Twine is a digital storytelling tool that most people have heard of or maybe even used? I actually think that Twine’s capabilities have yet to be fathomed outside of building compelling games like Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest. Twine has the capacity to be a great remediation tool, transforming print books into text-based games. But why in the world would anyone do such a thing?
Lots of reasons, but certainly no reasoning that assumes “print is dead.” In fact, following Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s lead, discourses of obsolescence and decline have more to do with shoring up cultural hierarchies than any actual “end of days” for a particular medium (2). That is, this project is not about proving that print is dying, but much more to do with supplementing and even correcting some of the limitations of print. This kind of work can be tough when print texts have been romanticized to the point where most readers do not recognize that a book is really nothing more than a portable data container (with a whole lot of cultural baggage). books are heavy, man.
A book is a tool – a form of media technology designed to contain text in a particular way, after all, “texts are linguistic and as such do not have a fixed physical form,” meaning that texts can expressed across many different kinds of media (Kelemen 29). Yep, text is transformable, but when working with digital mediums, things get sticky. Digital mediums fundamentally change how text is managed, stored, read, and even understood, which makes the work of the editor even more important.
As every editor knows, the actual history of the book is vital to understand how to deal with a book in an ethical manner. An editor I greatly admire, Zailig Pollock, makes this point pretty damn clear in his essay “The Material and Cultural Transformation of Scholarly Editing in Canada” that when we are editing texts (particularly scholarly forms of editing) we are grappling with forces of authority, legitimacy, and power. No one understands these forces better than Indigenous authors and editors who have had to engage (grapple?) with western-style militaristic practices of editorial control and power, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so much:
[w]hen Indigenous authors in Canada submit their work to a publisher it is always in the context of a colonial history built on exclusion, segregation, abuses of authority, domination, and official policies of assimilation meant to destroy Aboriginal languages and cultures, remove Aboriginal peoples and their lands, disrupt family relationships, and eliminate the special legal status of any remaining “Indian” peoples (Akiwenzie Damm 30)
This is what I mean when I say BOOKS ARE HEAVY – they carry the weight of their own contents and all the history that came with it. For a great many Indigenous writers, this weight includes the structural racism of academic publishing and editing. My question is this: is the book itself as a technology also a medium designed to oppress? If the paratext, which is meant to complement the contents, operates to neutralize (or neuter) the author’s cultural voice, ethos, and position, then the scholarly edition exerts colonial control.
For this reason, we are building (I use the pronoun “we” because this project has received loads of help) a scholarly social knowledge edition of Mourning Dove’s Cogewea. This edition incorporates Indigenous editing practice and digital gaming paradigms to create an interactive text that actively engages the reader. We are following groundbreaking work by Sonja Sapach, Jon Saklofske and the Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) Modelling and Prototyping Team who created a “Gaming the Edition” text model to challenge the private practice of scholarly editing. Through this project, they ask questions about how to create a rigorous open access model that is somewhat akin to the Wikipedia model of editing, but once a reader edits the text, they “level up” and continue on their reading and editing journey.
While the digital Cogewea edition will not engage open access editing in this form, gaming an edition can create spaces of learning, participation, and interconnectivity in previously restricted print text editions where only those with exclusive knowledge could access and understand the form and content. Digital paradigms offer a means to realize active, energized textual engagement between reader and text, overlapping and blending Indigenous orature, community, and kinetic vitality in a digital textual space. In other words, it’s a good idea to at least test out new forms that can offer a more respectful way to share Indigenous stories with a wide audience. Twine is the testing ground, but it’s not like we are the first! There have been interventions into colonial editing and publishing practices ( The People and the Text and Theytus Books comes to mind).
The director of Diversity and Inclusion for Riot Games, Soha Kareem, describes Twine as a tool for reimagining and redefining modes of storytelling; it can help to give voice to lesser-heard voices. The digital scholarly edition of Cogewea will follow a tradition of interactive fiction to engage the user not simply through reading, but teaching the user how to read in order to proceed (Montfort 3). This aspect of interactive fiction is crucial to our project. As Deanna Reder and Linda Morra make clear, it is not uncommon for postsecondary students, staff, and teachers to lack knowledge of Indigenous histories and knowledge. Interactive fiction, therefore, offers users or “interactors,” to borrow Janet Murray’s term for readers of interactive fiction (or text-based games) new ways to engage with the text. Nick Montford explains that interactive fiction teaches “by offering a new way of seeing” (4). Our goal is to use interactive fiction to create an Indigenized way to read a scholarly edition of an Indigenous text.
Now to finish the game (check out the Beta. The link is a pinned Tweet on my Twitter profile @smhumphreys)
What I cited….
Akiwenzie-Damm, Kateri. “‘We think differently. We have a different understanding.”: Editing Indigenous Texts as an Indigenous Editor.” Editing as a Cultural Practice in Canada. Dean Irvine and Smaro Kamboureli, ed. Waterloo: WLU Press, 2016. 29-40.
Kelemen, Erick. Textual Editing and Criticism. W.W. Norton, 2009. Print.
Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2005. Print.
Pollock, Zailig. “The Material and Cultural Transformation of Scholarly Editing in Canada.” Editing as a Cultural Practice in Canada. Dean Irvine and Smaro Kamboureli, ed. Waterloo: WLU Press, 2016. 93-104.