dys4ia (for windows and mac)



dys4ia, my autobiographical game about my decision to start hormone replacement therapy, has been updated with an important new feature for players: the ability to actively contribute to the material well-being of a real live trans woman, that is to say, me. or to put it another way: after most of two years available to play for free on newgrounds, dys4ia is now available as a commercial game for windows and mac for five bucks.

poverty and the threat of homelessness are often the exciting sequel to dys4ia: my partner and i have been struggling with making ends meet for a while now. now dys4ia allows you to actively help with the situation – call it “gamification” if you like. if you’ve ever taught a class with dys4ia, lectured about it, used it as an instructive tool – why not pay me back for the resource i’ve provided you? dys4ia is often called an “empathy game” – here’s empathy’s final boss.

purchase dys4ia on itch.io.

new zines in store!


hey y’all! my online zine store now carries four new zines, in pdf and physical forms. i only ship within the us at the moment, but the pdfs can be ~enjoyed by all.~ the new zines are:

LETTERS TO AN ABSENT CHILD. in 2009 i moved across the country from my family. LETTERS is about our relationship since then. you know how in animal crossing you’ll get letters from your “mom” periodically, but you can never write back? LETTERS reimagines the animal crossing mom as my own mom. i made all the stationery myself – susan lau drew the (gorgeous) cover.

PLUCKY KID DETECTIVE. inspired by nancy drew, encyclopedia brown, and inspector gadget’s genius niece penny, this is a story game (or “role-playing game”) for two people! one player’s the kid detective, the other becomes the invisible hand of crime. this is my first story game and it usually plays pretty wacky. jeremy boydell illustrated it beautifully!

LITTLE GAMES. this zine collects a bunch of games i’ve designed over the course of a year or so, including: a stealth note-passing assassination game for parties, a wizard combat game to play on social media, a spin-the-bottle game with a cut-out-and-glue spinner, and a game i co-designed with my cat. a lot of my best non-digital game design is represented here!

MAKE YOUR FIRST VIDEOGAME IN TWINE. a zine version of my twine tutorial, ideal for handing to a cool kid (or cool older person!) in your life. i’m selling printed copies, but there’s also a free download-and-print-yourself version for videogame zinesters everywhere. find it in the store.

zines are two bucks each, but you can also get the SECRET NOTES BUNDLE – including LITTLE GAMES, PLUCKY KID DETECTIVE, and LETTERS TO AN ABSENT CHILD, in either pdf or physical format – for five dollars. that’s three zines for the price of two and a half!

get them at my online zine store!

twine and punishment

twine and punishment

d. vincent baker has this game called the sundered land that is actually a collection of different, stand-alone games set in the same world, with suggestions for how to string them together. first, play the game where you’re all caravan guards, telling stories around the campfire. then the caravan’s attacked – play the game where you’re fighting off invaders, using the same characters.

i like thinking about my twine games this way. star court isn’t an explicit sequel to where in the galaxy is kremlin san antonio?, but you could play it that way: if you play kremlin and end up keeping the loot for yourself, maybe star court is the story of what happens when INTERSOL catches up with you. maybe star court is the story of what happens to kremlin after she’s arrested.

i’m not really interested in literal sequels, but i like crafting games that occupy a non-linear web of connections, each offering additional perspectives to look in on the others. i feel like these five of my twine games – pulpy space operas about queer outlaws – have a lot to say to each other, so it made sense to put them together.

