I….I cannot stop laughing. Maybe it’s because I’m a fucking queer. Maybe it’s because I’m a sci-fi nerd. Maybe it’s because you tell me to write a Twine story and my first thought is, “Ooh…queer space opera.”

“Hunt for the Gay Planet” made me laugh hard. Like, not even making sounds anymore, but love-handles-jiggling, rib-aching, noiseless, laughter. Every time I stop to think about it or go back to get another screen cap, I start laughing, which is why it’s taken me so long to write this.

Ok ok ok ok ok, but seriously, the story’s not great. It might even be cheesily anti-climactic (which is not to say there’s not plenty of sexy bits).


Or rather, I should rephrase: the story’s great, but the links not so much. For example, if you’re a queer, like me, your first thought is that the gay planet is the “strange-looking purple world.” Obvi. But I thought this was so obvious that it couldn’t be my first choice, so I saved it for my last choice. Satisfaction! The Gay Planet is the strange purple one. [On the other hand, maybe it makes more sense that the planet spinning on its side in the void is the queer one....Hmmmmm.....]

On replaying, I was seriously pissed that clicking that choice first resulted in the same path through the story as my original one. This is silly. If you choose a path, you accept the consequences. [That's why Borges called them forking paths.] Would the story be as funny if the author didn’t make you experience all of their amazing jokes first? Of course not! But would you have the satisfaction of making the “right” choices on the first go round? Yes. Would it be like real life? …Well, no. But yes, because when we make choices we don’t get to go back! That’s the fun thing about games–you should want to play them over and over, just like a good book, to find all the secret things and release that dopamine into your system incrementally.

So, if I don’t get the “right” answer the first time, I think I should have to experience just how poorly my choices could turn out, but “Hunt for the Gay Planet” doesn’t let you do this. Instead, it doesn’t really matter whether I choose a Binary Sunrise on the rocks or a Socket Bomb. The story suggests that the Socket Bomb makes you significantly drunker, so why don’t your choices change to reflect the narrow set of poor decisions available to drunk people? Yes, it would take you a hell of a lot longer to get to Lesbionica that way. But so would getting drunk.


I love the message this story sends. There’s something really poetic, hilarious, and fucking accurate about figuring heteronormativity first as an ancient hieroglyph depicting a man and a woman holding hands, then as a “psychic maelstrom” asking you if you have a boyfriend. And there’s something tragically true about searching for Lesbionica only to find a bar full of gay men who don’t want to be your friend, even though everyone there is an alien anyway. And there’s something really, really, painfully poignant about getting to the end and seeing those white words on a black screen after saving the world from the tyrannical lesbian who’s sold her soul for weapons. All we need is some sexploitative imagery of space-dykes drawn by some artist Dungeons and Dragons hired twenty years ago.

But the truth is, not everyone makes it to the queer planet to inherit the stars. That’s why the “It Gets Better” campaign sucks. I think the potential of game-stories like this one is in showing us the alternate endings–what happens when you screw it up, or when someone screws it up for you? Our futures are ultimately not in our control. And that’s not funny. But it’s real. And it’s part of why we play games and read stories.

Bethany Nowviskie famously asked, “What do girls dig?”


The answer: other girls.

PS, spoilers ha!


There’s no “there” there…

I couldn’t resist the Hunt for the Gay Planet, and while I appreciated the author’s sense of humor, in the end I think he/she must’ve lost interest in the project.  I don’t think I need to worry about spoiling it for anyone else, because there’s nothing to spoil.  The hunt consists of poking around on four different planets, three of which appear to be exactly the same.  As far as I can tell, there is no gay planet to be found (was that the point?), and in fact there’s no resolution to the story at all.  Really, there’s not much of anything to be found on any of the planets, other than an occasional mildly amusing turn of phrase.  All of this left me wondering if there isn’t some sort of puzzle that I’ve simply failed to crack, and I guess the joke will be on me if I’ve somehow missed the point completely.  Up until now, I’ve purposefully avoided reading anyone else’s posts for fear of spoiling the surprise.  Now I’m curious to see if anyone else managed to get anything more out of the Hunt than I did…

