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:

“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.


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