TWINE AND PUNISHMENT is a collection of five of my best twine space adventures, plus a new prologue – KEEP DREAMING, SPACE COWGIRL – written just for this collection. it also features a menu for launching the games that includes synopses and historical notes, and a print-and-play character sheet you can use to track your criminal record across the five games.

the bundle is available on itch.io for five dollars, which is a dollar a game. with the exception of kremlin (which i’ve previously sold for three bucks), none of these games have been available for download before. it’s a good gift for your weird gay niece or anyone interested in what interactive fiction looks like in the twenty-first century.

star court

star court

star court is based on a little old mac game called kangaroo court that my friend miguel made me play on his little old mac. “it’s basically an anna anthropy game,” he said. when the first witness turned out to be “a very friendly person with large insect-like eyes and a ray gun,” i realized it was true. when the game i had planned for my free patreon last month didn’t work out (it was a writing game, but the scoring mechanisms as they stood didn’t really facilitate writing interesting stories), i decided to write my own version of kangaroo court, set in the queer space opera universe of my other twine games.

by the time i crossed the 11,000 work mark – the size of a very very VERY scary house – i realized the game wouldn’t be done by the end of the month. it ended up my biggest twine project to date, with almost 30,000 words in over 300 passages (v.v.v. scary house, for comparison, has around 200). it’s just really branchy – i wanted it to contain a lot of chance and a lot of choices. and i’m finding it really easy to write for a pulp universe that is basically designed to facilitate as many weird ideas as possible. (spoilers: there is another entry in this series coming up soon!)

many ideas for the game were inspired by zak s.’s vornheim – particularly the “invoke the ancient rite” option, which is based on vornheim’s “legal situations” table. one of the game’s characters – a demon prince who rules over crime and is summoned to ascertain that the player is a criminal – is drawn almost entirely from an entry on that table. (vornheim is a treasure trove of great game ideas and i consult it constantly.)

star court was funded by my patreon patrons, without whose generous sponsorship i would have a hard time paying my rent. a bunch of amazing folks helped me playtest this huge, super-combinatorial game, including adam hartling, leon arnott, javy gwaltney, anna langford, and rob lockhart. the typeface used in the game is scifly.

click here to play star court!

lesbian spider-queens of mars (uncensored)


the original, uncensored version of lesbian spider-queens of mars is now on sale for windows and mac! lesbian spider-queens was an opportunity to play around with the mythology of arcade games: because the economy of the arcade demanded swift player turn-around times, a lot of the storytelling in these games happens in the margins. lesbian spider-queens is a pulp, b-movie homage to games like wizard of wor, joust and dig dug. it’s like, my most videogamey videogame: the kind of skill-based game i’m not super interested in anymore, but definitely the most pure example i’ve made of that kind of game. now with nipples again.

buy lesbian spider-queens of mars (uncensored) here!

zzt interviews: jeanne thornton

rhygar 3

jeanne thornton is a good friend and big sister figure, and has been a part of my literary career since the very beginning, when she edited rise of the videogame zinesters. she’s the author of incredible books like the black emerald and amazing comics like bad mother, but back in the day she produced a bunch of games with a shareware game-making tool called zzt. when i was putting together a questionnaire for my book on zzt, which i sent to people who responded to an open call for interview subjects, jeanne helped me decide which questions went into it. as part of this process, she was also the first person to answer it.

1. what’s your name? this can be a psuedonym, an internet handle, whatever. a name to use when i quote you.

Jeanne Thornton / bongo

2. what are your preferred pronouns? (she, he, they, etc.)


3. what was your first experience with ZZT? how did you encounter it, what was playing it like? how old were you?

I was 13, and I found out about the game in 1996 by doing an AOL search for Calvin and Hobbes video games (at the time, I was involved in a weird Calvin and Hobbes email fandom community that was the first “online community” I was on whatsoever.) There was this neat, really rough C&H world that tried to emulate the Calvin and Hobbes strips where the characters go down the hill in a red wagon by using CW/CCW sliders; it didn’t work well. I remember thinking that the game engine seemed terrible even at the time.

4. did you make any / many ZZT games? what was your first ZZT game like?

I think the first game I tried to make was another Calvin and Hobbes one, to “do it better,” and then a ridiculous LucasArts-styled comedy game about college kids.I remember not knowing how to use STK at all and the boards being really big and gross, and I remember an “action scene” called “Drive like mad” that used bears to represent cars, because bears moved in a straight line, like oncoming traffic! I made a stupid little theme song for it and that’s all I really remember from the game beyond gross color choices.

