Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

75 posts categorized "Games"

15 March 2024

Call for proposals open for DigiCAM25: Born-Digital Collections, Archives and Memory conference

Digital research in the arts and humanities has traditionally tended to focus on digitised physical objects and archives. However, born-digital cultural materials that originate and circulate across a range of digital formats and platforms are rapidly expanding and increasing in complexity, which raises opportunities and issues for research and archiving communities. Collecting, preserving, accessing and sharing born-digital objects and data presents a range of technical, legal and ethical challenges that, if unaddressed, threaten the archival and research futures of these vital cultural materials and records of the 21st century. Moreover, the environments, contexts and formats through which born-digital records are mediated necessitate reconceptualising the materials and practices we associate with cultural heritage and memory. Research and practitioner communities working with born-digital materials are growing and their interests are varied, from digital cultures and intangible cultural heritage to web archives, electronic literature and social media.

To explore and discuss issues relating to born-digital cultural heritage, the Digital Humanities Research Hub at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in collaboration with British Library curators, colleagues from Aarhus University and the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme at the British Museum, are currently inviting submissions for the inaugural Born-Digital Collections, Archives and Memory conference, which will be hosted at the University of London and online from 2-4 April 2025. The full call for proposals and submission portal is available at https://easychair.org/cfp/borndigital2025.

Text on image says Born-Digital Collections, Archives and Memory, 2 - 4 April 2025, School of Advanced Study, University of London

This international conference seeks to further an interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral discussion on how the born-digital transforms what and how we research in the humanities. We welcome contributions from researchers and practitioners involved in any way in accessing or developing born-digital collections and archives, and interested in exploring the novel and transformative effects of born-digital cultural heritage. Areas of particular (but not exclusive) interest include:

  1. A broad range of born-digital objects and formats:
    • Web-based and networked heritage, including but not limited to websites, emails, social media platforms/content and other forms of personal communication
    • Software-based heritage, such as video games, mobile applications, computer-based artworks and installations, including approaches to archiving, preserving and understanding their source code
    • Born-digital narrative and artistic forms, such as electronic literature and born-digital art collections
    • Emerging formats and multimodal born-digital cultural heritage
    • Community-led and personal born-digital archives
    • Physical, intangible and digitised cultural heritage that has been remediated in a transformative way in born-digital formats and platforms
  2. Theoretical, methodological and creative approaches to engaging with born-digital collections and archives:
    • Approaches to researching the born-digital mediation of cultural memory
    • Histories and historiographies of born-digital technologies
    • Creative research uses and creative technologist approaches to born-digital materials
    • Experimental research approaches to engaging with born-digital objects, data and collections
    • Methodological reflections on using digital, quantitative and/or qualitative methods with born-digital objects, data and collections
    • Novel approaches to conceptualising born-digital and/or hybrid cultural heritage and archives
  3. Critical approaches to born-digital archiving, curation and preservation:
    • Critical archival studies and librarianship approaches to born-digital collections
    • Preserving and understanding obsolete media formats, including but not limited to CD-ROMs, floppy disks and other forms of optical and magnetic media
    • Preservation challenges associated with the platformisation of digital cultural production
    • Semantic technology, ontologies, metadata standards, markup languages and born-digital curation
    • Ethical approaches to collecting and accessing ‘difficult’ born-digital heritage, such as traumatic or offensive online materials
    • Risks and opportunities of generative AI in the context of born-digital archiving
  4. Access, training and frameworks for born-digital archiving and collecting:
    • Institutional, national and transnational approaches to born-digital archiving and collecting
    • Legal, trustworthy, ethical and environmentally sustainable frameworks for born-digital archiving and collecting, including attention to cybersecurity and safety concerns
    • Access, skills and training for born-digital research and archives
    • Inequalities of access to born-digital collecting and archiving infrastructures, including linguistic, geographic, economic, legal, cultural, technological and institutional barriers

Options for Submissions

A number of different submission types are welcomed and there will be an option for some presentations to be delivered online.

  • Conference papers (150-300 words)
    • Presentations lasting 20 minutes. Papers will be grouped with others on similar subjects or themes to form a complete session. There will be time for questions at the end of each session.
  • Panel sessions (100 word summary plus 150-200 words per paper)
    • Proposals should consist of three or four 20-minute papers. There will be time for questions at the end of each session.
  • Roundtables (200-300 word summary and 75-100 word bio for each speaker)
    • Proposals should include between three to five speakers, inclusive of a moderator, and each session will be no more than 90 minutes.
  • Posters, demos & showcases (100-200 words)
    • These can be traditional printed posters, digital-only posters, digital tool showcases, or software demonstrations. Please indicate the form your presentation will take in your submission.
    • If you propose a technical demonstration of some kind, please include details of technical equipment to be used and the nature of assistance (if any) required. Organisers will be able to provide a limited number of external monitors for digital posters and demonstrations, but participants will be expected to provide any specialist equipment required for their demonstration. Where appropriate, posters and demos may be made available online for virtual attendees to access.
  • Lightning talks (100-200 words)
    • Talks will be no more than 5 minutes and can be used to jump-start a conversation, pitch a new project, find potential collaborations, or try out a new idea. Reports on completed projects would be more appropriately given as 20-minute papers.
  • Workshops (150-300 words)
    • Please include details about the format, length, proposed topic, and intended audience.

