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Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition 2.0

Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition 2.0

Deadline for submissions: 15 Feb 2018

Announcement of winners: 31 July 2018

Entries accepted in English and Welsh.

Wonderbox Publishing, in conjunction with Bangor University (Wales), is sponsoring the second annual competition to discover the best “popular” digital fiction: digital fiction that appeals to mainstream audiences.

See last year’s winners here!

Digital fiction is fiction that is written to be read/played on digital devices. Importantly, digital fictions are different to e-books. Rather than existing as a digital version of a print novel, digital fictions are what are known as “born digital” – that is, they would lose something of their form and/or meaning if they were removed from the digital medium.

For example, they may contain hyperlinks, moving images, mini-games or sound effects. In many digital fictions, the reader has a role in constructing the narrative, either by selecting hyperlinks or by controlling a character’s journey through the storyworld. Digital fictions therefore require that the reader interacts with the narrative throughout the reading experience. Hypertexts, text-adventure games, multimedia stories, interactive video, literary games, and some mobile apps are all examples of types of digital fiction.

See our Digital Fiction Resources guide here.

There are no restrictions as to types of software you can use to produce digital fiction; everything from HTML, Adobe Flash, Inform7, Twine, YouTube, Twitter, and more have been used to make digital fictions. For the competition, please submit links or files that are openly accessible on any computer (Mac or PC), and that will run in a web browser.

Wonderbox Publishing is a new publishing endeavour that seeks to provide commercial space to digital fiction, and the Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition is therefore designed to expand digital fiction readership to include a broader segment of the public. Therefore while the competition is open to all writers (rookies and veterans) and all types of digital fiction, we are seeking entries of works that are broadly accessible, both in terms of intended audience and device compatibility.

This competition is funded through a Bangor ESRC Impact Acceleration Award, in partnership with Wonderbox Publishing, Literature Wales, and Jisc Wales.

The prize categories are:

  • Judges’ Prize
  • People’s Choice
  • Welsh Language Prize*
  • Student Prize
  • Children’s Story

*Welsh language entries are eligible for all categories.

Winners will receive a cash prize (to be announced) and an option to publish with Wonderbox Publishing.

For ongoing details of the competition, please watch this space, and subscribe to updates!

Ready to submit? Click here!

Review: Andy Kelly’s Derelict

Review: Andy Kelly’s Derelict

Derelict Screenshot

Derelict
by Andy Kelly
2017
Hypertext / Twine Game


Derelict was written by Andy Kelly, @ultrabrilliant on Twitter, writer for PC Gamer, and contributor to Edge and The Guardian, amongst other places. It’s a short — I played in less than an hour — interactive horror science fiction story.

Like most people, I go through the story once on my own before reading what other people say about it, especially since this is a freely-provided online version. Go check it out on itch.io. I’ll wait for you to get back.

If you went off to experience the story for yourself, welcome HOME; and if you didn’t go off to explore the story yourself you’ll have missed the reference, so I recommend you do before going further.

One of the great things about Twine games is that I see a new format of story practically every time I see a new game. Twine is an accessible platform for writing interactive fiction, but it’s truly the ingenuity of the authors that brings the medium to life.

Derelict tells the story of the Orkney, a ship on an interstellar mission from the solar system to a colony 49 weeks’ travel away. All you know upon embarking on this interactive quest is that it’s your job to find out what happened to the missing crew of a vessel found drifting in space.

The conceit of the narrative is that you are examining the retrieved data from the black box found onboard the vessel, piecing together a narrative to inform your corporate superiors what happened to their investment.

Interactive narratives such as this one are interesting primarily because they often put you in the shoes of the implied reader of the story, instead of divorcing you the reader from the person the story is talking to. In this case, you have an in-story explanation of why you are trawling through reports, chat logs, and sensor sweeps: you’re the investigator figuring out the events as they occurred leading up to the discovery of a derelict ship.

I don’t know whether it’s the influence of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, or the various military science-fiction novels I’ve read, but when a narrative delves into the daily lives and interactions between members of a crew aboard a space-faring vessel, I fall in love immediately.