(Weirdly, I didn’t know you could play ZZT full-screen for a long time, and I had gotten about halfway through making a sequel to that game that used STK colors without knowing that some of the colors flashed on and off—so like when you ran ZZT in a window, those colors showed up as dark foregrounds, light backgrounds, and some of the ASCII characters rendered differently because of whatever Windows installation I had. When I finally realized that you were *supposed* to run ZZT full-screen, I realized that like twenty or thirty boards of this game were just hideous and unusable because I’d inadvertently chosen “flashing colors.”)

5. what was your life like at the time you were making ZZT games? was there any major upheaval happening in your lie?

[paragraph redacted]

Other stuff: I fell in love for the first time; I dated a girl for the first time—I remember going on walks with her around the neighborhood and telling her that a character in this game Rhygar 2 I was working on was “based on her,” which I don’t think was even true, but I remember really wanting it to be true. I remember feeling that my life at school with friends was distinctly not my “real life,” that this weird online world of ZZTers was more in tune with the kinds of friends I wanted to have, corresponded more with the world I wanted to enter. I felt kind of generally disconnected from reality throughout my adolescence, which got more pronounced as it went on for reasons I couldn’t at the time understand, and felt like being a part of this community, working on these games that this just ludicrously small population of people cared about, was real life.

I never mentioned ZZT to anyone I actually knew until later, beyond I guess a couple of close friends—installed it on one’s computer while staying over to make a game about a mutual enemy, confessed to another that I was making a game and showed it to him; he laughed at how completely primitive and awful it was. It had this real weird stigma of being a useless thing, something I had no possibility of communicating to the outside world.

Yet like all of my meaningful memories of adolescence somehow revolve around ZZT or people I met through ZZT. I spent most of my time in the real world just literally thinking of how long, in years, months, and days, it would be until I could graduate high school and move out of my house and into the larger world. I wasn’t picked on, and I had some friends and everything, but it’s like there was some profound sense of not fitting in with anything or anyone I knew in real life outside of a very few people: one girl I fell in love with, one good male friend whom I still talk to, that’s about it.I feel like I wasn’t even there at all, just like this wraith creature waiting to escape out a crack in the door.

6. what influenced or inspired the ZZT games that you made? other games, movies, music? events happening in your life? other ZZT authors?

All of them were shameless ripoffs because I didn’t know how to talk about my life whatsoever, and was in fact terrified of talking about my life whatsoever. When I play my old games, really infrequently, I’m just like completely ashamed because of how little they reflect anything in my life and how much they obviously reflect things I was reading or playing or whatever at the time. Simpsons jokes, the comic book adaptation of Clerks, Final Fantasy games generally, the Wheel of Time, the comic book Bone, just this shameful mishmash of influences.

The one authentic thing in there was this like obsession with women, in particular this proto-dyke character who was like a general and hated my (male) main character, but slowly this weird respect and understanding grew through infinite conversations. I remember thinking over and over that “if I were female, I could create something real; too bad it didn’t work out that way,” and then kind of burying that thought and trying to just replicate something I enjoyed. Now I’m inclined to think of it as this trans feeling before I even know that trans feelings existed: this deep, deep sense that life, creativity, emotion, and human connection were something that only women had access to, and I had just like been born wrong and had to make do, trying to access this thing from the outside. There was this weird quasi-Quranic thing for me about depicting women in any way, in my comics, in my writing, in anything—like I was really, really afraid to do it because it felt like it would be revealing something, like everything would fall apart if I did it—and this one big ZZT game was like one of the few times I felt like I seriously attempted it. And it was okay to do so because not that many people would ever see it, certainly no one I knew for real, and because it was wrapped in this big cloak of fantasy-novel mishmash about magic and destiny and whatever.

