Twine is a free, open-source digital tool that connects textual passages to one another through well-demarcated links. It is becoming increasingly popular with educators, particularly in the humanities. There is a plethora of possibilities for this deceptively simple, yet powerful interactive writing device that taps into our built-in affinity for telling stories.
Twine is the brainchild of the Baltimore-based web developer, writer and game designer Chris Klimas, who created it in 2009 in an attempt to combine interactivity and narrative. After Klimas simplified the source code and Twine went public, the tool gained popularity for its potential to be used in games. The queer gaming community in particular put Twine on the map around 2012-13, and its association with the experience of marginalized groups has lasted to this day. One of the most popular games made with Twine has been 2014’s The Depression Quest. This work—initially controversial for its very existence as a “game”— raises awareness of the day-to-day challenges of a person who is depressed, pointedly crossing out actions that would occur to someone not afflicted with the condition.
Twine, with its simple and friendly interface, has been popular with activists and non-traditionalists alike—the list of its games includes such offbeat titles as The Cat Petting Simulator. Its origins can be traced to the “choose your adventure” genre, a series of game fiction created in the 1970s and popular over the following decades. Even earlier, the French Surrealist author Raymond Queneau created the Histoire des trois petits pois: un conte à vôtre façon (1967),a play on the fairy-tale genre that began like this:
Would you like to learn the story of three lively little peas?
If yes, go to 4. If no, go to 2.
Would you prefer the one about three tall thin beanpoles?
If yes, go to 16. If no, go to 3.
Queneau’s aim in this comic experiment was ostensibly to jolt the reader’s expectations. Like the famous Surrealist game in which players morph parts of the bodies of different creatures into a whole, it aimed to escape from the shackles of convention by breaking the adventure tale into its composite parts, with some absurdity thrown into the mix. Both progenitors of the Twine game thus unlocked creativity, putting the reader in the driver’s seat.
Passages on Twine initially appear as boxes on the editor interface. The user double clicks on a passage to edit the text. To create a link to another passage, the text is enclosed in double brackets, creating a link to a new passage. Arrows connect passages that lead from one to another, making it easier to keep track of the story’s progression. The default live version of a Twine story is a monotone screen, which opens up more pages as you click on links. The easiest mode for writing Twine, Harlow 2, does not require any coding experience, although some basic HTML skills are needed to change the style sheet. Media such as images and videos can be added with an embed link. Twine has been web browser-based for several years now, and saves your work automatically. All of these features add up to a tool with an original design and a low barrier to entry, with no coding knowledge necessary—and plenty of help available on the Twine website, www.twinery.org, blogs and tutorials.
Which disciplines could benefit from Twine’s simplicity and grounding in interactivity and multiple-option narration? English and creative writing classes come to mind first when we consider Twine’s primary purpose—to make connections between events and emphasize that actions bear consequences. Twine’s webpage features as an example the plot of Moby Dick broken down into concrete parts—a digital outline of sorts to which the whole class could contribute. Flying solo, a writer could use this tool to draft a short story—either one with a branching, “choose your own adventure” type of narrative or a classic linear one where one screen leads to another. In both these instances, Twine could teach both organization and logical thinking.
Business schools would also do well to add Twine to their arsenal of digital tools since its structure works with decision processes. Paul Ford, the founder of the digital product and services studio Postlight, opines that process modeling can be explained with this type of assignment on Twine:
You step out of an elevator. Do you want to talk about
- Working with us as a client?
- Working with us as a team member?
Indeed, any bifurcated structure hinging on an either/or proposition is a match for Twine’s straightforward format, its built-in structure of “If A, then B.”
Twine is, however, first and foremost a vehicle for narration, a way to get the reader engaged with the telling of a story. Therefore, some of its most powerful products are wordy and complex, featuring backstories for the character(s) in question and descriptions of the situations being encountered. With a rich textual environment, making the choice for A over B becomes meaningful rather than an arbitrary exercise as in some of the more irreverent Twine-based games. Imagine, for instance, a history student creating a presentation for her class on the 1792 trial of Louis XVI and getting into the background of members of the Convention who voted either for or against his execution, their whereabouts and experiences on that fateful day, then being led to “Oui”or “Non” depending on their choice of character. This would be a powerful exercise to engage the student’s research, writing and digital presentation skills at the same time, thanks to one deceptively simple tool.
Queneau, R.Conte à votre façon. Contes et propos. Paris:Gallimard (1967). The translation is my own.
See Long-Wheeler,Keeghan, “3 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Making A Twine Game/Story,” Adam Hammonds, “A Total Beginner’s Guide to Twine 2.1” and the YouTube tutorial “Introducing Twine 2.0”