This is a short piece, which is in some ways disappointing, and in others is perfect. What Kelly did with this story was give us just enough information, and the tantalising knowledge that there was more to read that we just didn’t recover, to know something important about these characters. We empathise with the pair who are clearly romantically interested in one another, we know that the corporate spy/representative is just doing his job as well he can when the rest of the crew think he’s on the ‘other side’, and we uncover just the briefest of rumour about the captain’s former partner.

These things all come together for us, the readers, to feel genuine horror when something happens to the crew. In typical horror science-fiction fashion, the crew falls apart roughly one member at a time until only a few are left. For a short time, we become embroiled in the lives of these men and women… only for that façade to crumble when we remember why we are reading the logs.

I said, “that we just didn’t recover” earlier and this is the other aspect I wanted to highlight. This narrative, short though it may be, gives you as the player/reader a direct role in the narrative through the interface of the webpage. You take on the role of the Sonmi employee who is trawling through recovered data. The highlighted hexadecimal ‘buttons’ are surrounded by those that cannot be clicked. What was in those files? How much more would we know if those had been recovered? What’s behind the screen!?

The interactive element adds a layer to the story that enriches the narrative, and the upside is that it’s easy for both the reader to imagine those extra pieces of story, and for the writer to imply that there are other parts to the story to see. Some may consider this a short cut, I suppose, but Kelly purposefully wrote a short piece, so we must forgive him.

We need more stories like this. Derelict is a fun, short romp through an easy-to-navigate system that gives you a sense of a wider world and more to discover that I find irresistible.

Review: Anna Anthropy’s Queers in Love at the End of the World

Review: Anna Anthropy’s Queers in Love at the End of the World

Queers in Love at the End of the World
by Anna Anthropy
Interactive Fiction / Twine Game
2013


Queers in Love at the End of the World is an interactive fiction written using Twine Sugarcane by Anna Anthropy, supposedly for a competition and inspired by a quote from Tumblr: “when we have each other, we have everything”.

The theme of the competition and therefore this IF is ‘ten seconds’. The reader is given ten seconds to go from start to finish by clicking on the links to try and find a path. This means you have little to no time to read anything, even the opening passage. You could, of course, spend time reading each passage and simply following your old path when you move onto the next page but that kind of defeats the purpose.

What little I managed to read in between frantic clicking on links is great writing: emotive wording, characterisation, and multiple paths to take. This IF is best suited to those who like to skim-read and get the gist of what path they’re taking, but someone who enjoys taking their time and reading isn’t going to have the best experience.

The entire point is that you have no time to think, no time to react to the information you’re being given because the world is ending. The inclusion of a timer is an excellent way to replicate the anxiety one would feel when given only ten seconds to experience something.

Because of the tiny time limit, this IF has a high degree of re-playability. In the ten to twenty times a reader would usually spend reading an IF, they can experience many different paths of the game. I don’t know how many endings there are but one of the best parts is probably when you finish frantically clicking links and end up on a page with three seconds left where you actually have enough time to read it.

This IF relies heavily on assumptions: when you click on a link, you have some idea where you’re going to go. Most of the options are actions: “kiss her” etc., or the player-character thinking about something specific, such as “The memory of her smell when she’s far away”.

The title is the only overt reference to this being an LGBT+ piece. Nothing in the text (that I managed to read) was obvious that this should be anything more than the standard heteronormative piece. This piece is a massive hi-five to the LGBT+ community and one that I can definitely get behind. After all, why should writers have to conform to stereotypes in order to display a relationship that is fundamentally the same as those available in other fiction? The fact that the title itself states this is enough of a tip off and is great representation.

Anna Anthropy is an American video game writer and has a great list of other works if you want to follow her other works. I highly recommend it.

Review: Michael Lutz’s My Father’s Long, Long Legs

Review: Michael Lutz’s My Father’s Long, Long Legs

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My Father’s Long, Long Legs
by Michael Lutz
2013
Hypertext / Twine Game


Players of My Father’s Long, Long Legs will probably never find a piece of hypertext more aptly described by the phrase “digging yourself a hole”.