I don’t know how obvious it is to anyone else in the world that this was a big deal for me at the time—probably I thought more people were going to perceive what was going through my mind while I was doing it than actually perceived it. (In the never-finished ending, the main character dies, and the female general like goes on to be the main character of future games set in the main world; the idea of just having a female character be the main character just seemed like something too dangerous to actually do, something I was straight-up afraid to do ever.) Later, in one of my online comics, I did a story where the main character’s soul like transmigrates into a female body, thinking it was going to be this really explicit “coming out” kind of confession, but nobody got it at all! So I don’t know what I was even afraid of, or probably still am afraid of. ZZT was some kind of first step out of that all-consuming fear: putting a story I told containing elements I cared about somewhere where other people could see it in a way I couldn’t control.

7. did you interact with any online ZZT communities? how did you discover those communities? what were they like? what did you feel like your role or position in the community was?

Yeah I started posting on the AOL boards, and then eventually migrated to IRC when the AOL boards got shut down. I don’t know if I had any role in the community but I was super arrogant and had some vague notion of trying to make the “best ZZT RPG ever,” even though I knew like nothing about programming, art, or good storytelling. Whenever I think of ZZT days I feel terrible thinking of just how arrogant I was, whether or not anyone knew that, like I was this basically “false person” even in this online community.

I remember spending all this time on IRC in this channel my friend Vinhalf-owned called #darkdigital, talking about music or like pornography or games or who knows what. I remember feeling distinctly uncool always—like I enjoyed totally different music than everyone else, didn’t watch MTV, read long fantasy novels no one else liked, felt cut off from cultural things they were talking about. I grew up in Texas where David Bowie wasn’t played on the radio (beyond Let’s Dance and a couple of other 1980s songs) because he was a Weird Gay Freak, and thought his music was this weird arcane thing—just these really mainstream tastes that I still had no way to access and soaked up online. I feel like most people got their sense of culture from real places and I just got it from the people I met in this one IRC channel, these things that were and are still important to me. I remember trying out slang in IRC that I was too reserved to say in real life, reciting the lyrics of songs endlessly, sometimes trying to be cruel to people because I was afraid to actually offend anyone. It was this combination of real life and like hurtful playground—something about online distance made it possible to encounter people with fewer barriers and fears.

8. what sort of reactions did you receive to your work, if any? did any reaction to your game have a strong positive or negative effect on you?

People really really liked one of my games, this like ridiculous Final Fantasy style RPG epic. When I got a piece of fan mail from some kid I didn’t even know, it felt like this was going to be the beginning of my “real creative life,” like I could instantly move into adulthood if the final chapter of this game was really, really good. Everything would begin then.

I worked really hard on the final chapter of the story and never managed to finish it because I was trying to make it so elaborate that it consistently crashed the ZZT “board limit” of 20kb, corrupting the entire file and ruining like months’ worth of work. I made most of the whole game twice only to have this happen, and the second time I just gave up altogether because I wasn’t a good enough programmer to get around the limit. I felt totally doomed by this decision, like I had just wanted to do something great in this little isolated pocket universe of ZZT, and now I was ruined forever because I couldn’t even do that. (Someone who was a fan of the previous games even went through the files and “fixed them” to use less memory and I just didn’t even want to talk to them.) Even today—like literally today, while I’m typing this—I keep thinking in the back of my mind that ANYTHING I TRY, I WILL FAIL AT, because I didn’t release this stupid game when I was like 15. It’s a useful fear and I attribute stuff like finishing my novel, getting a job in publishing briefly, doing comic strip collections to having decisively failed at this one thing that could only have possibly mattered when I was 15 and never, ever wanting to go back to that feeling again.

I don’t know why this was so important to me and I think it’s a strong indication that I was a bad person that I put so much stock into this one stupid thing. But it was like this laboratory of being an adult creative person.

One of my IRL friends actually did end up playing my games, and said he was disgusted by this one board in the never-finished final chapter with these two characters in bed together; like this visceral horrified reaction at the notion that I had depicted sexuality of any kind really stayed with me. I hated knowing that anyone in my life was playing this; it still makes me really uncomfortable when people I know in real life read anything I’ve written.