Proposals will be reviewed by members of the programme committee. The peer review process will be double-blind, so no names or affiliations should appear on the submissions. The one exception is proposals for roundtable sessions, which should include the names of proposed participants. All authors and reviewers are required to adhere to the conference Code of Conduct.

The submission deadline for proposals is 15 May 2024, has been extended to 7 June 2024, and notification of acceptance is now scheduled for early August 2024. Organisers plan to make a number of bursaries available to presenters to cover the cost of attendance and details about these will be shared when notifications are sent. 

Key Information:

  • Dates: 2 - 4 April 2025
  • Venue: University of London, London, UK & online
  • Call for papers deadline: 7 June 2024
  • Notification of acceptance: early August 2024
  • Submission link: https://easychair.org/cfp/borndigital2025

Further details can be found on the conference website and the call for proposals submission portal at https://easychair.org/cfp/borndigital2025. If you have any questions about the conference, please contact the organising committee at [email protected].

09 October 2023

Strike a Pose Steampunk style! For our Late event with Clockwork Watch on Friday 13th October

This Friday (13th October) the British Library invites you to join the world of Clockwork Watch by Yomi Ayeni, a participatory storytelling project, set in a fantastical retro-futurist vision of Victorian England, with floating cities and sky pirates, which is one of the showcased narratives in our Digital Storytelling exhibition.

Flyer with text saying Late at the Library, Digital Steampunk at the British Library, London. Friday 13 October, 19:30 – 22:30

We are delighted that Dark Box Images will be bringing their portable darkroom to the Late at the Library: Digital Steampunk event and taking portrait photographs. If this appeals to you, then please arrive early to have your picture taken. Photographer Gregg McNeill is an expert in the wet plate collodion process invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. Gregg’s skill in using an authentic Victorian camera creates genuinely remarkable results that appear right in front of your eyes.

Black and white photograph of a woman wearing an elaborate outfit and a mask with her arms outstretched wide with fabric like wings
Wet plate collodion photograph of Jennifer Garside of Wyte Phantom corsetry, taken by Gregg McNeill of Dark Box Images

If you want to pose for the camera at our steampunk Late, or have a portrait drawn by artist Doctor Geof, please don’t be shy, this is an event where guests are encouraged to dress to impress! The aesthetic of steampunk fashion is inspired by Victoriana and 19th Century literature, including Jules Verne’s novels and the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Steampunk looks can include hats and googles, tweed tailoring, waistcoats, corsets, fob watches and fans. Whatever your personal style, we encourage you to unleash your creativity when putting together an outfit for this event.

Furthermore, whether you are seeking a new look or some finishing touches, there will be an opportunity to browse a Night Market at this Late event, where you can purchase and admire a range of exquisite hand crafted items created by:

  • Jema Hewitt, a professional costumer and academic, will be bringing some of her unique, handmade jewellery and accessories to the Library Late event. She was one of the originators of the early artistic steampunk scene in the UK, subsequently exhibiting her costume work internationally, and having three how-to-make books published as her alter ego “Emilly Ladybird”. Jema currently specialises as a pattern cutter for film, theatre and TV, as well as lecturing and teaching workshops.
Photograph of jewellery, hats and clothing
Jewellery, hats and clothing created by Jema Hewitt/Emilly Ladybird
  • Doctor Geof, an artist, scientist, comics creator and maker of whimsical objects. His work is often satirical, usually with an historical twist, and features tea, goblins, krakens, steampunk, smut, nuns, bees, cats and more tea. Since 2004 you may have encountered him selling his comics, prints, cards, mugs, pins, and for some reason a lot of embroidered badges (including an Evil Librarian patch!) at various events. As one of the foremost Steampunk artists in the UK, Doctor Geof has worked with and exhibited at the Cutty Sark, Royal Museums Greenwich, and Discovery Museum Newcastle. He is a talented portrait artist, so please seek him out if you would like him to capture your likeness in ink and watercolour.
A round embroidered patch with a cartoon figure wearing goggles and carrying books. Text says "Evil Librarian"
Evil Librarian embroidered patch by Dr Geof

  • Jennifer Garside, a seamstress specialising in modern corsetry, which takes inspiration from historical styles. Her business, Wyte Phantom, opened in 2010, and she has made costumes for opera singers, performers and artists across the world.

