Navigating the Fog

I made a Twine game earlier this year. You can play it here if you want. By now Fogged Up Mirror's had plenty of chance to be experienced on its own terms and I feel like dissecting it a bit.

This is just the sort of zinester project some people love to look down on. You can tick the boxes: short, linear, personal, can't control the outcome, lacks challenge1. Game making as catharsis and self-care, with a small dose of education for the people around me. It's not even trying to be particularly appealing, really. I only expect interest from people who care about me personally, particularly like Twine games, or possibly have an investment in gender and identity issues.

My little game received slightly more attention than I expected. I'm still too obscure to get vitriol hurled at me, so all I see is the Twine community being something pretty special. I had friendly comments from strangers and a mention on Free Indie Games. It was even included in a Twine game collection shown for Transgender Day of Visibility in San Jose, and I feel stupidly excited to see my name alongside a bunch of people I admire very much.

Regardless of what else anyone might have to say about this sort of thing, it turned out to be a great learning project and way of connecting with people. Not bad for something I threw together in a weekend2 with zero experience.

Within its small scope Fogged Up Mirror is playful I think, though of course that's not the same thing as fun. It's always linear and always covers the same content, but the order can vary with player choice. This wouldn't have been possible in an essay or choose-your-own-adventure format. I like the way the structure keeps looping back on itself, since that's how the internal conversation feels.

One of the most difficult things about writing, I think, is taking ideas and forcing them into a straight line where one idea flows smoothly to the next. In the mind thoughts are much more tangled. It felt good to be able to capture some small part of the looping and free association of thoughts, even if I'll always have to simplify and iron things out before another person can understand them.

Twine structure

The structure of Fogged Up Mirror, as it appears in Twine. A web that always eventually leads to the same place.

I keep expecting someone to criticise my use of hangman images. I always knew it was a potentially dubious choice, but I got quite stuck on that as a representation of trying to find the right words (and not being able to). It also fits with the idea of idly scrawling thoughts in the shower, though it was much easier to create a blackboard effect than a foggy mirror, so that's a compromise. Artwork was always going to be difficult, but I didn't want to leave things completely bare. In the end I think my lack of artistic skill adds to a sense of amateur weirdness about the whole thing and I'm pretty comfortable with that.

The major advantage I did have here was CSS experience. Wrangling the display was still the most time-consuming aspect. In some ways I worry I've twisted the concept of a Twine game with my layout tweaks and love of Google fonts. Marrying two different worlds. There's a touch of impostor syndrome talking here: over-educated, not queer enough, not zinester enough. But if anything I learnt that it's okay, and there is a place for me.

I have slightly more ambitious ideas floating around in my head, so we'll see what comes of that, but this was a good place to start and turned out to be more worthwhile than I expected.

1. Actually I think it's plenty challenging, just not in the way some people expect games to be challenging.
2. And then fussed over for the rest of the week, admittedly, but that didn't add much.