(Weirdly, like a month before writing these responses in 2013, I got another fan letter about the game asking me what the ending was going to have been—I barely remembered most of the details of it and had to re-download the game and dig around in the boards to try to remember. It’s creepy how something like that follows you, and originally I thought it was some creep from like 4chan trying to mess with me for being trans; as far as I know it wasn’t?)

9. are there any ZZT games that you remember as having a strong effect on you?

tucan’s game p0p was for some reason very influential—tucan’s whole aesthetic made me feel bad about my entire life. There was this richness to it, this sense of joy in language, of being grounded in these kind of real visions: I may be remembering it wrong, but there was this one board where you crawl through these vines and look through a spyglass and see these singing, hallucinatory whales, and it depressed me on some level because it’s like you could feel the joy tuc took in depicting those whales, and I wished I could do that. In particular there was this game by this guy Chronos that I don’t think was ever formally released—I feel like he must have emailed it to me or something like this—that was just this really dense, elaborate, well-programmed reconstruction of his high school. He was doing it as some kind of gift for friends of his. I remember wishing that I could do that, but it felt like there was nothing about my friends or about my life to say, that it was just this weird blank. This one game called Quest for the Floating Isle that felt somehow really pure—it was a big Zelda-style map of a huge island, and the entire game was just exploring this island and solving inventory-related puzzles, all of it really sunny and polished and without this strong sense of individual overwrought teenage “voice” a lot of ZZT games had, which I liked. The Sivion games, because on some level I felt like they were sort of also inauthentic in the same way I suspected my games were inauthentic—like there was this really elaborate presentation of something that wasn’t deeply felt. I felt like the author must have been the same kind of scumbag and took weird joy in this.

10. do you still make games or other forms of art? has working with ZZT informed your current work in any substantial way?

There’s this line in Jaime Hernandez’s Love and Rockets comics where Hopey and Maggie are trying to explain punk to this jerky Christian guy, and Maggie says that punk is in everything you do, “the way you stir your coffee in the morning.” I feel like it has something to do with that—there’s no explicit connection but it’s stuck there in the back of my mind. One specific weird memory: in college, thinking about how a paragraph of text in a novel should be as dense as a board in ZZT, like how you should be able to “push on” different nouns in a sentence and have things happen. When I try to write a paragraph of description of a place, I’m on some level thinking about ZZT, how the environment would appear in ZZT. When I think about color combinations in the comics I draw I think about what would look good in ZZT. It’s always there.

11. what’s the greatest risk you’ve taken in your life, unrelated to ZZT?

Transitioning, being public/out about transitioning. It was the most horrifying thing to me to have something fundamental about my identity be publicly, uncontrollably *visible* in this way. Thus it was this thing I didn’t let myself become fully aware of for the longest time, and that I didn’t let myself acknowledge as any kind of actual option in my life until long, long after I became aware of it. It’s still really, really hard, and there’s at least one point in every day when I think about how this is clearly impossible. I don’t know what would have become of me had it not been for ZZT, if I had tried to find creative outlets in person in the small Texas town I grew up in. I really don’t know what would have happened had I not had this sort of safe-yet-dangerous online space. NOTHING GOOD.



i’ve been doing a lot of little experiments in non-digital games lately! i’ve been working on a simple, silly story game for two players that i hopefully will be ready to show off soon. but in the meanwhile, here’s a new, little, completely unplaytested game: KILLWHEEL!