  • Tracy Wells, a couture milliner based in the Lake District. She creates all kinds of hats and headpieces, often collaborating with other artists to explore new styles, concepts and genres.
Photograph of a woman wearing a steampunk hat with feathers
Millinery by Tracy Wells
  • Herr Döktor, a renowned inventor, gadgeteer, and contraptionist, who has been working in his Laboratory in the Surrey Hills for the last two decades, building a better future via the prism of history. He will be bringing a small selection of his inventions and scale models of his larger ideas. (His alter ego, Ian Crichton, is a professional model maker with thirty years experience as a toy prototype maker, museum and exhibition designer, and, most recently, building props and models for the film industry, he also lives in the Surrey Hills). 
Photograph of a man wearing a top hat and carrying a model submarine
Herr Döktor, inventor, gadgeteer, and contraptionist. Photograph by Adam Stait
  • Linette Withers established Anachronalia in 2012 to be a full-time bookbinder, producing historically-inspired books, miniature books, and quirky stationery. Her work has been shortlisted for display at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford as part of their ‘Redesigning the Medieval Book’ competition and exhibition in 2018 and one of her books is held in the permanent collection of The Lit & Phil in Newcastle after being part of an exhibition of bookbinding in 2021. She also teaches bookbinding in her studio in Leeds.

  • Heather Hayden of Diamante Queen Designs creates handmade vintage inspired, kitsch, macabre, noir accessories for everybody to wear and enjoy. Heather studied fashion and surface pattern design in the 80's near Leeds during the emergence of Gothic culture and has remained interested in the darker side of life ever since. She became fascinated with Steampunk after seeing Datamancer's Steampunk computer, loving the juxtaposition of new and old technology. This inspired her to make steampunk clothing and accessories using old and found items and upcycling as much as possible.
Photograph of a mannequin head wearing a headpiece with tassels, feathers, flowers and beads
Headpiece by Diamante Queen Designs
  • Matthew Chapman of Raphael's Workshop specialises in creating strange and sublime chainmail items, bringing ideas to life in metal that few would ever consider. From collars to corsets, serpents to squids, arms to armour and medals to masterpieces, you should visit his stall and see what creations spark the imagination.
Photograph of a table displaying a range of wearable items of chainmail jewellery and accessories
Chainmail jewellery and accessories created by Raphael's Workshop

We hope that this post has whetted your appetite for the delights available at the Late at the Library: Digital Steampunk event on Friday 13th October at the British Library. Tickets can be booked here.

02 October 2023

Last chance to see the Digital Storytelling exhibition

All good things must come to an end, no I’m not talking about the collapse of a favourite high street chain store beginning with W, but the final few weeks of our Digital Storytelling exhibition, which closes on the 15th October 2023. If you haven’t seen it yet, then this is your last chance to book!

Digital Storytelling showcases eleven different born digital works, including interactive narratives that respond to user input, reading experiences personalised by data feeds, and immersive multimedia story worlds developed through audience participation. From thought provoking autobiographical hypertexts to data journalism, uncanny ghost stories to weather poetry, steampunk literary adaptation to quirky Elizabethan medical comedy. 

Digital Storytelling exhibition image with art from Astrologaster, Seed, 80 Days, and Zombies, Run!

If you want to hear more about this exhibition, Digital Curator Stella Wisdom will be giving two talks later this week. The first of these will be in-person on Thursday evening, 5th October, in Richmond Lending Library for the Richmond Reads season of events, celebrating the joys and benefits of reading. The second will be held online on Friday morning, 6th October, for the DARIAH-EU autumn 2023 Friday Frontiers series.

We are also delighted to share that there is a chapter about interactive digital books written by Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator for Digital Publications, in The Book by Design, which was recently launched by our colleagues in British Library Publishing. Giulia’s chapter discusses innovative Editions at Play publications, including Seed by Joanna Walsh and Breathe by Kate Pullinger, which are both currently displayed in Digital Storytelling.

Before the Digital Storytelling exhibition closes, we'd love you to join us for a party on the evening of Friday 13th October. For one night only, transmedia storyteller Yomi Ayeni will transform the British Library into the Clockwork Watch story world for an immersive steampunk late event.

Genre-bending DJ Sacha Dieu will be spinning the best in Balkan Gypsy, Electro Swing, and Global Beats. Professor Elemental will perform live for us, and we really hope he’ll sing I Love Libraries! You'll also be able to view the Digital Storytelling exhibition, and there will be quieter areas to explore 19th Century London in Minecraft, play board games including Great Scott! The Game of Mad Invention with games librarian Marion Tessier, and to discover poetry with the Itinerant Poetry Librarian.

