Notes on “ELO 2021: Platform as a Service: A Roundtable Discussion of Community Labor and Platformization of Twine and Ink”

Kenton “Taylor” Howard, Chris Klimas, and I were part of a roundtable as part of the Electronic Literature Organization 2021 a few days ago. This post is a collection of notes and some reflection on related events.

Resources and Sources Mentioned in Roundtable

Q&A Disclaimer

One of most important aspects I wanted to communicate during the roundtable Q&A portion taking up the later two-thirds of the recorded talk was that, well, we were three white dudes talking about community labor connected to a tool, Twine, that has a strong connection to personal and queer games. While I identify as queer, I am not a part of much of the hidden labor behind supporting many queer artists and creators. Much of that is done behinds the scenes and from people I may not ever meet or be aware of. To recognize this labor, we included the following disclaimer I copied from our private notes:

Each of us represents a different combination of skills, interests, and contributions to private and public audiences. However, we need to start with recognizing that we are three white dudes. Some of us do intersect with queer and neurodivergent communities, but all of us easily pass within systems that oppress others who do not look and act like us. Our responses come from a position of privilege and power. We all work in academia to various degrees and are or have been part of groups deciding code and documentation choices for others. While we will try to account for other groups, peoples, and performances, we cannot and will not speak for them. There are contributions to these communities we intersect with or play an active role in as it comes to Twine, Ink, and other tools we do not and may never be aware of.

Reaction to Twine Storytelling Panel

The morning after our roundtable was the Alternative Play? Twine as a Digital Storytelling Platform panel from Lai-Tze Fan, Anastasia Salter, Stuart Moulthrop, Sarah Laiola and Caleb Andrew Milligan. While the panel was exciting for me to hear about Twine being taught in the classroom — ironically, I don’t teach courses on Twine because I have little to no control over what I teach as a visiting instructor –, some of the chat ended up being really frustrating to me on a personal level.

The chat during the Storytelling panel fell at times into the they Chris talked about in our roundtable. There were thoughts expressed as “I wish they would do X” or “I wish they would fix Y.” As Chris mentioned in the roundtable as it comes to the Twine editor, it’s just him. He is the they. Including the story format authors, that’s only another three people, including me. While I do not think anyone had ill intentions, I could feel myself getting frustrated at people who want better things for their own work or that of their students, but were probably not aware there is often only a handful people working on the more technical aspects of Twine.

One of the reasons I decided to leave the Twine Committee was because of this workload. Over the last year, I have increasingly felt the pressure to keep up free resources like the Twine Cookbook and the changing aspects of the Twine Specifications. This is in addition to being a full-time instructor, part-time PhD student, and working on my own projects. In the end… I can’t do all that, and I have had to give up multiple things to focus on finishing my PhD moving into 2022.

Twining Book Launch!

A few hours after the Storytelling panel was the public launch of the book Twining: Critical and Creative Approaches to Hypertext Narratives by Anastasia Salter and Stuart Moulthrop in open access. This is an exciting book that includes some much-needed theory around and on Twine. However, for me, it is also rather bittersweet.

In November 2017, Anastasia and Stuart interviewed me for the book. At the time, I had just joined the Twine Committee and was working toward trying to get people lined up to help with the Twine Cookbook. As I have documented in other places, it took four years to realize the dream of the Twine Cookbook as a comprehensive work and to finally get the Twee 3 Specification to the public. It is rather depressing, looking from May 2021 back to November 2017, to see that it took four years to get some projects done. In re-reading my interview before the book launched, I realized I needed to move on to other things and let go of Twine-related projects for now. This was, in thinking about now, the final tipping point for me to leave the Twine Committee, which I had privately been thinking about for weeks.