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.