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Meet the Method: Twine

This NULab blog series serves to showcase some of the DITI’s publicly available learning resources. This installment focuses on Twine.

Written by Sara Morrell

In the United States, June 17-23, 2024, is National Pollinator Week. Pollinators play important roles in our ecosystems and by growing native plants we can help support pollinators. As an amateur gardener, I was excited to see that the Pollinator Partnership has a tool called “Find Your Roots,” which helps you identify pollinator friendly plants that are native to your area and suitable to your garden’s conditions. This National Pollinator Week, I adapted “Find Your Roots” into an interactive Twine game that helps you find plants to go in your pollinator garden called “Plant a Pollinator Garden.” The Twine game focuses on pollinator friendly plants that are native to Boston, Massachusetts and Oakland, California. It first identifies the ecoregion for each city and then recommends native plants based on whether your garden will be shady or sunny. Once you select your plants, it tells you which pollinators you helped by planting them.

This was my first Twine project and I was a little bit confused about the concept of a Twine “game,” expecting something like tetris. Instead, Twine games are usually interactive stories where the author provides the reader with a series of choices they can make, and the reader’s choices determine what happens in the story. Twine is a free open-source tool that lets the author write their interactive story without needing any coding experience. To start learning about Twine, I reviewed the Digital Integration Teaching Initiative’s (DITI) module Introduction to Twine: Narrative and Storyboarding. The module is listed on the DITI’s Sample Course Modules webpage, along with other modules on digital humanities and computational social science topics. It was developed for Professor Philip Gilreath’s Fall 2023 ENGW 3307: Advanced Writing in the Sciences course. The module is published on the DITI’s GitHub page. I found the module slides helpful as they explain what Twine is and how to use it to make interactive stories. The explanations used lots of screenshots of Twine, making it easy to follow along.    

I first downloaded the desktop version of Twine so that I could save my project. I decided to keep my story relatively simple and only focus on two Northeastern University campus locations: Boston, MA and Oakland, CA. For the garden conditions, I chose to just provide the options for a sunny or shady garden. Once the reader chooses their location and garden conditions, they can choose between two plants to plant in their garden. Their choice then determines which pollinators they helped. Below is a picture of my story pages and branches in Twine: 

In Twine, each box is a page and the arrows show how different choices will lead the reader to different pages. A Twine story starts with just one page. To add more pages, you add the new page names in two sets of square brackets to the text on the current page. For example, the first two sentences on my first page are ‘You have decided to plant a garden for pollinators. Where will you plant your garden? You can pick [[Boston, MA]] or [[Oakland, CA]]’. Putting Boston, MA and Oakland, CA inside the two sets of square brackets created two new pages with those names connected to the first page. When the reader clicks on one of the place names, they will be taken to the page for that place. Using this text feature, I added additional pages branching off from each place for sunny and shady gardens, and then for the two different types of plants. Even with just providing the reader three choices (place, conditions, and plant), I ended up with a lot of different endings. 

Twine lets you add GIFs, images, and HyperText Markup Language (HTML) code to your pages. For each of my story endings I added a GIF, image, or animation of the pollinator the reader helped. I made sure to add alt text along with my GIFs and images to make the game more accessible to those who might use screen readers. Below, you can see one of the eight possible story endings. 

To play “Plant a Pollinator Garden,” you can download the Twine game HTML file from my GitHub and open it in your Internet browser. To download it, go to the file on GitHub, click the three dots in the upper right-hand corner, then select Download. To open the game, go to the downloaded file on your computer and double click the file name or icon, or right click on the file and select Open with and choose your browser. The game should then open as a new window in your browser.

Twine games are a great way to tell stories and convey information. You can try writing your own by downloading Twine for free and following along with the DITI’s slides. To learn more about pollinator friendly plants you can use the “Find Your Roots” tool by the Pollinator Partnership. Happy Pollinator Week! 

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