If you plan to party with us, book your ticket here.

27 September 2023

Late at the Library: Digital Steampunk

Summer may be over, but there is much to look forward to this autumn, including our Late at the Library: Digital Steampunk event on Friday 13th October 2023, where we invite you to immerse yourself in the Clockwork Watch story world, party with chap hop maestro Professor Elemental and explore 19th-century London in Minecraft. If these kind of shenanigans sound right up your street, then book tickets here and join us!

Clockwork Watch by Yomi Ayeni is currently showcased in the British Library’s Digital Storytelling exhibition, which is open until 15 October 2023. Set in a retro-futurist steampunk Victorian England, Clockwork Watch is a participatory story that includes multiple voices and perspectives on themes relating to empire, colonialism, exploitation and resistance, which is told across a range of formats, including a series of graphic novels (there is an overview of these titles here), immersive theatre, role play, and an online newspaper the London Gazette.

Drawing of a a range of people in steampunk clothing,in front of a London skyline
Steampunk Illustration by Brett Walsh

For the evening of Friday 13th October, the British Library will transform into the story world of the next part of the Clockwork Watch narrative. Featuring an auction of the last few remaining properties on Peak B, and the opening of bids for Peak C, new housing developments situated on floating islands hovering over the British Channel. Leggett and Scarper, the estate agents managing these properties, will also be inviting inventors or anyone with a solution to problems plaguing these floating islands, to submit their plans for a chance to win a Golden Ticket to one of the new homes on Peak C.

Illustration of Peak B property development on a floating island
© Clockwork Watch / Graham Leggett 2023

Attendees will be able to explore the streets of Sherlock Holmes’ London in Minecraft created by Blockworks and Lancaster University, visit the Night Market, have a photograph taken with authentic Victorian Dark Box photography, or a portrait drawn by artist Dr Geof, and that’s before the auction begins. But be warned, buying your way into this real estate dreamworld is not straightforward – this night is a golden opportunity for the Clockwork Watch underbelly of pickpockets, rogues and vagabonds.

Dressing up and joining in is heartily encouraged. To prepare for this event, we suggest reading the Clockwork Watch graphic novels, you can order these online, or purchase the first two ominbus editions from the British Library’s onsite shop. Also check out the London Gazette website and this special British Library edition of the newspaper. We hope to see you there!

Cover page of the London Gazette British Library edition
© Clockwork Watch

02 September 2023

Huzzah! Hear the songs from Astrologaster live at the Library

Digitised archives and library collections are rich resources for creative practitioners, including video game makers, who can bring history to life in new ways with immersive storytelling. A wonderful example of this is Astrologaster by Nyamyam, an interactive comedy set in Elizabethan London, based on the manuscripts of medical astrologer Simon Forman, which is currently showcased in the British Library’s Digital Storytelling exhibition.

Artwork from the game Astrologaster, showing Simon Forman surrounded by astrological symbols and with two patients standing each side of him

On Friday 15th September we are delighted to host an event to celebrate the making and the music of Astrologaster. Featuring game designer Jennifer Schneidereit in conversation with historian Lauren Kassell discussing how they created the game. Followed by a vocal quartet who will sing madrigal songs from the soundtrack composed by Andrea Boccadoro. Each character in the game has their own Renaissance style theme song with witty lyrics written by Katharine Neil. This set has never before been performed live, so we can’t wait to hear these songs at the Library and we would love for you to join us, click here to book. We've had the title song, which you can play below, as an earworm for the last few months!

Simon Forman was a self-taught doctor and astrologer who claimed to have cured himself of the plague in 1592. Despite being unlicensed and scorned by the Royal College of Physicians he established a practice in London where he analysed the stars to diagnose and solve his querents’ personal, professional and medical problems. Forman documented his life and work in detail, leaving a vast quantity of papers to his protégé Richard Napier, whose archive was subsequently acquired by Elias Ashmole for the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford. In the nineteenth century this collection transferred to the Bodleian Library, where Forman’s manuscripts can still be consulted today.

Screen capture of the Casebooks digital edition showing an image of a manuscript page on the left and a transcript on the right
Screen capture image of the Casebooks digital edition showing ‘CASE5148’.
Lauren Kassell, Michael Hawkins, Robert Ralley, John Young, Joanne Edge, Janet Yvonne Martin-Portugues, and Natalie Kaoukji (eds.), ‘CASE5148’, The casebooks of Simon Forman and Richard Napier, 1596–1634: a digital edition, https://casebooks.lib.cam.ac.uk/cases/CASE5148, accessed 1 September 2023.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Casebooks Project led by Professor Lauren Kassell at the University of Cambridge, spent over a decade researching, digitising, documenting and transcribing these records. Producing The casebooks of Simon Forman and Richard Napier, 1596–1634: a digital edition published by Cambridge Digital Library in May 2019. Transforming the archive into a rich searchable online resource, with transcriptions and editorial insights about the astrologers’ records, alongside digitised images of the manuscripts.