KILLWHEEL is a spin-the-bottle-like game. players take turns spinning a spinner to find out which fabulous prize they receive: their dream home? a fantasy vacation? an all-expenses-paid shopping spree?? then they describe how their prize causes their death. i tried to make the categories as open-ended as possible: your death has to involve a home of some sort, but what that home looks like is up to the player describing it. their “dream home” or “fantasy vacation” could be anything. this is sort of an idea i took from the machine of death game, whose cards will instruct you to use “an animal” or “something red” in your plans, but let you decide which specific thing in that broad category.

the game is available from my zine store as a free print-and-play download. you get a single image containing instructions and the wheel – print it out, make a spinner (either using the patented card-stock-with-pencil-through-the-middle method or the pencil-and-paperclip method) and play! the graphic design of the print-and-play sheet was definitely inspired by cheapass games, and is meant to invoke game shows like wheel of fortune and the price is right. download KILLWHEEL! for free!

gay cats go to the weird weird woods



GAY CATS GO TO THE WEIRD WEIRD WOODS is my latest osmo-like game – as in, a charming little adventure where you just wander around and see and hear neat things and don’t have to worry about messing up and losing. it’s kind of a continuation of emotica except that instead of appropriating icons i did all the art and animation myself. it’s about my cats.

my cat, encyclopedia frown, and my partner’s cat, tits (aka “the kitten”) really like each other, okay? i wanted to give them a little adventure. it was important that you could play as both cats but i didn’t really want to make a two-player game, so i just made the same controls move both of them. i’ve been playing a lot of nightmare cooperative.

it creates some interesting situations where moving and interacting with one cat causes the other cat to interact with other stuff too, but i tried not to get too cerebral with it. i wasn’t interested in making a puzzle game.

i played around with some shortcuts for putting pretty-looking screens together quickly. a lot of objects randomly choose their exact appearance when the screen loads, so i could just draw a wall of trees in the editor and have them be all different colors in the finished game, with bushes and withered old trees interspersed. the different patches of grass and specks on the ground also work like this. i can use a single object type to provide a bunch of visual variance this way. (i kind of stole this trick from adam atomic games, especially fathom.)

i used a similar trick for the audio. i got a ton of samples from freesound and then have them play at random: every time the kitties take a step, for example, it plays one of four notes, randomly stringing a little tune together as you walk. full credits for samples are in the readme file – there are a ton of them. the voice of encyclopedia frown was provided by me, the voice of the kitten by my partner xandir.

you can download gay cats go to the weird weird woods here. it’s only for windows at the moment, but the source is included in case anyone wants to port it to osx or html5!

gay cats was funded by my patreon sponsors, without whom i would have a much harder time making ends meet and creating little games like this.

zzt interviews: jude tulli

princess polyana's descent into the (perilous) underground

princess polyana’s descent into the (perilous) underground was one of the most important games to me in my childhood, the first example i can remember where gender dictates your ability to navigate the world. it was made by partners trish sanders and jude tulli. while working on my book, i managed to track down and talk to jude. here’s an extended version of my interview with him, which is quoted in ZZT.

thanks to a browser port of dosbox and help from jeremy penner, you can now play princess polyana and a bunch of other ZZT games on my website! enjoy.

First, how did you first encounter / discover ZZT? About how old were both of you when you made Princess Polyana?

I must have downloaded it from somewhere! I really can’t remember where now, but I liked the original adventure, and when I found out there was a game editor I was excited by the limitless possibilities. I was 21 years old at the time.

Some of my most meaningful collaborations have been with my partners. What was the process of working on a game together like for you? Do you feel as though your relationship informed the game in a significant way?

I was working on the game when Trish and I met online (and was still working on it when we met in real life three months later), and so it was just a fun thing to talk about, and she says she was impressed that I could program the objects to do things.

When I was having trouble with a particular object being stubborn, I would ask her to test it when I thought it was ready to go so I could see if it needed further editing. She also made suggestions like she does now with my novels. “Maybe the story could go this way, or that way.” She leaves the final decisions up to me, though, which is unlike most aspects of our relationship, where we make important decisions together.

When I encountered Polyana as a kid, what struck me most was the ways in which the protagonist’s gender affect her mobility within the game’s world and her ability to get what she wants. I feel like this is still a subject that games seldom address, especially without sexualizing or objectifying the protagonist. Was this a deliberate choice? Did it emerge naturally as a consequence of writing a girl character?