This twine game, from Michael Lutz’s site Correlated Contents, explores the topic of an absent father in a rather peculiar way. You play as the eldest child, nameless like the other characters, identified only by their relevant roles: Father, Mother, Brother, Brother’s Friend, etc. Then through clicking hyperlinks to reveal more text, you burrow deeper into how the family is affected once the protagonist’s father begins digging in the basement of their home.

As you play the game, you learn little about the protagonist but much about her family. The first ‘choice’ you’re presented with is an option to learn more about your brother, mother or yourself (although, the latter only provides extra insight on the protagonist’s family situation and gender, as she’s later referred to as “young lady”).

The choices themselves are less about what dialogue the player accesses and more about what order it’s accessed in. The previously mentioned “Brother”, “Mother” and “Yourself” options must all be viewed to advance, but you can view them in whatever order you like. Similarly, to progress through the game, the player must click the link in the current passage to reveal the next passage.

As each passage is revealed the webpage becomes longer, revealing a daunting wall of text to the player. It’s easy then to imagine that you’ve done some digging yourself, buried deep in this black background, going deeper the more you read. Towards the end of the game’s first phase, you’re asked to make a real choice in My Father’s Long, Long Legs, but even this only results in a small dialogue change.

Then in phase two things get a little more interesting.

I categorise phase two by the change in background and how you read the text. In phase one, all the text you’ve read so far is still visible. You can scroll up and return to the beginning of the story, although it’s impossible to make any changes to your choices without restarting the game. However, in phase two each choice you make takes you to a new screen. Some screens are even repeated depending on which options you pick.

Not to mention, everything is black besides a small circle you control via mouse. This allows you to read the text underneath the circle, simulating a torch held by the protagonist. There are also audio elements, the sound of digging, and the humming of Johnny Cash’s “You Are My Sunshine” right at the end.

The player is now faced with choices again, heading in certain directions or performing other actions, trying to navigate the protagonist through the basement. I’ve completed the game a few times yet I struggle to discern whether specific choices take you to the ending quicker or not.

At times, the unsettling sound of digging in the background seems to become more loud or quiet depending on the choices taken. Perhaps this signals the player to follow their ears to reach the end, much like The Forest Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time. Alternatively, it could be a certain number of choices that lead the player to the end, as they wander lost through the same few sets of decisions.

Overall, My Father’s Long, Long Legs is an engaging – and towards the end, frightening – piece of hypertext, lacking only in the branching paths so familiar to hypertext fiction. But despite the game only having one path, it’s a path well worth walking if you have twenty minutes to take in the scenery.

Review: Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest

Review: Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest

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Depression Quest
by Zoe Quinn
2013
Hypertext / Twine Game
Steam / Play for Free


I know, the title doesn’t scream ‘thrilling-thing-you-want-to-do’ but bear with me for a second. Depression Quest is an interactive Twine game with collaborators Patrick Lindsey and Issac Schankler. You play as someone living with depression who is given everyday situations to navigate and choices as to what you can decide to do.

It is not a fun game.

It isn’t meant to be.

The purpose is to educate those who play so they have a better understanding of what living with depression entails, this can range from people struggling with the mental illness or those trying to support them. As you begin you are given snippets of information about your background such as your social circle and the fact you have a girlfriend called Alex.

The story is navigated via hyperlinks but additionally also has music which you are encouraged to listen to as you play. But you don’t miss anything if you do; I gather it’s there to provide some sort of ambience yet it’s rather just stereotypical sad piano.

Depending on which choice you take, others are struck through so you no longer have that option. You can see the most positive or logical option, you know it’s there, but you’ve chosen to ignore it or not pursue it for whatever reason. This element of the game in particular I found interesting, more evocative of real life frustration. You’ve made a choice. You can’t go back. You have to deal with what’s left.