Hypertexts and rhythm

When I was reading the “electronic” stories I was wondering which were the genres of this literature, the predilections. I was feeling too much uncertainty… I think that the fact that they are so related to games make this literature so adventurous, but also the fact that they are not in codex format, that it is impossible for the reader to skim the text, or to know how much text follows, makes it suitable for these kinds of sensations: blindness, lost of memory, etc. There are different ways of reading this electronic literature. I think that someone accostumed to games is going to be more expert in moving ahead through the story, meanwhile in hypertexts it is more obvious how to “unfold” the story.

I found December 11, 2012 very interesting in the use of hypertext and how hypertext brings more texts and redesign the blank “page”. I liked how the parts of the story, as chapters, are accumulated in the page, how the text grows. The story itself is sad, and the end, with the picture of the cat, was very sensationalist. I did not like that. The tone is very naïve, and the story was rather simple. But it drew my attention because of the use of the accumulation of texts and its titles as “headers”. I liked that effect, but I know it depends a lot on the reader (I think Courtney thought the opposite). I also liked the background color and the typography, I find it very difficult to read when the background is black (and when typography is small!).

I found it interesting and gripping when I do not have to read a lot of text and that the text changes the page somehow. I found it awesome to see how the text was appearing and accumulating, organizing and disorganizing the events.  The story was finally created through all these pieces that were below. It is like cutting a text and copying it in other places. Fragments of story that peel off and accumulate. I liked the way those titles organize the page, as poems, as headlines, as something not to be forgotten. As a to-do list, as any list about a life, as recollections of the past. I found it just brilliant. I think that it is possible to create other texts using this technique. For example, it is possible to create simultaneous stories using the hipertexts. It’s in the accumulation of different parts, in the opening of new text, new words, new dispositions for the written, that the author creates the story. Regardless the story itself, I considered the display very interesting to experimentation.

Another example of the use of hypertext in Twine that I really liked (in this case, I liked the story as well) was the story with the suggestive title “All I want is for all my friends to become insanely powerful”. I liked it when I clicked in some words and they changed into other words and in that changing they tell a story. It has a very peculiar and interesting inner rhythm. These texts (electronic literature as far as I red, and these two texts in particular) have a particular breath given by the speed of the reader and its mouse, but also by its colors, pictures or music.

I simply loved this exercise. I can’t wait to create something in this incredible program!

Hypertext, Doubles, and Weirdness

Playing through “weird tape in the mail” is, as expected, a weird experience in itself. I have read/played hypertext stories/games before (mostly when I was a kid), so the experience and set-up here was more or less familiar. Dickinson offers two different ways to click through the story, both of which are functionally the same but presented differently: the reader either clicks on a word within the text to reach the next page, or a choice is offered to the reader at the end of the page. These choices branch out slightly and can lead to different scenarios in the story, but from what I can tell these options are limited and, with the exception of the ending, usually circle back to the same starting point.

A word about style: the aesthetic here is minimalism which borders on crudeness. Dickinson does not use capital letters or punctuation. This choice, rather than an homage to E. E. Cummings or anything like that, seems more a reflection of the story’s medium. Dickinson’s simple, direct, casual, and purposefully clumsy writing makes sense for a piece that exists on the internet. The Microsoft Paint illustrations also reflect this aesthetic (or anti-aesthetic).

But is that all there is? As the story goes on and events get more and more “weird,” suddenly these laughable illustrations take on a different quality. They become creepy. There is a disconnection between the laziness of the drawings and the growing seriousness of the story that is quite terrifying. Does Dickinson’s use of language also capitalize on this irony? Or was this choice as simple as a representation of internet culture as I originally thought?

The story itself is quite interesting. The doppelganger narrative is an obvious but clever representation of what hypertext adventure games and stories are all about. By granting the reader agency, however limited, hypertext stories bridge the gap between the reader and the character. “Weird tape in the mail” is written in the second person so that “You” become the main character. To confront another “you” is a metaphor for the experience of clicking through the story itself, and just how bizarre this experience can feel.

