The Spare Set - A Twine Game by UK Charity Shelter

Hello all,

For the past few months I have been working with the housing and homelessness charity, Shelter UK, to produce a Twine game to run alongside their summer campaign. It is called The Spare Set, and you can play it at the following link:

shelter.org.uk/twine

The IFDB page is here: ifdb.tads.org/viewgame?id=dq148h8owh2asrbt

There will be some social media posts about it from Shelter tomorrow, but I wanted to post it first and foremost to the communities which would understand the best what it is I am trying to do. I wanted to create an experience for people to highlight the work that the charity does, as well as to draw people’s attention to the issues facing many families in Britain today.

Every 11 minutes in England, a family loses their home, usually through repossession. This is often as the result of forces outside their control; an accident at home or work, a job loss or other incident which means that they begin to find it extremely difficult to keep up with the payments on their home. In fact, the situation is so dire that many people, even if they do not know it, are only one paycheque away from losing their home.

Shelter provides expert advice and legal representation to families at risk of losing their homes, equipping them with the tools they need to keep their lives on track. ‘The Spare Set’ is a fictional story of a woman named Lucy, a home-owner, office worker and mother-of-two who is in just such a situation. Players can explore her life right up until the point at which the incident occurs, and how things steadily get worse after this fact.

This is an experiment for Shelter, a new medium through which to grow understanding and empathy for a problem which can affect anybody. I hope you enjoy the game, and if you have any constructive comments or bug-fixes, please send them to:

digital_fundraising@shelter.org.uk

Wow. This is powerful and effective. Thank you for sharing! And thank you for raising awareness around something so important.

A few things that worked really well for me -

The protagonist has a fantastic voice! Very alive, very believable. And…

[spoiler]When I delayed too long before answering the phone, and the text changed so that I couldn’t answer it now - that was an excellent idea. Combining in-game time vs. real time worked very well.

And the growing awareness of the story’s context - when it’s completely clear that, by playing, you are already in the shoes of the people who help - that’s extremely well done.[/spoiler]

A few things that might have worked better for me -

Given how much help you provide for new players, I think it would have been helpful to have some kind of warning about delayed text reveals. It’s a maneuver I’m reasonably familiar with as an experienced IF player, but at one point I thought there was no bottom-of-screen “let’s keep going” prompt, so I clicked through another one just the delayed text started appearing. (Ideally, it would be nice to have some kind of indicator of “more text coming” that goes away when a page is fully loaded - I also had a few times when I sat on a fully-loaded page wondering if there would be more text, and that broke immersion a bit.) And…

[spoiler]The moment when you used the smallest font in the game - it was so small that I had to grab it and copy it to Notepad to see what you wrote.

Also, it’s longer than I would have anticipated, and given how much it hurts to play this game (since you know she’s going to lose her home) it might be a good idea if it were a bit tighter. It felt like I spent forever searching for that mosquito costume, which did cause me to see and comprehend the protagonist’s love for her home, but also sparked frustration. I read very rapidly, and it took me a good 30 min to play. I might have quit before seeing the end if I had other things I needed to do this morning… which is dangerous, when you really need people to make it to the end (given that it’s a game for change).[/spoiler]

Again, very well done!

Thank you very much for your support and advice. It’s invaluable.

If some people could test it in some different browsers, that would be grand… we are having issues with IE, but who doesn’t? I think it something to do with the Javascript, but I’ve found no solution so far.

I will put in something about the delayed text reveals on the front page. A few other people have been tripped up by that. Unfortunately there is limited scope for big changes, so inserting a ‘let’s keep going’ prompt on every instance of it would be difficult. Hopefully an explanation on the front page will help, but I’ll keep an eye out for similar feedback, thank you.

What I have had to keep in mind is that many of the charity’s supporters, I would say 99% to 100%, are not even videogamers, let alone IF fans. Twine seemed the best way to present an interactive campaign to them, and some have already given us negative feedback purely because it is a game, which is unavoidable, really, and I understand their concerns.

A lot of people want to play it on their phones, which is an issue for Twine, as the layout is based on Sugarcane and is not incredibly responsive outside of desktop browser, so I’ll be including a note about that.

The part with smallest font, actually, is not meant to be read! I use different font sizes in the game to simulate the aural effect of the protagonist’s voice moving closer and further away from the phone, so when the font is slightly smaller, her head is turned away from the receiver, but in the section you describe she has actually put down the phone to talk to someone else. The tiny text was supposed to emphasize this - you can hear somebody is speaking, but not what they can say.

In terms of length - a few other people have said the same. The idea was for much of the game to be optional, for much of the exploration to build pathos and characterisation, and that somebody with not much time could take the more direct route. However, as the game so heavily suggests and encourages exploration, I imagine that the full length is something that most players will experience.

Thanks so much for your feedback and your time.

Hmm. It was not obvious to me that there was a direct route I could take, or I would have taken it.

Right up until the time limit kicked over, I believed the game would not proceed until I found all of the mosquito costume. Which was pretty frustrating - I have no idea where two of those pieces were. Felt like I searched the entire space.

Late reply, but I had to throw my two cents in. Excellent work all around. I can’t gush enough about it. I told everyone I knew in as many ways as I could think, including many people who doubtlessly had no interest in it. Is it too early to start nominating this for awards next year?

There you go, a vague endorsement indistinguishable from a spam post.

Nobody wants your viagra, UnwashedMass!

Hey, don’t be mean.

I just sent him a Western Union check to help him with some financial matter regarding money tied up with governmental something-or-other, and if I don’t get my helper’s fee in the end, I’m going to blame you for scaring him off.