However, a drawback for Depression Quest is that if you’ve dealt with or are dealing with depression you know how to get the ‘positive’ outcome. As with all games, you want to beat them, you want to achieve the best possible outcome and with this, it’s fairly simple to do. This part of the gameplay feels almost encouraging, that if you can manage it here there’s the possibility you can do it for yourself too.

Additionally, parts of the writing start to feel like it’s more of a personal account of their mental health, what choices they feel they had at that time so it can come across as very narrow in its scope, and slightly tedious.

Adversely you do get several chances to open up to the other characters, to change your progression if you’ve decided this isn’t quite the path you want. One thing that is beneficial is that the game provides something akin to stress relief. You can choose the most disastrous options but there is no fall out, no lasting damage, no broken friendships, etc. It’s all contained in cyberspace, waiting for the reset button.

In essence, it is an educational tool in a sea of thousands and there is no doubt that for some it has served its purpose. Depression Quest is a good attempt at trying to battle the stigma of mental illness through a more interactive, widely accessible platform and should be utilised more often.

Review: Michael Lutz’s the uncle who works for nintendo

Review: Michael Lutz’s the uncle who works for nintendo

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the uncle who works for nintendo
Michael Lutz
Interactive Fiction / Twine Game
October 2014


the uncle who works for nintendo (TUWWFN and capitalised in some uploads but not in his website) is exactly the kind of IF you’d expect from someone who also authored a game called the bones picked clean and the clean bones gone. The origin of Lutz’s problem with capitalisation is a mystery but he certainly knows how to write in Twine.

This game takes around 15-20 per play through and has five possible endings so if you’re the kind to want to find every possibility, I recommend setting a few hours aside to immerse yourself in this fiction.

In Lutz’s words, his piece “uses a horror framework to think about misogyny and emotional abuse and manipulation”. So even though the title references a company well known for brightly-coloured characters and kid-friendly universes, TUWWFN is a chilling story set in childhood. The misogyny in the piece, admittedly, seems a bit stuck-on for bonus points and is only really present if you go through a specific path but manipulation (of people and of facts) is as clear as day.

If you’re going to read this, I have two pieces of advice. Turn your sound on (hello sound effects), and question everything.

The first thing you do is pick the name of your best friend which is a refreshing change. Normally you’re picking who you are. From there, it matches your general Twine fiction: you’re given a few possible paths to take and you’ll be affecting your ending the whole way. The whole way through, you take the lead and the world around you is affected by your actions.

One interesting innovation used in the piece is Lutz’s use of coding language within the game itself. This gives an extra level of understanding to those who have also used Twine but also has the added benefit of formatting the text differently to the rest of the passage. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just take a look.

Though Lutz seems to have a few issues with commas, it doesn’t detract too much from the story itself and though the piece does have some interesting innovations, some of the dialogue is reminiscent of everyone’s first two years writing awkward overly-polite conversations between their characters.

That said, the basic scene-setting isn’t too bad. If you’re in the habit of skim-reading IF, you might need to make the effort to read it through. Links to other passages are dotted throughout each passage and can change the reading and the ending you’re in store for. Even if you’re redirected back to the same passage, you’ll find differences in the text if you look closely enough.

Lutz has also cleverly made the game in such a way where you’re not sure if things are broken or if it’s just meant to back you into a corner. Not everything in this game is as it seems at first. Though that sentence could be taken as a motto for this piece.

Though, at the time of writing this review, I haven’t yet gotten all five endings, I would say this game has a high degree of re-playability. The desire to see what choices will lead us where and how you can avoid meeting the same sticky end you already found.

I wouldn’t put this game up there with AAA horror games, but it is a bit spooky and I’d recommend that you read it in a well-lit room with a warm drink if you’re not of a robust disposition.

To see more of Michael Kurtz’s works, visit his website here.