There are other elements of the story that are not quite as obvious or clear. I was confused by Dickinson’s incessant “critique” of consumerism. Very quickly, these references to the addiction of buying and having to consume became parodies of themselves. This tired critique of capitalism is only interesting for its in-your-face quality, but how does it connect to the other threads of the narrative? Is it also a metaphor for the experience of hypertext fiction? Do we want to speed through these clickable pages in order to get the satisfaction of having consumed it? Or am I giving Dickinson too much credit?

Another idea is that this interest in consumerism is really about the issue of agency. During the dream segments of the story, you become a mindless consumer with the singular goal of buying products. If hypertext fiction is a medium about choice and the agency of the reader, what does this reduction of the protagonist (you) to a mindless robot say about the reader in general? This idea is a bit more interesting, but why is this already parodist critique of capitalism necessary to reach this discussion of agency? Regardless, Dickinson clearly wants these issues to be central to the tale, as one version of the ending occurs in a mall with customers shopping aggressively and ultimately trampling you to death.

The other version of the ending involves your being killed by your own doppelganger in the bathroom. These endings are radically different (even if you are killed in both) and support the claim that the reader indeed has some say in how his or her story progresses, even if it must lead to the same result. You are given the option of “rewinding” to try out each or both endings, rather than starting from the beginning, so these choices may not have the same consequences for the reader as other stories. Nevertheless, Dickinson has some investment in how a story progresses and who decides, even if there are only a limited number of options available.

“Weird tape in the mail” is an enjoyable story and a clever commentary on its medium and genre. Even if I cannot understand all of Dickinson’s stylistic and story decisions, I will certainly never look at my toilet the same way ever again.

Allegedly Interactive fiction; or, The Day My Computer Told Me “You Can’t Talk To Your To-Do List”

I went through “Howling Dogs” and found myself reminded of a conversation I had with an art major at a rather odd modern dance performance I attended.  We were sitting next to each other and fell to chatting about our majors, interests, and so forth.  Modernism in dance is not something I understand and I found myself engaged by the performance (sadly, I don’t recall the title) but provoked into thinking about it until my brain ached.  I was incapable of NOT trying to force the performance into a story that made sense, but its abstract nature defied me.  I confessed to my newfound artistically-inclined friend (when she asked what I, as a newbie, thought of it) that I couldn’t quite tell what it was about.  She told me that it isn’t necessarily about anything, and the experience of watching such a performance is more about letting it wash over you than anything else.  She explained that what you, as an individual audience member, feel while beholding it is the thing to analyze, not the performance itself.

This philosophy of art is very foreign to my usual way of thinking, but it may be the best available approach to something like “Howling Dogs.”  I cannot tell you what it was “about,” but it did serve to focus my reading experience in different ways than would a stationary text.  At first, I found it a little dull, but eventually I warmed up to the poetic cadence of the dream-like “activities.”  The first time I tried the shower and the trash chute, they worked fine; after that, they were broken and I have no idea why.  I suppose “I” was living in filth for a sizable portion of the story, but other than that I observed no effect from these elements of “my” habitat ceasing to function.  I assumed they were there for some reason (maybe that was a mistake) and so was deeply unsatisfied when I never found out what the point of them was.

As I read the story, I noticed that the links that revealed more text on the same page (rather than opening a new one) served to focus my pauses in a way that would not have been possible if the story did not rely on hypertext.  This feature helped shape my impression of the story as poetry because it emulated the way poetry can use line and stanza breaks to cause the reader to notice words that would be quickly passed if the same text were presented in prose form.  Even with the enforced pauses, the experience of reading the story — even though some of the links presented choices — was one of letting it wash over me.  It didn’t really feel interactive, since the choices were so limited and often did not stand in clear opposition (except in the battle-or-biscuits scene), so I would term it “exploratory fiction” if I had to produce a name for what this thing is.   This format allows the author to constrain the way the reader moves through it in more complex ways than are available for printed fiction, so I do not feel that it gives the reader enough agency to warrant the term “interactive.”

