This guest post is from Abigail Parry, the National Videogame Arcade’s writer-in-residence. Here she discusses an innovative poetry challenge that involves Shakespeare and Twine for the Off the Map Interactive Text competition.
Alrighty. What is it?
Off the Map is a yearly competition run between the British Library and the National Videogame Arcade, which invites participants to respond to a text by ‘gamifying’ it, or making it in some way interactive. There are three categories in the competition: 2D games, 3D games, and Interactive Text. It’s the last of these I want to talk about.
The 2D and 3D categories demand some affinity with game design software – but the Interactive Text category does not. We really want to encourage Humanities students to participate in the Interactive Text category of the competition this year. We’ll be looking for entries that respond innovatively and creatively to the resources available – and if your flair is for storytelling, or intertextuality, or wordplay, or any other form of textual manipulation, then we want to see something from you.
Hmmm. Do I smell an agenda?
Quite right. I’m a sucker for cross-disciplinary collaboration, and literature and games are two mediums with a lot to say to one another. The NVA, my hosts, are committed to bridging the divide between tech and the Humanities, and I mean to do my damnedest to help. I want to see everyone getting into in bed with everyone else. Creatively speaking.
Fair dos. As you were.
If you’ve never used an interactive text tool before – well, chances are you’ve read a Choose Your Own Adventure gamebook. It’s the same thing – a means of presenting a branching narrative – but with a computer programme doing most of the work. I’d recommend getting started with Twine, which is free to download and easy to use. We’ve put together a guide to getting started, which can be found here. Alternatively, you may prefer Inklewriter, which has its own excellent tutorials on the website.
(Confession time: I wish I could say the tech bit of my brain was all sleek chrome and orderly banks of purring consoles. It really isn’t. It’s staffed by a wheezing nonagenarian on unpaid overtime who blinks myopically at me when I come knocking. My background’s in the dusty end of academia, not in sexy STEM stuff – so I don’t use a word like ‘easy’ carelessly.)
Is there anything else I need to know?
Yes! Actually, one very important thing: the theme of this year’s competition is Shakespeare. You’re free to approach this in any way you like, as long as it speaks to the British Library’s resources in some way. You can work with the text itself, or rework a story, or focus on a bit-part character, or on a single line or stage direction. One of the reasons for Shakespeare’s enduring popularity is the facility with which his work can be picked up and played with. Go nuts. Entries are invited on one of three themes: ‘Castles’, ‘Forests’ and ‘The Tempest’ – but these may be interpreted broadly.
The British Library have made a load of Shakespeare-related images and sound files available through their digitised archives, and if you’re feeling adventurous, these can be incorporated into an Interactive Text submission (this may require a degree of tech nous – but the internet is there to help). This certainly isn’t expected, however, and it won’t count against you if you don’t. The judges will be looking for inventiveness, and that doesn’t have to mean digital wizardry. Your entry must respond to these resources in some way, however.
The competition will be judged by a panel of industry professionals and academics, and the winning entries will be exhibited at GameCity Festival in October. There’s also a big goody bag of books involved.
Anything else? Oh yes – the deadline for entries is the 1st of July 2016. Also, you must be a full-time student to enter the competition.
Further details, together with resources and submission guidelines, can be found on the National Videogame Arcade’s website, here. At the time of writing, we’re in the process of updating these guidelines, so it might be best to check back in a week or so.
If you have any questions, you can email me at email@example.com. Please do. I still get disproportionately excited when someone sends me an email.
If you’re after additional inspiration, the BBC has made hundreds of TV and radio programmes from its Shakespeare archive freely available HE students, and they can be found here.
Also, Ryan North has reworked Hamlet as an adventure gamebook, To be or Not to Be, which is available as both a physical book and a playable game.
I think that’s all. As the man himself says – bid the players make haste.
Dawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.
- Twine (twinery.org)
- Abigail Parry’s Twine guide (abigailparry.com)
- Inklewriter (inklestudios.com)
- Off The Map on the NVA website (gamecity.org)
- BBC Shakespeare Archive (shakespeare.ch.bbc.co.uk)
- What if a video game was poetry? (kotaku.com)
- Group blog about computer games, narratives, art and poetry (grandtextauto.soe.ucsc.edu)
- My First Twine Game (hiyashi.wordpress.com)