Urban Tumbleweed II

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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.



3 thoughts on “Urban Tumbleweed II

  1. Hey Anna,

    I would like to start by saying that I really enjoyed playing through this story. I loved that you played with the whole lack of agency thing in your story. The idea to use Twine, a game medium whose design facilitates agency, to demonstrate lack of agency is powerful and very DCC. It really does highlights the lack of agency and choice the character’s have. In the context of this game, you did well showing the limited choices in the life of a homeless person. At the same time, you still limited the choices of the antagonists in the story as well as possible side characters. In the case of the antagonists (the businessman and the Big Mac person) this outlines the predetermined state of some mindsets and how actions carried out with this mindset can only result in harm. In the case of the sax player, the inability to see the main character highlights the lack of control many people have over what is going around them. How can someone make a difference if they cannot see the problem? The problems faced with this story are addressed fully and effectively.

    In terms of utilizing Twine to its full extent, the lack of media does seem like a problem at face value. However, the choice to not include them shows an understanding of when affordances can become constraints. The addition of pictures or other media to many of these scenes would have been problematic for the tone and many other elements of the story. For example, both the scene with the businessman and the Big Mac were very tense and stressful situations. The addition of a poorly toned picture would have killed the tension that was building in the text. Perhaps media could have been confronted in other areas, but the story is not screaming for them. Once again, good job.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great job with this! I really enjoyed your story and I think it conveyed your message very well. I like that you had the main character, but you gave the reader an occasional glimpse into the thoughts of other character. I think it was especially smart to incorporate the thoughts of people who are lucky enough to have homes and look down on those who don’t.

    Making the story a never-ending loop was a good idea and adds to your message that homelessness does not just end, but I wish there were a few more paths or interactions possible with every day that passes. At the end of the day, you either get sent to jail for a few days, or the hookah bar employee finds you missing after you fall asleep. That being said, the jail ending was very eye-opening. Those who have homes typically think of jail as horrible and dirty places, but the main character was glad to end up in jail because she would not be out in the cold. I saw a video once of a man talking to a random homeless man on the side of the street. The homeless man was talking about how he wound up in jail for possession of marijuana and after he came out, nobody wanted to hire him because they were worried about him dealing (he was in jail only for possession, not dealing) and he would purposely do some small crime like stealing from a convenience store to go back to jail where he as least has a roof over his head. This cycle is a very sad reality.

    My one suggestion would be to make better use of the bag. At the beginning of each day, you are able to check your inventory, but your inventory never changes throughout the story. Maybe that is the point, that all you ever have is a blanket and some newspapers, but it would be interesting if the character started with no newspapers and picked up newspapers along the way.


  3. Hey Anna!

    I really liked this story! It was very engaging and offered powerful insight into the lives of the less fortunate. Your descriptions of the settings and of the passersby were very realistic as well, I found myself remembering instances of when I was in places like D.C. and Baltimore and saw the terrible conditions that these people have to live in. I could also totally see the kind of things that played out in your story happening in real life. The interactions of the public with the homeless were pretty accurate: there are some generous people, some judgmental people and some people who do good deeds just for glory. I liked how you considered the importance of eye-contact in these situations. You seemed to convey that doing so links the humanity between people. There’s something about such a simple gesture that seems to bring us all down to the same level.

    The ending was really surprising to me as well. Initially I thought, “Oh no, I lost, she’s going to jail.” But then when I saw that I actually won, I was confused at first. It’s amazing how a change in perspective can make something like going to jail actually seem comforting.

    If you continue to work on this story at all, I think it would be beneficial to add some pictures to make the setting and experiences more tangible. Other than that, great job! You really did an awesome job.


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