Using Twine as a Therapeutic Writing Tool for Creating Serious Games

Presented at the Joint Conference on Serious Games 2016 by Katryna Starks, Dakoda Barker, and Alayna Cole.

Paper available here


Katryna Starks | | @KatrynaStarks
Dakoda Barker | | @JiroJames
Alayna Cole | | @AlaynaMCole

Twine is a free, browser-based writing tool that is designed for people to create interactive narratives with very little programming experience. It uses a flowchart-like interface to connect passages of text, and publishes the output as an interactive web page.

The accessibility and ease-of-use that Twine presents allows authors to concentrate on their own stories—including the possible choices and branches they wish to include in their non-linear recollections—without needing an advanced understanding of programming or writing techniques; therefore, the benefits of creating Twine games that we are exploring today are not restricted to game developers, programmers, or writers.

The Icecream Parlour
Alayna Cole
1,500 words
Two hours to create
Author's first Twine game
Available here

Originally designed to explore the lack of empathy some people feel towards those with diverse sexualities. Designed as a way of promoting empathy and education, as well as humorous catharsis for those who can relate to hearing these prejudices. Surprisingly resulted in my own catharsis as I was able to embody the narrator's voice and respond to those who express prejudiced viewpoints.

Dakoda Barker
5,000 words
Six hours to create, four hours to edit
Author's first Twine game
Available here

Designed firstly for Katryna's class, and secondly (and more importantly) to communicate the stress and difficulty of being a productive person when living with chronic health conditions. Variables in threesixfive reflect the overwhelmed feeling of having too many tasks to complete each day and not enough time to complete them. Balancing threesixfive had the unexpected impact of causing the author to reevaluate his perspective of a 'successful' day so that living could feel more achievable.

Katryna Starks
2,500 words
Three hours to create
Author's second Twine game
Available here.

Designed as a teaching tool for an interactive narrative class, and as a way of showing how seemingly meaningless choices can be given meaning in a game context. Had a cathartic impact for the author, as she was able to record her own experiences with the controlling aspects of domestic abuse. The act of creating the game also helped to increase the author's empathy towards others in similar situations.

Cognitive Behavioural Writing Therapy (CBWT) generally involves four steps: (1) writing a story about one’s experiences or fears, (2) expanding that story until it is fully detailed, (3) using that story to converse with a therapist and reframe the experience in order to find more effective ways of coping, and finally, (4) sharing that story with others as a sign of completion.

Typically, CBWT involves creating linear stories about their experiences; however, Twine allows authors to easily create branching narratives without the aid of a programmer. Branching narratives are an innovative way for people to not only write their own story, but also explore alternative routes and actions they can take, or take educational tangents to help others understand their experiences.

For a more detailed and theoretical exploration of how Twine could be applied to CBWT, please read our full paper.