The first one. It was the theme I had going into the story that she would be fighting an uphill battle because princesses aren’t supposed to do those sorts of things, they are supposed to wear dresses and be princessy (not that she can’t go on an adventure in a nice dress, mind you, if she so chooses). You’ll notice some of the non-player characters treat her with hostility or condescension where if she were a male character they would likely applaud her initiative. The double-standard is still with us to this day, though there have been many advancements.

One of the things that’s stuck with me through the years is the storyteller’s story – about a princess who arranges to have her sisters kidnapped so she can go on an adventure. I like that it’s presented peripherally to the primary backstory – a suggested motive for Polyana’s adventure. What sources did Polyana’s Descent draw upon for inspiration? I know Princess Bride is explicitly mentioned in the game, and Jude’s contemporary writing seems to draw from fairytales a lot.

Yes, there were bits of The Princess Bride in there (the circus performers, the goblet challenge with Wentworth at the end). I picked up a copy of Iron John while making the game, and Robert Bly has been a huge influence for me since I was about 16 years old. The astral trip was inspired by Robert Monroe, whose works I was also reading at the time. The chess game with death of course derives from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Atari’s original Adventure game inspired the secret staircase to the title page. The tea party in Rufus was largely inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which I was rereading for a class on children’s literature. I’m probably forgetting other specific inspirations. I have just always loved the resonance of fairy tales and the fluidity of their motifs and themes, and so I hope that’s infused into every work I create.

One of the most striking scenes in a game that, frankly, has quite a few of them, is the flower scene. Polyana is asked to pick a bunch of flowers, which cry out in more and more visceral agony as they’re killed one by one. The alternative, though, is well-hidden. I like that Polyana can’t pass this trial without performing some kind of violence. Did you think of Polyana as an explicitly moral game while you were making it?

Well, making a game is a vehicle of expression, and one principle that I find fascinating that tends to crop up in my creative endeavors is that of violence, and the question of when, if ever, is it okay.

With ZZT, shooting things is always an option, and it’s not the same as shooting things in real life. So to create a story in that world without any shooting at all would be limiting oneself. . .but the flower sequence was a lesson in empathy and probably was consciously or unconsciously inspired by what I learned in college about Stanley Milgram’s famous psychological study, the details of which are available here:


The central question for the task is this: do you have empathy for the flowers enough to find another way, or do you just do as you’re told to get to the next screen?

I have, in fact, played Rufus on Vacation. It’s significant to me that it was a solo project by Jude and not Trish, since it seems to center on a boy’s exploration of a girl’s secret world. There are some conflicting images of relationships in this game: we’re shown some of the conflict in Polyana’s relationship with her partner, but ultimately arrive at a happy domestic vision of that relationship. Meanwhile, Rufus is forced to form an attachment with a partner he’s just met in order to gain access to that final scene. Were you consciously thinking about the image of relationships the game portrayed as you wrote it, or was it just a consequence of making a silly game?

Rufus on Vacation is obviously not really a sequel to Princess Polyana’s Descent. . . it just made sense at the time to use the same character names and reverse the main/supporting roles. As it’s set in contemporary times, it’s not the same Rufus and Polyana, unless their souls occupy parallel dimensions (the feasibility of which I will leave to every player to decide for him- or herself).

But it is a coming of age story, and in some ways it’s reflective of where I was at the time in my own life, forging an alliance with my now-wife, becoming an adult and the uncertainty of all that lies ahead of that major transition. . .plus Trish thought the part where the character named after her follows Rufus around was funny and endearing, so I left it in the game.

She probably had about the same role in this game’s creation, but asserted that she didn’t do enough to warrant having her name on there, otherwise the credits would have read the same as the first game.

Have you interacted with any ZZT communities at all? Which communities – I think of Prodigy, AOL, Compuserve, the internet, etc. as all having distinct communities – and what was your impression of the communities you interacted with?

I remember uploading these games to AOL and maybe one or two other smaller communities that are now defunct. I also downloaded a lot of add-ons and enjoyed seeing what others created.