In 2014 Nyamyam’s co-founder and creative director Jennifer Schneidereit saw Lauren present her research on Simon Forman’s casebooks, and became fascinated by this ambitious astrologer. Convinced that Forman and his patients’ stories would make an engaging game with astrology as a gameplay device, she reached out to Lauren to invite her to be a consultant on the project. Fortunately Lauren responded positively and arranged for the Casebooks Project to formally collaborate with Nyamyam to mine Forman’s patient records for information and inspiration to create the characters and narrative in the Astrologaster game.  

Screen capture image of a playthrough video of Astrologaster, showing a scene in the game where you select an astrological reading
Still image of a playthrough video demonstrating how to play Astrologaster made by Florence Smith Nicholls for the Digital Storytelling exhibition

At the British Library we are interested in collecting and curating interactive digital narratives as part of our ongoing emerging formats research. One method we are investigating is the acquisition and creation of contextual information, such as recording playthrough videos. In the Digital Storytelling exhibition you can watch three gameplay recordings, including one demonstrating how to play Astrologaster. These were made by Florence Smith Nicholls, a game AI PhD researcher based at Queen Mary University of London, using facilities at the City Interaction Lab within the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design at City, University of London. Beyond the exhibition, these recordings will hopefully benefit researchers in the future, providing valuable documentation on the original ‘look and feel’ of an interactive digital narrative, in addition to instructions on use whenever a format has become obsolete.

The Digital Storytelling exhibition is open until the 15th October 2023 at the British Library, displaying 11 narratives that demonstrate the evolving field of interactive writing. We hope you can join us for upcoming related events, including the Astrologaster performance on Friday 15th September, and an epic Steampunk Late on Friday 13th October. We are planning this Late with Clockwork Watch, Blockworks and Lancaster University's Litcraft initiative, so watch this blog for more information on this event soon.

02 August 2023

Writing tools for Interactive Fiction - an updated list

In the spring of 2020, during the first UK lockdown, I wrote an article for the British Library English and Drama blog, titled ‘Writing tools for Interactive Fiction’. Quite a few things have changed since then and as the Library launched its first exhibition on Digital Storytelling this June, it seemed like the perfect time to update this list with a few additions.

Interactive fiction (IF), or interactive narrative/narration, is defined as “software simulating environments in which players use text commands to control characters and influence the environment.”

The British Library has been collecting examples of UK interactive fiction as part of the Emerging Formats Project, which is a collaborative effort from all six UK Legal Deposit Libraries to look at the collection management requirements of complex digital publications. Lynda Clark, the British Library Innovation Fellow for Interactive Fiction, built the Interactive Narratives collection on the UK Web Archive (UKWA) during her placement. Because of Legal Deposit Regulations, most of the items in the Interactive Narratives collection can only be accessed on Library premises – which also extends to other collections in the UK Web Archive, such as the New Media Writing Prize collection.

Lynda also conducted analysis on genres, interaction patterns and tools used to build these narratives.

 

Many of these tools are free to use and don’t require any previous knowledge of programming languages. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but it might be a useful overview of some of the tools currently available, if you’d like to start experimenting with writing your own interactive narrative. We are also very excited to be able to offer a week-long Interactive Fiction Summer School this August at the Library, running alongside the Digital Storytelling exhibition.

For an easier navigation, these are the tools included in this article:

 

Twine

Twine is an open-source tool to write text-based, non-linear narratives. Created by Chris Klimas in 2009, Twine is perfect to write Choose Your Own Adventure-like stories without knowing how to code. The output is an HTML file, which facilitates publishing and distribution, as it can be run on any computer with an Internet connection and a web browser. If you have any knowledge of CSS or Javascript it’s possible to add extra features and specific designs to your Twine story, but the standard Twine structure only requires you to type text and put brackets around the phrases that will become links in the story (linking to another passage or branching into different directions). There is an online version or a downloadable version that runs on Windows, MacOS and Linux. Twine has multiple story formats, with different features and ways to write the interactive bits of your story. The Twine Reference is a good place to start, but there is also a Twine Cookbook (containing ‘recipes’, instructions and examples to do a variety of things).

