Trash Romance is a serial romance fiction available for free at Trashmance.com. However, in order to keep it free for everyone and keep new updates rolling in several times per month, I need the support and patronage of folks like you.
From the patreon page:
The coolest thing about magic? Duh, it’s magic. The worst thing about magic? It’s magic. No one understands how the fuck it works. Yet for Mackenzie Chen, whose magic power is limited to manipulating the broken, cast-off junk of society, it’s hard to not feel the world owes her an explanation. Or an apology. But when she meets magical girl-turned-barista Natalie, she learns just how valuable broken things can be.
Contributors get access to a DRM-free monthly digest in any eReader format, as well as free copies of my other short fiction: “Mercy Killing the Dragon”, “The Last Warband”, and part 1 of “Parts: A Steampunk Tale of Love and Mechanomorphosis”.
TwineHub is a great place to start if you’re interested in playing and making Twine games. Its resources section is really helpful. If you want a good starting place, definitely check out Anna Anthropy’s Twine tutorial. Leon Arnott’s blog has some fabulous Twine scripts as well to add a little extra functionality, as well as easy to tweak CSS.
Ren’Py is a great visual novel engine, and it has a pretty good Quickstart guide on the website. If you want to do more complicated things or just make your game a little jazzier, I’m really fond of the Cookbook as well.
Yes, you can use concepts and artwork you’ve made in the past as a starting point!
Yes, you can collaborate!
Other options include:
Construct 2 is free for those who feel inclined to dive into HTML5 games
One of the most tried-and-true tools out there: RPGMaker! (I would personally love to see some examples of using JRPG combat mechanics in creative ways that are not combat as we think of it)
Or something else entirely!
The Why: Doom gave us conveniently inhuman, mindless hordes of monsters to kill. Wolfenstein 3D gave us hordes of mindless Nazis to kill, as though the average soldier weren’t human. Deus Ex made us choose between violence or stealth, and to Human Revolution‘s credit, there was the moral nudge of more XP for non-lethal “takedowns”. In CounterStrike the only way to deal with terrorists is to kill them, because their ideology is inherently evil and wrong, right? Bioshock and Spec Ops: The Line tried in vain to tell us violence and obedience are a choice while only allowing the player to kill to reach the end. Even JRPGs have elaborate combat modes. Their tabletop RPG cousins like Dungeons & Dragons focus almost exclusively on combat, even when stats are nominally available for conflict resolution without it. In Anita Sarkeesian’s latest video, Tropes Vs Women: Damsels in Distress pt 2, she takes aim at the way developers box themselves into a corner by making combat the core mechanic: keep swinging that hammer because this level is just full of nails. Why do games make us kill the bad guy before we can call it winning?
According to Kenna, this came in reaction to Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Videogames – Part 1: Damsels in Distress. (If you haven’t seen it, open it in a new tab and make that the next thing you do today.) In it, Sarkeesian deconstructs the “Damsel In Distress” narrative trope, which is very nearly a defining characteristic of The Legend of Zelda series. Zelda is captured by Ganondorf, Link grabs a sword to rescue her, rinse, repeat.
Yet, this is all in retrospect. When I was a kid, I had no concept of any of the gender issues* with the game; this was just a really cool game. I do recall asking why the title was The Legend of Zelda since it was about Link, and in fact, I discovered the secret Second Quest because I named Link “ZELDA” in order to make the title make sense in my 6 year old head. My most powerful memories of the original game weren’t related to gender theory, my most powerful memories were of playing side by side with my father as we mapped out each dungeon ourselves because I was still getting terribly lost. (For the young’ns, we didn’t have GameFAQs in the 1980s) I learned my right hand from my left hand by telling my dad which rupee to pick in the rupee gambling tree.
(*I recognize that its transparency was due to the normative nature of dominant gender categories, not because I was somehow immune to that indoctrination.)
“I am Zelda, and I’ll be fighting for my own kingdom!”
So when I sat down to play the romhack and saw Zelda hoist the sword above her head for herself, ready to take back her kingdom, I cried.
Already, this is not the same game I played as a child.
This idea of a woman doing it for herself brought to mind something else:
How did we get here? How did we get to the point where simply seeing Zelda with the sword is enough to cause such intense feelings to well up? Well, with regards to The Legend of Zelda, Sarkeesian makes this point:
“Over the course of over more than a dozen games spanning a quarter century, all of the incarnations of Princess Zelda have been kidnapped, cursed, possessed, turned to stone, or otherwise disempowered at some point. Zelda has never been the star in her own adventure, nor been a true playable character in the core series.”
The eponymous character in a series of save-the-world adventure games has never saved her own kingdom. All of her power as princess, as guardian of the Triforce, and as a person with agency are swept aside every single time. In fact, the very idea that all of her power is useless compared to a boy with a wooden sword makes me doubt every claim made about her ability, wisdom, and magical power. Instead, those sound a lot more like selling points, things that make her a more valuable prize to whichever man (Link or Ganon) has control of her when the clock runs out, and a lot less like reasons to think she’s a person in her own right.