Over the years I have gotten very little correspondence about the game. I really have no way to estimate how many people played it, liked it, hated it, loved it, but the few letters/e-mails I have received have all been exceedingly positive, and one child who wrote me several letters way back then even sent me an add-on that included me as a character in his story! My own copy of Rufus was corrupted many years ago, and I was delighted to find a fellow ZZT-er had uploaded it to the Z2 database so I could play it again.

What do you think of videogames now, outside of ZZT – in the mainstream or in whatever forms you encounter them? Do you play games still?

My wife and I play a lot of videogames these days. We have played a few MMOs and were both impressed with and annoyed by the interactivity of these worlds. We play console and PC games as well. I think the evolution of both what appears on the screen and the way the player controls what appears on the screen is just fascinating. Yes, our first videogame was Pong, and we’ve watched the industry grow up from its infancy. Personally, we prefer games that are cleverly written to mindless gore and violence.

How has working with ZZT transformed work or art for either of you? Does it inform what you do now in any significant way? Jude, I know that you write fiction that seems to draw from fairytales in the same way that Polyana does. Is Polyana a footnote or was it a significant project for you?

That’s a tough question to answer, because every project’s significance changes with the passage of time. Back then I was quite absorbed in listening to the world and my life for ideas to infuse into the games, as I am now when writing a story or book. Each game was my biggest creative outlet at the time.

Once a creative project is “finished”, however, we tend not to think about it as much, and our memory begins to recede like a dream from last night, last week, last year, last decade. . .and occasionally we might look at it again and visit like old friends, maybe even make some more changes here and there.

Polyana and Rufus are still dear to my heart, having created them and their worlds, and in a sense they validate that my worldview was relatively complete at that young age, though I’m still not as street-savvy as Polyana. But there have been spans of years when they probably didn’t cross my mind at all. I still maintain they’re always there, in the unconscious. Along with Polyana II’s record player that plays the Beethoven movement I could never master. All there. Somewhere.

Because I didn’t receive much feedback on the games–and like all young, optimistic dreamer types I had of course imagined it might lead to a creative career of some sort, but then the bills started coming in and they were relentless next to the $1.00 I received compliments of the shareware principle–each player whose life the game touched means that much more to me when I hear about it.

So the intangible rewards are not really different from what I hope to find with writing: to have others resonate with a project encourages us to return to the struggle of creating something new. It’s especially gratifying to hear when children who played my games remember them fondly into adulthood. That’s what it’s all about.

on max temkin

cards against humanity co-creator max temkin has been accused of rape and written a post in response where he A) tries to side-step the accusation by positioning himself as a “feminist” and an ally and B) makes new threats at the person accusing him. you can read a post by temkin’s accuser here and a summary / response to temkin’s own post here.

my partner and i heard the news about temkin’s accusation while staying in a hotel room that was paid for by him. cards against humanity is one of the sponsors of the queer games convention gaymerx, and they had chosen my game TRIAD as one of a bunch of games they wanted to exhibit. i’ve never been comfortable with a game designed to encourage jokes about date rape, trans women and sex workers, but a twentieth-story hotel room in san francisco isn’t a luxury i can often afford as a queer artist, and so i accepted. if they want to redistribute some of cards against humanity’s money to a bunch of poor queers, by all means.

you can imagine my partner and i were not thrilled to discover that our sponsor was essentially using us as a means of excusing himself from a rape accusation – trying to purchase allyship so that he can use it as a shield against having to be held accountable for what he’s done. i feel pretty fucked up over it. i feel used.

i want to point out that the representatives of cards against humanities i interacted with at gaymerx (i never met or interacted with max temkin, to my knowledge) were great and super helpful. though i can’t help but feel really weird, in light of temkin’s accusation, that he seems to only employ women and sponsored mostly women to travel to gaymerx for his games curation.

as an added bonus, here’s a card that was given away as part of a complimentary “rejected cards” pack in the cards against humanity room at gaymerx, a queer safe space (the same room my game was displayed in). it says “my dick in your mouth.”

we must make the games we wish to play in the world