Example of text from Cat Simulator 3000. 'You dream of mice. You dream of trout. You dream of balls of yarn. You dream of world domination. You dream of opening your own bank account. You dream of the nature of sentience.' Followed by the prompt 'Wake up'.
Some quality cat dreams.
(from Emma Winston’s Cat Simulator 3000)

 

As the most used tool in the UKWA collection, there are many examples of IF written in Twine, from cat and teatime simulators (Emma Winston’s Cat Simulator 3000 and Damon L. Wakes’ Lovely Pleasant Teatime Simulator), to stories that include a mix of video, images and audio (Chris Godber’s Glitch), and horror games made for Gothic Novel Jam using the British Library’s Flickr collection of images (Freya Campbell’s The Tower – NB some content warnings apply). Lynda Clark also authored an original story as a conclusion to her placement: The Memory Archivist incorporates many of the themes emerged during her research and won The BL Labs Artistic Award 2019.

 

ink/inky & inklewriter

Cambridge-based video game studio inkle is behind another IF tool – or two. Ink is the scripting language used to author many of inkle’s videogames – the idea behind it is to mark up “pure-text with flow in order to produce interactive scripts”. It doesn’t require any programming knowledge and the resulting scripts are relatively easy to read. Inky is the editor to write ink scripts in – it’s free to download and lets you test your narrative as you write it. Once you’re happy with your story, you can export it for the web, as well as a JSON file. There’s a quick tutorial to walk you through the basics, as well as a full manual on how to write in ink. ink was also used to write 80 Days, another work collected by the British Library as part of the emerging formats project and currently exhibited as part of the Digital Storytelling exhibition.

A side by side showing the back end and front end of what writing in ink looks like.
A page from 80 Days, written using ink. To read in full detail, please click on the image.

 

inklewriter is an open-source, ready-to-use, browser-based IF “sketch-pad”. It is meant to be used to sketch out narratives more than to author fully-developed stories. There is no download required and the fact that it is a simple and straightforward tool to experiment with IF makes it a good fit for educators. Tutorials are included within the platform itself so that you can learn while you write.

This year’s Interactive Fiction Summer School at the British Library will teach attendees how to write interactive fiction using ink, with a focus on dialogue and writing with the player in mind. Dr. Florencia Minuzzi will lead the 5-day course, together with a number of guest speakers whose work is featured in the Digital Storytelling exhibition – including Corey Brotherson, Destina Connor, Dan Hett and Meghna Jayanth. The school runs from Monday 21st to Friday 25th August – no previous coding experience necessary!

A screenshot from 80 Days Ⓒ inkle. Two men facing each other with the prompt 'begin conversation'.
A screenshot from 80 Days Ⓒ inkle.

 

Bitsy

Bitsy is a browser-based editor for mini games developed by Adam Le Doux in 2016. It operates within clear constraints (8x8 pixel tiles, a 3-colour palette, etc.), which is actually one of the reasons why it is so beloved. You can draw and animate your own characters within your pixel grid, write the dialogue and define how your avatar (your playable character) will interact with the surrounding scenery and with other non-playable characters. Again, no programming knowledge is necessary. Bitsy is especially good for short narratives and vignette games. After completing your game, you can download it as an HTML file and then share it however you prefer. There is Bitsy Docs, as well as some comprehensive tutorials and even a one-page pamphlet covering the basics.

GIF animation from the Bitsy game 'British Library Simulator'
Shout-out to the Emerging Formats Project
(from Giulia Carla Rossi’s The British Library Simulator)

 

To play (and read) a Bitsy work you should use your keyboard to move the avatar around and interact with the ‘sprites’ (interactive items, characters and scenery – usually recognisable as sporting a different colour from the non-interactive background). You can wander around a Zen garden reflecting on your impending wedding (Ben Bruce’s Zen Garden, Portland, The Day Before My Wedding), alight the village fires to welcome the midwinter spirits (Ash Green’s Midwinter Spirits), experience a love story through mixtapes (David Mowatt’s She Made Me A Mix Tape), or if you’re still craving a nice cuppa you can review some imaginary tea shops (Ben Bruce’s Five Great Places to Get a Nice Cup of Tea When You Are Asleep). You can even visit a pixelated version of the British Library and discover more about our contemporary and digital collections with The British Library Simulator.

 

Inform 7

While Twine allows you to write hypertext narratives (where readers can progress through the story by clicking on a link), Inform 7 lets you write parser-based interactive fiction. Parser-based IF requires the reader to type commands (sometimes full sentences) in order to interact with the story.