The constraint of apparent (fake) freedom can be much more infuriating, as I found out when I tried to do “Shade.”  There seems something almost perverse about telling a reader to use her imagination but only so long as she imagines what the author has decided is appropriate.  I had seen from Susie’s post that there was a glass to be had, but even with that cheating, I could not make this thing do whatever it was supposed to do.  The structuring force of the story began to take on a personality (an incredibly annoying one) as my enemy, and I reached a point where I could no longer focus on getting that dumb glass of water because I was too busy trying to outsmart or subvert this petty tyrant.

One good thing about this “story” is that at least it stood still in a way that let me save the text for future analysis.  Here is my attempt:  Shade take 1.   The effort required to simply walk around “my” apartment shut down any interest I had at the outset in the content of the story.  Did anyone actually figure out how to get through this one?

If I don’t like a fixed story, I can simply blame the author or say “it’s just not my cup of tea,” but this supposedly-interactive fiction denies me that chance.  It tries to trick me into thinking that it is my idea to do whatever it wants me to tell it to do.  I think I would prefer, as a user, to be called “I” in the first person rather than “you” in the second so that I could more readily imagine myself inhabiting the persona of the character that the author has in mind.  Maybe that protagonist can’t even find her own bathroom, but I jolly well can (thank you very much) and I don’t much like some disembodied entity telling me that I can’t.

I realize that the frustration I felt while striving for that willing suspension of disbelief was not warranted, and I am actually intrigued by the choose-your-own-adventure format of storytelling.  But — to return to the experiential model of art reception — the most noticeable thing about this genre to me is the paradox it generates; it takes away perceptive control at the same time it purports to offer the reader more agency.  With a fixed text, I can read the whole thing (even if it is abstract or I don’t like it or I have no idea what the author wanted me to think of it) and hold it in my mind and subject it to whatever analysis or re-purposing critique I want; I can use my imagination about it if not within it.  Interactive fiction offers me the chance to use my imagination within the story itself, but it forcefully rejects my attempts to control the story as a whole.  Electronic interactive fiction imposes further distance between the reader and the ability to grasp the overarching structure that governs the story because, even with a printed choose-your-own-adventure, one can eventually read each path or can even wrest experiential control away from the author by choosing to read it cover-to-cover, out-of-order, or backwards.

All Roads Lead to Conclusion

I started with two of the interactive fiction pieces from the suggested list before moving on to Shade and in the two I read I noticed one big similarity in the construction. In both Dickinson’s “weird tape in the mail” and Anthropy’s “Hunt for the Gay Planet”, one of the primary methods of navigation is hyperlinks, which carry the reader to the next point of the narrative, but in a lot the initial frames, readers have several choices. In “Hunt for the Gay Planet”, you have the choice among four planets which you investigate, with the last one always being the “correct” one to continue with the story, thus necessitating doubling back from your previous incorrect choice. The same happens when you explore a cave. Walk the four cardinal directions (it’s irrelevant which you choose first, you have to do all of them eventually), and after that exploration of not only the narrative’s world, but also of the different strands in the programs/narratives/games (?), you find the way forward.

This is where you have a moment that differs from the typical process of reading, say, a novel, where you may get the explore each cardinal direction, but of course, you would have to do it in the order it was written (at least not without some effort), and the choice is never offered to you to go in whichever order. It’s usually the character’s choice to make. You follow. For interactive fiction like that of Anthropy or Dickinson’s, doubling back to previous stages seem standard parts of the narrative. Even in “weird tape in the mail,” you are encouraged to explore something else besides just watch the video tape from the get go.

I want to commend the freedom the narratives offer in this respect. It is, to me, an aspect that really marks the affordance of narratives created in Twine as separate from that of printed literature. The ability to navigate different paths is something found previously in the choose-your-own adventure genre, but is not as seamless or intuitive as it is in electronic formats.

