external media to work within the story and only after a long time of working on it was able to change the background imagery utilizing the tagging feature.