She’s not just any girl, she’s a rich girl with a kingdom and a magical trinket! But don’t worry! She’s not actually powerful enough or willful enough to be a threat to your rule once you capture her.
That pattern of disempowerment and the refusal to give the title character a playable role in the main series can’t possibly send any other message.
More than just pixels
It’s easy think of this as just a simple flipping of the script, or to look at what Kenna W did and write it off as just shifting pixels around. But in fact, flipping the script works as a tool to highlight sexism precisely because it puts front and center the way men and women are regarded and treated differently. It is not, itself, a solution to sexism, but the very idea that a story’s meaning and spirit can be changed by such a simple thing as a sprite swap shows that the language of gender and its related norms are infused into every aspect of our lives.
What changes when it is Zelda firing the silver arrow into Ganon’s heart at the end?
The Legend of Zelda becomes a story about her deeds, not about what men around her do. Perhaps this is too facile, but it really does change the game on a visceral level. No longer are you a boy conscripted by an old man to save a princess from another man (pig-man, I suppose, in this first incarnation of Ganondorf). You’re a woman on a quest to save her own kingdom, her own people, with her own wits and skill.
All those people you meet throughout the game are your people. They are looking to you to save them from Ganon’s tyranny, not to save their helpless, ineffectual princess. It’s easy to picture them not as simply ill-thought game mechanics (why are all these people hiding in caves?) but rather as secretive resistance, hiding in caves to avoid Ganon’s grasp. They’ve squirreled away these items to help you reclaim your homeland, their homeland. You aren’t some knight errant fighting someone else’s battle out of misguided chivalry; this is personal. This is your battle.
It’s easy to picture that old man in the cave as one of your family’s advisers, who spirited you out of the castle just in time and offers the one last thing he can: a wooden sword. It’s not your family’s heirloom blade, it’s not sufficient for the battles you have ahead, but it’s all he can offer. It becomes a physical token of hope. It may seem a trivial thing, since it was just as much a symbol of hope when passed to Link, but in investing that hope in Zelda herself and not Link, it changes everything about the meaning.
That way it changes the context tells us something about what the original story really was.
I’ll be taking my Triforce piece back now, thank you.
When Zelda takes back the second piece of the Triforce from Ganon at the end, she’s reclaiming the power he took from her. When Link does it for her, we see it as a noble gesture that he returns her stolen Ultimate Power That Apparently Isn’t So Ultimate. When she takes back her own power, we see her as deserving in a way that she wasn’t before. When the Triforce was reduced to a bauble to be given to her as a gift, it tells us that it wasn’t anything special to begin with. Or it tells us that Link is that much more chivalrous for magnanimously returning something he has no obligation to return. After all, he did even more than Ganon did to get it. We can rationalize it with magical woo that by keeping it for himself he’d be somehow undeserving blah blah. But that’s an incredibly broken metaphor compared to the unity provided by Zelda proving herself worthy of its power by reclaiming it for herself and by extension, for her people she’s fighting to protect.
Another thing it reveals is just how unnecessary Zelda was to the original story. Being a sprite swap means that the pre-scripted ending sequence just features Link in her place. But now that we know that Zelda has been fighting to save her own kingdom, to reclaim her own power, and to save her own people, who the hell is this dude at the end? She wasn’t fighting to “get the boy.” The purpose of the adventure wasn’t to “win the heart of the prince”, it was to save her fucking kingdom from a tyrant. He’s not a prize, he’s an afterthought.
That disparity between Zelda’s motivation and Link’s should tell us everything we need to know about the Damsel In Distress trope.
I never thought 3-4 years ago I’d see my name on Gamasutra in any context, but of the list of gaming related things for which I might imagine it happening, “Making an interactive fiction game about queer trans cyborg D/s relationships in a transhuman future” wouldn’t have even been a possible thought to have, let alone utter. And yet my name was just mentioned by Anna Anthropy (creator of Dys4ia among many other fine games) during an interview.
LA: What do text games do that other games can’t, and what do you think traditional developers should learn from the current IF community?
AA: How about: Don’t be such fucking cowards. While mainstream games like Spec Ops: The Line and Hotline Miami are tiptoeing up to the idea that maybe violence is something we should be worrying about while continuing to let the player inhabit the role of an armed dude acting out fantasies of violence, Twine games are talking about identity, alienation, abuse, sexuality, dysphoria, sexual assault, depression, self-discovery, loss, and D/s dynamics in the cyber-future [Reset]. Look at these games and be ashamed of how small you’ve allowed your world to become.
You should check out the rest of the article. That savaging blow directed at the industry is just a taste of it.