Twine & Serious Gaming

As we were working on GOBLIN, Keegan and I both got really into Twine as a tool for building narrative-based games. One of the biggest problems in game-based learning and gamificaiton is the idea that game development is far too time consuming for use by faculty, let alone development by students. However, Twine is a lightweight framework that lowers the barrier to entry for quickly developing text and image based games. The simple game mechanics are based largely around making choices that drive branching narratives. Twine has several key features working for it:

  1. It’s HTML based and thus easily transferable between hosts and platforms
  2. It’s Open source via GitHub
  3. The storyboard interface is easy to learn
  4. It’s accessible on mobile devices
  5. Useful for prototyping more complex games
  6. Can be used to teach HTML & Digital/Media literacy

Here at OU, Kathleen Crowther has built Twine games to teach her students about Aristotelian cosmology. Students accompany Aristotle on one of his famous walks around Athens as he explains his natural philosophical understandings of how the world works.

Anastasia Salter has incorporated Twine in her courses at the University of Central Florida by having her students build their own Twine games as part of their coursework. She wrote about using Twine in the classroom for the Chronicle’s ProfHacker blog.

Here are a few of my favorite Twine games:

Queers in Love at the End of the World

Queers in Love at the End of the World is probably my favorite Twine game. The game is set 10 seconds before the end of the world. You, the player, are with your loved one and must decide (quickly) how to spend your last 10 seconds. The game is meant to be played and replayed as you explore the different possible paths. I love the simple timer game mechanic and the variety of (sometimes NSFW) narrative paths.

Screenshot of Queers at the End of the World Twine Game

Escape from the Man-Sized Cabinet

Stephen Colbert’s team put together a Twine game called Escape from the Man-Sized Cabinet before his CBS show got started, apparently out of boredom. The game is whimsical, mostly pointless, and (I assume) is an odd attempt at viral marketing. Here’s a screenshot:

Screenshot of Stephen Colbert's absurd Twine game


Capitalism The Role Playing Game is a fairly ridiculous game in which you battle each of the world’s top 100 richest people in order to become the richest and most powerful person in the world. Based on which class you select, you will have a set of randomized attacks to perform in each battle. As you progress, you will also earn special skills which can be used to devastating effect.

Screenshot of Capitalism the game depicting battle with one of the world's richest people


In the fall, Keegan and I will be leading a faculty learning community (eXperience Play) to help instructors integrate Twine into their courses. We will be discussing and demoing the tool, and then we will work to collaboratively build a game with the instructors that addresses a social issue facing students at the University of Oklahoma.

This social justice theme for the FLC will emulate some of the best educational games that we have found. Several of these were recently named finalists for the Games for Change Annual Awards:

(Note not all of these games were actually built in Twine, but they easily could have been and are similar enough to basically indistinguishable from Twine)

Choice Texas

Choice Texas starts off with a choice of five different female characters for the story. The player is presented with information about their character’s life and then must guide their character through a series of decisions regarding reproductive choice. The game depicts the real hardships faced by women in Texas because of a series of legislative measures that closed reproductive medical clinics over the last few years. Funded by an IndieGogo campaign, the game was developed by “Allyson Whipple (writer, editor, and poet) and Carly Kocurek (writer and cultural historian) with the help of illustrator Grace Jennings.”

Screenshot of the game

Syrian Journey

Syrian Journey provides the player with a series of binary choices demonstrating the unhappy, and in some cases zero win, decisions that Syrian refugees must make as they flee their war torn country. According to the site, “The routes, options and outcomes in this Syrian Journey feature were based on real stories uncovered by extensive research as part of a BBC Arabic digital project exploring migration from Syria.” The site also has several short supplemental videos documenting the experiences of refugees.

An image of Beirut depicting the current war and refugee crisis

Mission US

According to their own description: “Mission US is a multimedia project that immerses players in U.S. history content through free interactive games.” Currently you can choose between four historical characters, each a fourteen year old representative of their culture and time. The game attaches faces to a variety of American identities and experiences in an attempt to improve understanding of cultural diversity and thus inclusion. Note, this is not actually a Twine game, but it could be simplified into one.

Depression Quest

Depression Quest is an interactive fiction game where you play as someone living with depression. You are given a series of everyday life events and have to attempt to manage your illness, relationships, job, and possible treatment. This game aims to show other sufferers of depression that they are not alone in their feelings, and to illustrate to people who may not understand the illness the depths of what it can do to people.” Created by Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey, and Isaac Schankler, Depression Quest features a ton of content and again illustrates how we can teach about sensitive subjects through interactive games.

Screenshot of Depression Quest

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