The Convergent Evolution of Hypertext: Democratizing effects of open-source platforms and marginalized communities

Electronic Literature Organization
Porto, Portugal
20 July 2017

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Literature arises from a “maker” culture: the basic skills required to consume and create literature are ubiquitous in modern literate cultures. From schools to book clubs to writers’ workshops, literary fiction is consumed, examined, and created. Digital literacies, however, are not yet ubiquitous, as technical and monetary barriers to entry remain: software is expensive and often requires advanced skillsets. Without a commercial driver to encourage mainstream uptake, digital fiction has remained largely within the academic and avant garde realms of experimentation. Open source platforms, also embracing that “maker” ideology, have produced digital fiction in a process of convergent evolution: Inform7’s interactive fiction, Ren’Py’s visual novels, and Twine’s hypertext “adventure games”. Twine’s success, in particular, is driven by its community and its discourse, as it has been embraced by a community that feels “marginalized” (Bernardi 2013; Friedhoff 2013; Harvey 2014; Kopas 2014) by the white male dominated game developer community (Edwards, et al. 2014; Salter 2015). This community is motivated by a desire to exchange personal narratives and engage in shared creative activities, rather than focusing solely on the experimental opportunities nascent in the form. The platform’s “maker” approach (open source, free, easy to learn, and mod-able) enables its community to advance beyond creative experimentation, and to use those creative activities to engage in discourse on and within minority cultures. Twine’s accessibility and facility, combined with its enthusiastic adoption by underserved creatives, has democratized (O’Reilly 2007; Jenkins 2006a; b) hypertexts and literary gaming. Far from being “dead” as a genre, hypertext in the Twine community is playing a significant role in cultural discourse, pushing into the literary mainstream. This paper will explore Twine texts that have emerged into the popular consciousness, as well as the author’s own practice-based engagement in the community and the form.

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Cite as: Skains, R. Lyle. 2017. “The Convergent Evolution of Hypertext: Democratizing Effects of Open-Source Platforms and Marginalized Communities.” In Electronic Literature Organization Conference July 2017. Porto, Portugal.

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