“So I think a lot about transferring emotions from one body to another–I try to make every word count so people can experience my stories at the rate I’m feeling them, like a heartbeat, so we can be intimate, so there can be as little separation as possible.”
This is an excerpt from Emily Short’s interview with Porpentine, in which they discuss Porpentine’s Twine game howling dogs, among other things. I connected a lot to this portion of the interview, especially as the ideas in the above quote are specifically enabled by Twine as a platform, and the specific intimacies attached to interacting with a computer and its digital worlds.
For me, playing howling dogs was a visceral experience in a way that Depression Quest certainly was not. And I know this is because development in Twine is quite literally like transmitting your feelings at the rate of feeling them; you can create new links in your story map instantaneously, spit out your thoughts, arrange the map to look like a whirlwind or a tornado or a a skewed frequency distribution–conducive to the stories of those of us who are “refugees in our own country, in increasingly deteriorating circumstances,” for transmitting an embodiment of a positionality, an experience, affects of near-death or stagnation or violence.
Porpentine’s description of emotional transfer and the rate of experience is not unlike the very basic computer interactivity involved in typing on a keyboard–an experience that often feels to me like my feelings and thoughts are flowing straight from my brain and the parts of my body that feel things into the keyboard, into the screen, particularly when I’m interacting with something that feels like a receiver of my feelings (i.e. another person I’m chatting with, or a blank page I’m treating as a venting space, or a Twine story map). And that phenomenon is what Twin exemplifies in its design. This is not unlike the direct transmission presumed in the VR sims within howling dogs.
But the thing is that I’m not sure whether Twine is inherently conducive to this, or whether its accessibility draws those “refugees” to it. Additionally, I know that there is a particular language or aesthetic experience that most Twine creators emulate, that is most respected within the Twine world, and I wonder whether that niche rhetoric and “tradition”is still exclusive. Porpentine talks about “refugees”, but refugees of which sort? The language and tropes of Twine games, while in opposition to the capitalistic and patriarchal one of the mainstream, commercial gaming world (as Addie pointed to in her post), has almost entirely been curated by whiteness. In what ways is this distinct from the mainstream industry?
I’m worried here about a phenomenon similar to the notion of “pinkwashing” in which modes of affective transmission are considered uncritically subversive on account of the queer axis upon which they are doing the work of redefining, despite leaving out the voices of even queer folks of color or nonqueer folks of color whose ways of moving through the world, as Cathy Cohen and Hortense Spillers have discussed in their work, are marked as queer by the racialized state. Thus, how is Twine, and the alternate game//interactive fiction world, making room for these stories? Can we truly call them queer or subversive or resistive or space-making or world-building? Indeed, we may, but what kind of world is a queer one if we can’t “touch” what it means to be marked a “Welfare Queen”, a terrorist, as a body dead before birth?