Review: Andrea Corbin’s Base of the Comet

Review: Andrea Corbin’s Base of the Comet

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Base of the Comet
Andrea Corbin (@rosencrantz)
Interactive Fiction / Twine Game
2014


Base of the Comet, by Andrea Corbin, aka @rosencrantz, was one of the first Twine games I read that experimented with what it means to have different links in a hypertext. Then Corbin went on to try something I hadn’t seen before. It’s basically the story of a space scientist, Cal, who wakes up confused and alone on a spaceship. Here there be weird space monsters!

When you load the webpage, the first visible lexia, or story passage, loads and you instantly see two types of links, coloured purple or blue. Clicking on the purple links will find those paragraphs extending from a simple description to something more, and then to a full-blown investigation of whatever it is describing. Instead of navigation, purple is “explore”.

I really like this style of hypertext, and I what I liked the most was the very quick introduction to one key fact for this Twine text: there are a whole bunch of link types.

So, making Cal explore the environment (or not, as there is some element of control) we can move her on to explore the rest of the space vessel. Very quickly, it’s possible to dive into a loop of backstory.

With a new link colour (green) we enter flashbacks and see some characterisation, motivation, and minor plot. All of this is completely optional, of course, and that’s what I love about these games.

These optional lexias are fun, interesting, and deliver the meat of the story. We get the hint of past and current relationships, for example, which in reality has no business being in a short story of this type. However, as backstory it completely changes and becomes hugely important.

But, this wouldn’t be an experimental Twine game without something new, something quirky.

When we reach a section of the narrative that Cal enters a dark tunnel (I’ll leave the details to you to discover), the entire webpage goes completely black.

This combination of narrative and design brings a new level to the text that I wasn’t completely expecting, but it makes perfect sense now that I think about it. Of course it should go dark when there are no lights, right?

Not only does Corbin experiment with the narrative here (it’s speculative fiction after all) but the form of the hypertext, too. I don’t want to spoil every little design quirk that just adds to the experience; I want you to discover that for yourself.

The story is rather short, as it’s more of an experiment than a novel. But in the space that we have to explore, we find out some rather intimate aspects of backstory that flesh out the character of Cal, and we empathise with her easily.

The narrative doesn’t branch off so much in the beginning as it offers exploration of an area before one moves on; this gives the reader a sense of engagement with the story that is always welcome in a hypertext.

But, whilst the main narrative is mostly — key-word mostly — linear, there are multiple areas and rooms that are very easy to pass by. This text rewards the reader who explores with extra story, extra characterisation, and extra stats.

You have a very game-like statistics page at the end of a readthrough, telling you what you did and didn’t manage to do. It encourages replays, but at the same time could be slightly annoying to those who aren’t interested in replaying, I suppose, by taunting them with how much they missed the first time through.

As an aside, I once found 11 out of 7 things in this story. That’s right. If you can beat that, please leave a comment letting us know how you did in Base of the Comet, whether you liked it or not!

Base of the Comet was written in Twine by Andrea Corbin, @rosencrantz on Twitter, and can be found in various locations around the web, but mostly here.

Review: Hana Feels by Gavin Inglis

Review: Hana Feels by Gavin Inglis

Hana Feels by Gavin Inglis
Interactive story / Twine game
2015


I’m always anxious about reading fiction about depression. There’s a tendency towards romanticising mental illness – or at least the ‘pretty’ side of mental illness – that rubs me the wrong way. Fortunately, Hana Feels might be about depression, but it is not romanticised.

Hana Feels is an interactive storygame centred around the eponymous character, Hana, and her struggle with depression. However, we don’t play as Hana, but rather the characters she interacts with, including her best friend, Jen, her boss, Christine, and a helpline volunteer named Will. Their reactions decide what path she will follow, either helping her recovery or making her worse.

There are three possible endings to the game: better, the same, or worse. Obviously, it’s not exactly true to life – recovery from mental illness isn’t linear in any way – but Inglis manages to capture a version of reality with these endings. There isn’t an ending where everything ends up hunky-dory. She’s not going to walk away suddenly cured, which is a relief for those readers who have experience with mental illnesses.