This format, however, from what I can see is still subject to the constraints of plot that narratives conform to, and this affects the structure of the narrative in both its ability to double back and to experience the climax or conclusion of the story. In “Gay Planet”, once you discover the Gay Planet, your choices are permanent (the browser’s “back” button is a loophole, of course) and you continue what is a fairly linear narrative with usually only two choices that eventually up with you being confronted by the Queen of the Gay Planet. This moment is unavoidable, much like discovering the Gay Planet itself is inevitable, but there is far less exploration involved in the culmination of this moment, and there is no ability to return to where you came from because you are interacting with other people, not simply exploring a room alone.

The same occurs in “weird tape in the mail.” After interacting with the tape (s), you are blocked from returning to former points in the narrative. The effect of time and social aspects of the narrative are constructed as permanent even in electronic spaces that afford contrary options. It’s even more highlighted in “weird tape” because (spoiler alert) no matter what, you die at the end. Pressing the back button is really the only way to get back and explore other options, but even then it’s fruitless because you still wind up dead (I’m almost certain that’s to get back at the readers who attempt to force their way back).

Thus, while the initial freedom of the stories is promising, and the stories benefit from allowing exploration, it seems that the narratives themselves always end in singular ways. Of course, two narratives is a poor sample size, but certainly shows how a limitation can still exist from medium to another: plot is something that can seemingly defy the medium.

“weird tape in the mail”

Most of the critiques I have about “weird tape in the mail” are general feelings I’ve accumulated towards interactive fiction/electronic lit in general, so I’ll start with some individual praises for the specific story I’m reviewing:

  • I appreciated the images and gifs, even if they look like they were made in ms paint. I think the use of extra media adds to the interactivity of the narrative and helps the reader to orient themselves in the space of the hypertext. I believe I’d be particularly engaged in a narrative that used maps to more specifically and geographically orient me within my story.
  • The uncle was not appealing in the least, but I appreciated the presence of a second character (and “weird tape in the mail” also included a pseudo-stalker/second “you,” as well!) which also heightened the sense of “interactivity.” Lots of stories and games seemed to be just “you” exploring a space, turning over rocks and looking around for objects. Maybe I just have a skewed sense of what “interact” means, but I tend to associate it with social discourse rather than with space (or in this case, hyperspace). What could be even cooler, I think, is if these stories were truly interactive–what if you met other “readers” along the way?
  • The element of mystery in this story was compelling. Instead of just looking for something (the correct gay planet, for instance) you were searching for an answer.

I did have one “specific” critique for “weird tape in the mail,” before I get to the general:

  • The anti-consumerist message in this story was way too overt. Almost every action was accompanied by a so-called urge to shop, the identity of the horrible uncle was primarily based on his flawed vision of utopia (a pristine mall) and, of course, one of the two dour ends to the tale takes place in crowd of crazed shoppers. In terms of thematic elements, I just found it to be overdone to the point of distraction.

In terms of my general impression of this mode of writing, I think the characteristic that stuck with me most was the use of the “you” narrator. Second person a form of speech we don’t come across much (especially in narrative), I think, and I found it really disorienting. As I discussed in my previous blog post, it creates a weird protagonist/narrator hybrid, but one who has little to no control over  the narrative aside from the order in which one clicks links. And to reiterate a point I brought up before, I think the “choice” of the hyperlinks is usually a total illusion. The writer/programmer always ends up bringing you back to the thread he actually wants you to continue. In “weird tape in the mail,” looking at the toilet before you go outside to find the tape doesn’t impact the narrative at all. It makes sense that the writer only pursues alternative threads to a point, but I think it takes away from the power of the reader when he or she realizes they’ll end up going where the writer wants them to, in the end.

