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Envisioning Zine Networks in Twine (Nora Claire Miller)


Where games, archives, and zines meet, you’ll find 5CollDH Undergraduate Fellow and Hampshire College student Nora Claire Miller hard at work. Miller’s project uses digital cartographic and network mapping tools to critically explore the physical and cultural travel of zines in the 1990s. This is Nora’s first post of three; you can click through to read the second and third installments, or read an interview with Nora by Jeffrey Moro. We also encourage you to check out their blog, locatingzines.5colldh.org!


Zine "stacks" at the Denver Zine Library by Colorado College Tutt Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Zine “stacks” at the Denver Zine Library by Colorado College Tutt Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0.



So I figured it was time that I made a post explaining exactly what it is that I’m doing with Twine, and introducing my project in general.

Basically, as I’ve said in earlier posts, since last summer I’ve been in the process of building a database of metadata about zines in the Pioneer Valley for the Zine Scenes project. Most of the zines I’ve been cataloging have been located in the Girl Zines Collection at Smith College, a collection consisting of donations from Tristan Taormino, whose zines were used her book A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World, and the zines from Tinúviel’s papers (Tinúviel founded the record labels Kill Rock Stars and Villa Villakula).

Collecting this metadata inspired me to pursue my own research on zine collections outside of Western Massachusetts. Last month, with my funding from Five College Digital Humanities, I travelled to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, to look at the Sallie Bingham Center Zine Collections. With the metadata I’ve collected from the Girl Zines Collection (now with the help of a group of wonderful Hampshire students who have taken over the cataloging!) and the Bingham Center’s various zine collections, I’m working with metadata from 173 zines, and 103 zine series (meaning I had multiple issues of certain zines).

So now that I had all this data, the next step was figuring out how to visualize it, and how to derive meaning from it. This is where I turned toTwine. Twine is a simple game-creating software that uses hyperlinks within text to move a reader throughout a story. Twine games can be played in your web browser. They usually look simple, just text on a page, and often resemble choose your own adventure novels.

Links in Twine games create passageways to new passages. Here’s an example. The first page of the game brings you to a choice:Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 1.40.19 PM

Say the player clicks on the link that says “right”:

Whoops. If the player had clicked “left”, instead, they would have been luckier:

From the front end of the game (the part that players are meant to see), the player can’t know which way to turn before they make the choice. But from the back end, the game creator can see all of the passages and how they are connected. Here’s what that looks like:

Over the summer, when I was first learning how to use Twine, I made a game about how to catalog a zine. Looking at the back end of Twine got me thinking: what if I used Twine to visualize data about how zines are connected to each other in networks?

Lots of zines mention other zines. In the 1990’s, before the internet was really a thing, zine networks formed through in person connections between zine writers, connections that occurred between friends, or at Riot Grrrl conventions, or at concerts. Zine writers often reviewed each other’s zines in their own, and included the addresses where a person could write to order a zine. In this way, zine networks grew and spread even among people who were not in the same geographical locations. In this way, zines also moved through social scenes.

Using Twine, I decided it would be cool to create a data map of zines that mention other zines. This was definitely not a proper use of Twine. My goal was to create a map on the back end of Twine, the part that people are never really supposed to see, unless they’re building the game.

Even though it was sort of a ridiculous idea, I still went for it. I created a new passage (one of those squares with text that you saw in the Twine back-end) for each zine. I mapped zines mentioning each other by using hyperlinks to draw lines between zines. Here’s how it works: creating a link in Twine basically just means putting it in two brackets, [[like this]]. So in each zine passage, I’d create links to every other zine that zine mentioned. So when I create a link to a zine title that isn’t yet a passage in the Twine game, a new passage is automatically created under that name, and a line is drawn between the two zines. When I link to a passage that already exists in the game, a line is also drawn.

Here’s an example of what a small network of zines looks like in my Twine data map:

Here, the zines Circumspect and Oppression Song both mention Wrecking Ball(ignore the fact that Wrecking Ball is red, it’s an error that isn’t that interesting to go into). Anyway, all three zines are zines I’ve actually cataloged and looked at–Wrecking Ball just doesn’t mention any other zines, which is why there are no arrows emanating from it.

When zines talk about each other, it helps me learn new things about all of the zines involved. For example, I don’t have dates of publication forWrecking Ball or Oppression Song. But this issue of Circumspect was published in 1995. From this, I can learn that Wrecking Ball must have been first published in or before 1995. Zines are also often linked in terms of genre–all three of these zines are Personal Zines.

But what are all of the zines circling Circumspect, and why aren’t they attached to anything else? Well, those are mostly zines that I haven’t looked at and thus don’t have metadata for. While most of those zines likely mention other zines (out of all of the zines I’ve looked at, probably 80% of them mention other zines), I don’t have access to that information. For that reason, as a data map this is, in many ways, inherently flawed.

But this flaw can also tell us something important about the ways in which zine networking happened in the 1990’s. Let’s say you go to a concert in 1995 and someone is selling issues of Circumspect. You buy a copy and you love it. The last page of the issue contains reviews of other zines. The writers of Circumspect think that The Wild Rag is a great zine. So you write to the creators of The Wild Rag and ask for a copy. But the writer of The Wild Rag has moved, or ran out of copies of their zine, or just never opened your letter. You’re stuck at a dead end. You’re a 15-year-old living somewhere suburban, and there is never another punk show in your town again. The network was a dead end.

But now, 20 years later, thousands of zines are in archives. I might have dead ends, but I can still visualize a zine network from up above. I know who was writing to who. It looks something like this:

But this concept of a dead end fascinated me. In the age of the internet, there are very few dead ends. For the most part, if you type something into a search engine, you’ll eventually find what you’re looking for. The sort of physical networking that happened in zine culture in the 1990’s isn’t really something that really happens anymore. So I decided to convert my Twine data map into a Twine game.

The idea of the game is that you enter a room full of zines. When you click on a zine, you arrive on a page of metadata about that zine (metadata from my database). Included in the metadata is a list of other zines that the zine you’ve just clicked on mentions. You click on those zines and, hopefully, reveal a new page of metadata, a zine that’s in the room with you. The object of the game is simple: try to go as long as you can without hitting a dead end.

The game is still very much in development. I have a draft done but it’s not really polished enough to post online anywhere. Eventually, I want to create multiple iterations of this game. In some, you can see all of the connections between the zines you are clicking on. You know where you are on the map. How does that change the experience of moving through zines in a network you can already see? What does it feel like on the other side of that, to be clicking somewhat blindly, writing letters, trying to get copies of zines? What does it mean to be able to see a network you are in, and what does it mean not to?

Nora Miller
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Nora is a Division II student at Hampshire College and a 2015-2016 Undergraduate Fellow with 5CollDH.