The thing is, Hana Feels has two possible readers: those with experience, and those without. For the former, it’s a familiar story. Although no two people have the same journey, there are elements that most people experience: alienation from family members and friends; feelings of self-doubt and blame; disassociation from everyday experiences and so on. In its way, Hana Feels is a mirror, and it hits home.

But for those readers who have never experienced mental illness, or have only ever watched from afar? For them, Hana Feels becomes something more like a manual. On my first playthrough, I got frustrated with how similar the options were – what does it matter if you ask someone’s name before you ask them how they are? It wasn’t until my second and third playthrough that I understood better: every word mattered when trying to help someone else, and they especially mattered when a single misstep could cause irreparable harm. It was uncomfortable and stressful and exactly what it’s like in real life – and that’s why Hana Feels is a great storygame.

I won’t say it’s perfect. There are moments where the dialogue doesn’t quite mesh perfectly, or where the reactions are too limited for there to be a satisfying option. But that in itself is quite clever: after all, we’re not reacting as we would, but rather exploring how the characters themselves might choose. It’s shorter than I’d like, and once you’ve figured out the right options to pick the game ends a little abruptly, but overall Inglis manages to draw us into the world successfully – uncomfortably, awkwardly, but certainly successfully.

Built in Twine 2.0, Hana Feels is sort of the quintessential storygame: limited interactions allow for different possible conclusions. For those used to interactive fiction, it is somewhat predictable, but that doesn’t detract from its enjoyability – rather, the comfort of the familiarity is a perfect offset to the discomfort of the topic. It’s free to play, only takes about fifteen minutes to get through, and is something I’d definitely recommend giving a go.

Read more about the project on Gavin Ingis’s blog.

Review: The Domovoi by Kevin Snow

Review: The Domovoi by Kevin Snow

The Domovoi by Kevin Snow
Twine game / Hypertext
2014


The Domovoi is one of two games created by Kevin Snow and available on his Bravemule website, with a third being created and funded by Kickstarter. The Domovoi draws its inspiration from a mythical creature of Slavic origins. Whilst at first jarring, what came from subsequent playthroughs was a deeper understanding and interest in this myth, undoubtedly Snow’s aim.

Upon opening the game, the first noticeable thing is the atmosphere. The Domovoi employs minimalistic illustrations and ambient sounds to create a cold, lifeless world. Couple this with Snow’s bleak narrative style, The Domovoi can end up being a dark affair. It is a rich and bitter piece that cannot help but immerse you in its world, even if it is relatively short.

Sitting down and playing this story to see all it has to offer takes just under an hour. Each subsequent playthrough remained fresh in my mind and made it easy to remember what choices I had previously chosen; the work returns you to exactly where you started – a small candle lit paragraph giving some exposition to the narrative and myth.

You are a traveller who has been offered sanctuary at the house of a storyteller and, to pass the time, you help them craft a new yarn. This yarn is the tale of a domovoi: a fantasy Slavic creature that tends to the house of its master. The storyteller offers you choices for the domovoi to make and this leads down a narrow narrative path. Whether this limitation is intentional or not, it helps develop the feeling that the storyteller has their own agenda for this tale.

You can choose, however, to weave your own story. At a few places, you can derail it and inject your own ideas, causing some aggravation from the storyteller. These little moments add some comedic relief from the sombre tone of the narrative. If you derail the story too much, it ends in the player being kicked out of the storyteller’s house, becoming one of three possible endings.

Perhaps The Domovoi’s biggest shortcoming is its length. The piece works well as an introduction to this Slavic myth, but an introduction it remains. Snow had the opportunity to delve into a rich area of mythology and serve as a piece to not only entertain, but to also educate those unfamiliar. Furthermore, the interesting dynamic between you, the player, and the character who you are helping create a tale could have been explored further, but it is left relatively under-developed.

All in all, The Domovoi has the potential to be something more by exploring Slavic mythology and player/narrator relationship more. That being said, however, it remains an intriguing and brilliantly bleak short story – whichever way you decide to play it – that is worth your time to visit.

You can find The Domovoi and Kevin Snow’s other projects on the Bravemule website where you can play for free, or pay what you want.