The use of “you” also seems to pointedly enforce identification with the protagonist, but I found this jarring. That isn’t my bed, those aren’t my blotchy legs, that isn’t my mound, or my uncle, or my car. would have cleaned my apartment when I moved in and gotten rid of a strange, unidentified mound that turned out to house an alternative-me. I do think the images in “weird tape in the mail” mitigated this issue somewhat, because you could at least consider an avatar-you rather than reader-you. When Adam Dickinson writes, “you peer into the bowl,” the image of the toilet is visually situated on the screen so that you are, in fact, peering into the bowl. But the line continues, “and it calms you.” Something about telling me how “I’m” feeling is off-putting to me. I can empathize with a narrator who expresses feeling calm (or not) but being told anything is often not something I value in literature.

The command-orientation of hypertext is very “telling” oriented, and I think that’s where the problem lies for me.

Kim’s Story: Hypertext as Phenomenal Cosmic Power with an Itty Bitty Utilization

Kim’s story is a fairly straightforward, linear memoir about Kim Moss’s childhood experience camping as a Boy Scout.  Yes, even though she is a girl.  It begins very simply, offering intriguing possibilities for followup:

When I was a young girl, I was a member of the Boy Scouts.

The Boy Scouts was my first experience with gamification.

Here’s a rope.

[hyperlink] Show me what knots you know. [/hyperlink]

Not only does she never really develop what she means by gamification, other than a reference to accumulating badges and leveling up, but she never really explains why she was a Boy Scout rather than a Girl Scout.  She says:

Of course, girls aren’t supposed to be Boy Scouts at all. I’ll forgive them for making me be one, though. They didn’t know.  They just wanted what was best for me.

What didn’t her family know?  That she didn’t want to be a Boy Scout?  That there was such a thing as Girl Scouts that offers both camping and the equivalent of an Eagle Scout? As a reader, I just felt that I was missing some kind of fundamental background information about her family–and about her, to know why she put up with the activity when she clearly didn’t enjoy it.

Even though this panel offers the first true hyperlink choice in paths by asking the question, “Would you rather be forced into the Boy Scouts or disappoint your family?”, there’s no difference in the following screen–it just starts with “It doesn’t matter which you choose”, in a rather frustrating meta-experience.  Other choices elicited slightly different opening line/lines in the next page, but in the end, the narrative all narrowed back to the same result.  Structurally, the layout of this story must have looked more like a stick than a tree.

I think I was so annoyed by this approach because it feels like the hypertext medium offers so many possibilities in terms of not only how you can tell a story, but what kind of story you can tell.  The choices the author made here to limit the direction of her narrative did reinforce her general theme of inevitability or fate, but it did seem like a waste–even if she wanted to stay truthful to the actual events of her biographical story, she could have delved into the thoughts behind her decisions (or lack of action as the case may be).   She could have speculated on how her life would have been different had she made a different choice (in the style of the varied Clue endings, perhaps: “This is how it could have happened…but here’s what really happened”).  As it was, with some links simply labeled “Next”, I wondered why she simply didn’t tell this story in a book/standard text form instead.

[Spoiler alert--last choice of story] 

And then, after accounts of how her stepfather left her to struggle on a winter hike alone, how she couldn’t dig an effective snow cave for winter sleeping, how weak she was and continues to be, the reader comes to Kim’s final, devastating question:

Do you think I’m pathetic?

Yes                        No

My immediate reaction was that this was the most awful thing to ask of a reader (or any human being!), but even as I clicked on “No”, I thought my answer might really, instinctively, on a completely irrational gut level, be “Yes”.  And I wondered, given the anonymity of the internet, how many people might click on “Yes”, even if this were published on a social media site like Facebook, even if they actually knew this person, because there’s nothing to stop them from being either cruel or honest-but-hurtful.

I won’t spoil the endings for each choice, except to say that they are self-deprecatingly depressing to the point that if this were one of my high school students, I’d be having a conversation with her guidance counselor right now for being a possible suicide risk and in need of a depression screening.

Was the effectiveness of this form for the ending payoff enough for its lack of utilization before?  I don’t know.  All I can say is that Matienzo need not fear a lack of emotion in hypertext.