Twine Games and the trans people who love them •


Hello! All this week, Eurogamer has celebrated pride with a series of stories examining the confluence of LGBT + communities and playing in its many different forms, from video and tabletop games to live role-playing games. Today, for the last of this year’s Pride Week feature films, Eli Cugini explores how trans creators have embraced interactive fiction Twine.

Last summer I read a Tweeter telling me that Ronald Reagan can use those pronouns for you while ordering you to commit war crimes in the new Call of Duty. This was, of course, a godsend for me, as the only thing stopping me from having an FPS of £ 59.99 with microtransactions time to shoot a few-commies was the lack of neutral options. in terms of gender.

Joking aside, as a gay man who has played a lot of games with straight guys, including straight guys who think they can write convincing lesbians, I’ve given this kind of surface representation a lot of thought. Honestly, Cyberpunk and COD can come up with trans cosmetic options if they want to, but I don’t care. If I want to play a triple A game in a trans or lesbian way, I can probably invent a better way than the devs.

What really matters to me is what queer and trans people can do with games, which is why I spent a lot of time on Twine. I discovered Twine in 2020, eleven years after its launch and six or seven years after it was covered by every national newspaper in the United States. (Being a 16 year old Brit with a janky laptop during Twine’s heyday, I kinda missed the bus.) If you don’t know what Twine is, this is free, open source software for create interactive fiction that does not require knowledge of a programming language. You may have heard of the Twine Depression Quest or The Uncle Who Works games for Nintendo, or watched the episode of Black Mirror Bandersnatch, which was scripted in Twine. I have found most of my favorite Twine games on and the Electronic Literature Collection.

The alluring first image of Porpentine with those we love alive.

Twine is also one of the few places in the game where trans people have a strong and visible presence: Porpentine, Anna Anthropy, and a host of other trans developers – especially trans women – have gained local fame and notoriety. for their creations in Twine. This is partly because of the accessibility of Twine to people without a lot of money or formal coding training, and partly because of how trans art works: Twine, and interactive fiction more generally, works very well. to tell trans stories.

I entered IF as a teenager through the free app port of Frotz, an interpreter for old Infocom games, which I probably downloaded because I was 13 and its name was funny. Its effect on me was profound: I loved the way these games played with power, perspective, information and choice, how their narrative turns touched stronger and more intimately than in non-interactive fiction. But I have never been more interested in the more complex, intelligent and devilishly difficult. I just wanted to live and move in their worlds, explore the spaces they had created. (My favorite was Stephen Granade’s Child’s Play, in which you play as a determined toddler in a playgroup trying to get your favorite toy back through various toddler-sized patterns).

Love might not conquer everything in Anna Anthropy’s Queers in Love at the End of the World, but it does have its power.

I think the teenager spotted me the same ability in interactive fiction that has attracted queer and trans people for years: here’s a world you can build in your own dimensions, a home that no one can kick you out of. (Books work the same way, but you need a lot more money, time, and power to publish an entire book than to create a text set.) Plus, Twine works through hyperlinks and stories. branching, which works well for people whose stories can be fragmented and blurry. “He did not demand […] that I tell a story that is linear, neat, logical and containing some sort of resolution, ”writes developer Merritt Kopas in the anthology Videogames for Humans. “I felt free to start writing fragments, each in their own passage. Connections could come later. If you get lost, that’s often the goal.

In these games, there is nothing to prove. If you have entered this world, it is because you want or have to be there, and if you want to stay there, you can.

When I first started playing the trans Twine games, what struck me was how their difficult content – violence, abuse, insecurity, loss – intersected with surprising kindness to the player. “Please remember: nothing you can do is wrong,” begins Porpentine’s critically acclaimed With Those We Love Alive, which captures a central element of trans Twine games: he’s very rare that you can “fail” or “lose” or do things wrong.

These games are designed to center a kind of existence where your basic reality is regularly denied by other people, where your whole life is like a series of mini-games that you play to protect yourself. (Anna Anthropy embodies this element of transness with force in her game Dys4ia.) So, for once, in these games, there is nothing to prove. If you have entered this world, it is because you want or have to be there, and if you want to stay there, you can.

Queer Trans Mentally Ill Power Fantasy combines joy with an ironic and poignant take on trans precariousness.

There are aspects of restorative wish fulfillment in trans Twine games, as well as trauma treatment and transfiguration. In Ira Prince’s Queer Trans Mentally Ill Power Fantasy, you wake up in the morning to find that your body has been replaced “BY A SHINY IRIDESCENT MECHA COSTUME ENCRUSTED WITH EVERY MESSAGE YOU EVER BEEN SENT”, which you use to make small, nice things you might find difficult, like making a nice breakfast and petting your cats. Meanwhile, Anna Anthropy’s Queers in Love at the End of the World gives you ten seconds to do whatever you want with your lover – kiss her, tell her you love her, hold her – before the stopwatch does not run out and that “everything is erased.” ‘No god is knocked down in these games: the payoffs are survival, a good meal, fleeting moments of intimacy and warmth.

Trans Twine games are generally not there to educate and uplift a cis player: instead, they land the player on a planet with a trans atmosphere and allow them to understand that they can breathe. This Pride Month I have given a lot of thought to how games can facilitate connections that are not a huge burden on vulnerable people. It’s healing to play games made by people who understand what you’re going through, but there’s also something nice about playing games by, say, trans women when you’re not a woman. trans. You can share and find commonalities with a different lived experience, you can stay in someone’s art for a while, without risking taking their oxygen. It’s a deeply sweet correspondence.

With These We Love Alive asks you to draw seals on your skin at certain points in the story (Photos by Eli Cugini).

There is a humility and a curiosity required by this kind of game, a desire to be moved. As I write this piece, my left hand is covered in drawings. In Porpentine’s With They We Love Alive, the story asks you to draw seals on your skin at points in the narrative: seals of shame, of hope, of reaction to the events of the game. The hormones of the trans main character also take over. the shape of seals, and when your character looks at them, she finds them valuable. Everytime.

As in most life-changing and life-changing experiences, you cannot choose to be marked, but these charged symbols also signal your human capacity to feel and to be changed. I hope people continue to open up to games like With These We Love Alive, but most of all, I’m happy that Twine has given so many marginalized writers and gamers: a space to breathe and an opportunity. for us to reach through and get stained.

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