A how to guide showing what text options are available for playing text based explorer games in Inform. Helpful tips like 'Try the commands that make sense! Doors are for opening; buttons are for pushing; pie is for eating!'
How to Play Interactive Fiction (An entire strategy guide on a single postcard)
<style="font-family: inherit;">Written by Andrew Plotkin -- design by Lea Albaugh. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

 

Inform 7 is a free-to-use, open-source (as of April 2022) tool to write interactive fiction. Originally created as Inform by Graham Nelson in 1993, the current Inform 7 was released in 2006 and uses natural language (based on the English language) to describe situations and interactions. The learning curve is a bit steeper than with Twine, but the natural language approach allows for users with no programming experience to write code in a simplified language that reads like English text. Inform 7 also has a Recipe Book and a series of well-documented tutorials. Inform also runs on Windows, MacOS and Linux and lets you output your game as HTML files.

While the current version of Inform is Inform 7, narratives using previous versions of the system are still available – Emily Short’s Galatea is always a good place to start. You could also explore mysterious ruins with your romantic interest (C.E.J. Pacian’s Love, Hate and the Mysterious Ocean Tower), play a gentleman thief (J.J. Guest’s  Alias, the Magpie) or make more tea (Joey Jones’ Strained Tea).

 

ChoiceScript

ChoiceScript is a javascript-based scripting language developed by Adam Strong-Morse and Dan Fabulich of Choice of Games. It can be used to write choice-based interactive narratives, in which the reader has to select among multiple choices to determine how the story will unfold. The simplicity of the language makes it possible to create Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style stories without any prior coding knowledge. The ChoiceScript source is available to download for free on the Choice of Games website (it also requires writers to have Node.js installed on their machine). Once your story is complete, you can publish it for free online. Otherwise, Choice of Games offer the possibility of publishing your work with them (they publish to various platforms, including iOS, Android, Kindle and Steam) and earn royalties from it. There is a tutorial that covers the basics, including a Glossary of ChoiceScript terms. The Choice of Game blog also includes some articles with tips on how to design and write interactive stories, especially long ones.

Genres of works built using ChoiceScript are again quite varied – from sci-fi stories exploring the relationships between writers and readers (Lynda Clark’s Writers Are Not Strangers), to crime/romantic dramas (Toni Owen-Blue’s Double/Cross) and fantasy adventures (Thom Baylay’s Evertree Inn).

 

Downpour

Downpour is a game-making tool for phones currently in development. Created by v buckenham, Downpour is a tool that will allow users to make interactive games in minutes, only using their phone’s camera and linking images together. There is no expectation of previous programming knowledge and by removing the need to access a computer, Downpour promises to be a very approachable tool. Release is currently planned for 2023 on iOS and Android – if you want to be notified when it launches you can sign up here.

Downpour banner (purple writing over pink background)
Downpour banner.

 

More resources

As I mentioned before, this is in no way a comprehensive list – there are a lot of other tools and platforms to write IF, both mainstream as well as slightly more obscure ones (Ren’Py, Quest, StoryNexus, Raconteur, Genarrator, just to mention a few). Try different tools, find the one that works best for you or use a mix of them if you prefer! Experiment as much as you like.

If you’d like to discover even more tools to build your interactive project, Everest Pipkin has an excellent list of Open source, experimental, and tiny tools.

Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling blog also offers a round-up of very interesting links about interactive narratives.

If you want to be inspired by more independent games and interactive stories, Indiepocalypse offers a curated selection of video and/or physical games in the form of a monthly anthology.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with a quote by Anna Anthropy from her book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters:

“Every game that you and I make right now [...] makes the boundaries of our art form (and it is ours) larger. Every new game is a voice in the darkness. And new voices are important in an art form that has been dominated for so long by a single perspective. [...]

There’s nothing to stop us from making our voices heard now. And there will be plenty of voices. Among those voices, there will be plenty of mediocrity, and plenty of games that have no meaning to anyone outside the author and maybe her friends. But [...] imagine what we’ll gain: real diversity, a plethora of voices and experiences, and a new avenue for human beings to tell their stories and connect with other human beings.”

This post is by Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator for Digital Publications

04 July 2023

MIX 2023 Storytelling in Immersive Media

This Friday we are looking forward to hosting MIX 2023 at the Library. Presented in partnership with Bath Spa University’s Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries, The Writing Platform and MyWorld, this conference explores the intersection of writing and technology, creating an opportunity for scholars and practitioners to share and discuss research and practice in the rapidly evolving field of storytelling in immersive environments.

Text on image says "MIX 2023 Storytelling in Immersive Media, 7th July 2023" underneath are partner logos

Our opening keynote speaker is Adrian Hon, co-founder and CEO at Six to Start, creators of the world’s best selling smartphone fitness game, Zombies, Run!, which is currently showcased in the Library’s Digital Storytelling exhibition (2 June – 15 October 2023). Following Adrian’s talk is a jam packed programme of presentations and panel discussions examining where and how creative writing and emerging technologies meet. MIX 2023 sessions will cover a range of themes and topics including interactive and locative works, text in immersive media, digital and film poetry, narrative games, digital preservation, archiving and curation, and storytelling with AI. There will also be an area at this event for attendees to experience VR works of poetry and literature, including The Abandoned Library by Dreaming Methods, led by Andy Campbell and Judi Alston.

