How Long is a Piece of Twine? – Kirsty McGill

Kirsty McGill describes an innovative and creative way of using digital technology to connect schools and the online community with local archives and history.

In 2016, Clare Davison (Learning Officer) and I created an online computer game, ‘Agent Archivist’, to help engage schools with archive sources. In addition to the game, we provided an introductory guide to schools on how to create their own games using archive sources. Our first hurdle was that neither of us knew much about programming but, during my PhD studies, I came across Twine.

Twine advertises itself as a tool for creating interactive, non-linear stories. If you remember the classic Choose Your Own Adventure or Fighting Fantasy books, Twine allows you to create branching stories in a similar way. Twine is free and the only skills we needed (as an absolute minimum) was how to type and use square brackets. Since 2018, Twine has now been made even easier to use by creating a Cookbook (http://twinery.org/cookbook/), which provides code examples of how to make your game flashier. If you want to know how to add images, sounds, colours, timers or various other effects, the Cookbook usually has the answers. When we made our game, in the time of B.C (Before Cookbook), a lot of time was spent searching for ‘how do I do X in Twine?’

The Twine story map for Agent Archivist, copyright Bedfordshire Archives

One of the other factors that sold us on Twine is that it’s not only easy to create games, but they’re also easy for people to play. Twine publishes using HTML (same as websites), so all players need to do is click on a link to move on to the next part of the game. As Twine produces primarily text-based games, it enabled us to easily provide historical facts. We made players answer quiz-style questions, some about local history, in order to proceed through the game. Images, taken from our sources, and sounds (taken from https://freesound.org/) were used to enhance the gameplay.

A screenshot from Agent Archivist game, copyright Bedfordshire Archives

The website Philome.la (http://philome.la/) allowed us to host our game for free, so that people could play it online, and all that was required was a Twitter login. We also created a Dropbox account so we had somewhere to store an online version of the images and sounds we wanted to use. Obviously, other image storage sites are available but Dropbox was the most convenient for us. Although there wasn’t much uptake from schools, the project still showed that we could create an archives related game with minimal programming experience. This project, if time/staff/money was no issue, is something I would want to run again.

A screenshot from Agent Archivist, copyright Bedfordshire Archives

The best way to find out if Twine is suitable for you is to have a go either online or offline (after downloading the programme) at http://twinery.org/. Twine games available to play cover a range of genres. There’s horror and fantasy but also games that give an insight into conditions like anxiety and Alzheimer’s. ‘Agent Archivist’ is still available to play here: http://philome.la/AdvnturesinTime/agent-archivist/play

Kirsty McGill – Digitisation Technician, Bedfordshire Archives

If you play the game, please let Kirsty know what you think by commenting under this post!

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