If this event sounds up your street, there is still time to book a place for MIX 2023 on Friday 7th July, 09:00 - 17:00. It will take place in person, in the Library’s Knowledge Centre and will not be live-streamed. The ticket price covers a sandwich lunch, refreshments during the day, and includes access to an evening performance of An Island of Sound by award winning poet J.R. Carpenter and audiovisual composer Jules Rawlinson. 

Artwork from 80 Days showing profile faces of characters Passepartout and Phileas Fogg

If you would like to develop your interactive writing skills, then you may also be interested in signing up for our Fiction as Dialogue Interactive Fiction Summer School, which will run from Monday 21st to Friday 25th August 2023. Led by Dr. Florencia Minuzzi, veteran games writer and narrative designer, this course will teach participants how to create interactive narratives using ink, a writer-friendly open-source scripting language that does not require programming knowledge.

This summer school will also feature expert guest speakers, including Corey Brotherson, the writer for in-development interactive narrative Windrush Tales, and the adapting writer/editor of Yomi Ayeni’s acclaimed steampunk transmedia series, Clockwork Watch. Meghna Jayanth, a video game writer and narrative designer, known for her writing on inkle's 80 Days, for which she won the UK Writers’ Guild Award for Best Writing in a Video Game. Dan Hett, a prolific digital artist and writer from Manchester, whose work c-ya-laterrrr won the 2020 New Media Writing Prize, and game designer Destina Connor, Co-director of Tea-Powered Games, an independent game company dedicated to telling interesting stories in innovative ways.

Text on image says "Everything Forever, 10 years of electronic legal deposit"

2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the British Library and also 10 years since the introduction of non-print (electronic) legal deposit, providing a perfect moment to reflect on our achievements and also to look forwards to the future. Our Digital Storytelling exhibition events, including MIX 2023, create opportunities to celebrate pioneering and experimental writing, and also to consider what new forms of digital storytelling may arise in the coming years. We hope you can join us.

22 June 2023

Explore Windrush Tales in our Digital Storytelling exhibition

On the 22nd June in 1948 the HMT Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury, Essex, bringing people from the Caribbean who had been invited to help rebuild "the motherland" after the devastation of the Second World War.

Seventy-five years later, stories from the Windrush generation are shared in a ground breaking illustrated text-based interactive narrative from 3-Fold Games. Windrush Tales is still in development, but a preview can be read exclusively in the British Library’s current Digital Storytelling exhibition, which is open until 15 October 2023.

Illustration of a boat and story choices
Windrush Tales art by Naima Ramanan © 3-Fold Games

Windrush Tales tells the stories of characters Rose, an aspiring nurse, and her older brother Vernon, through a beautiful illustrated interactive photo album and branching narrative, allowing choices within the game to lead to one of many endings. Apprehensive but tenacious, Rose joins her brother in England with the intention to start work as a nurse in the newly formed NHS. Vernon has been in Britain for several years but, unknown to his sister, has struggled to find and stay in employment. Through his photography, he documents how they adapt to their new life, from grassroots arts and activism, to church and social clubs.

Illustration of a photograph showing the faces of a man and a woman
Windrush Tales art by Naima Ramanan © 3-Fold Games

As part of their extensive research process to develop the game's story lines, creative director Chella Ramanan and writer Corey Brotherson, both descendants of the Windrush generation, have drawn upon their families' experiences, news coverage, books, and exhibitions. They also consulted with people who emigrated from the Caribbean to Britain during the Windrush period from the late 1940s to the early 1970s, and their families, via a workshop organised in collaboration with Jennifer Allsopp, from the University of Birmingham.

Windrush Tales is one of eleven showcased narratives in Digital Storytelling, the first exhibition of its kind at the Library. Curators worked closely with writers, artists and creators to display a range of innovative publications, which reflect the rapidly evolving field of interactive writing, stories that are dynamic, responsive, personalised and immersive.

To accompany this exhibition there is a season of in-person events at the Library. Writer Corey Brotherson from the Windrush Tales team will be speaking about another of his projects, the Clockwork Watch story world at MIX 2023 Storytelling in Immersive Media, a one-day conference exploring the intersection of writing and technology on Friday 7 July 2023. Corey is also a guest tutor at the Fiction as Dialogue, Interactive Fiction Summer School, which runs from 21st to the 25th August 2023.

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