Author Interview: anna anthropy

2015-10-08 · by Devi Acharya
tagged Interviews

anna anthropy is a 30-year-old teen witch. She is a play designer, author of Rise of the Videogame Zinesters and ZZT, and maintains the game history archive ANNARCHIVE.COM. She lives in Oakland, California with her familiar, a black cat named Encyclopedia Frown.

This interview was conducted by email in September 2015.


anna anthropy—sub-Q Interview

anna anthropy


Devi Acharya: To begin, tell me a bit about yourself—who you are, where you’re from, a strange confession?

anna anthropy: hi! my name is anna. i’m from the bronx, new york. i grew up in a neighborhood where people hung out on their front stoops and there was a place on every street corner that’d sell you a slice of pizza bigger than your head. most of those places are still open, if not under the names i originally knew them by.

currently, i live in oakland, california. but probably not for much longer. everyone i know here is packing up and leaving. everyone’s too burnt out trying to eke out a living in a place that gets more expensive by the day, where—i know i’m not alone in this—it’s hard to really feel community any more. i was here before most of the people i’ve grown close to. now i’m afraid of being here after they’re gone. no one’s really close to each other here any more.

i’ve got my cat, though.


Devi: I don’t think it’d be an overstatement to say you’ve rocked the interactive fiction world. How does IF help you tell your stories?
anna: was it me that rocked the interactive fiction world, or was it twine, and i was just the first person using twine to do weird, gay, sexy stuff? as much as i like a lot of my own writing, if popularizing twine becomes my interactive fiction legacy i’ll be happy. it’s sincerely changed everything. my first book, rise of the videogame zinesters, was developed from a piece about how game-making tools like inform 7 were going to change the world, but the truth is parser-based interactive fiction was never going to reach anyone who wasn’t in driving distance of MIT. it’s too hard to play, and much too hard to write. i discovered twine while i was working on the book: right place, right time. long overdue.

i’m consistently happy with how much of working with twine is just writing, and not struggling with code. i resisted doing a lot of technical stuff in my interactive fiction for a very long time. i’ve finally started doing it, and i find myself grumbling each time i have to enclose something in brackets. if twine were even a spoonful more complicated, i would probably just write paper “choose your own adventure” books.

those are really what made me love interactive fiction. people are always down on the writing and the supposed shallowness of the interactivity, but the wild leaps of imagination that resulted when a cheap paperback potboiler was injected with a little interactivity! what interactive fiction authors today are brave enough to let their stories branch into completely contradictory, wildly different outcomes at the result of almost any minor choice? authors are SO SERIOUS. it’s that kind of creativity i try to live up to whenever i write interactive fiction.


Devi: You talk about a lot of personal experiences in your games. Do you find it difficult sharing these stories with the world?
anna: not really.

the thing i always like to say is that there came a time when staying silent about my experiences became scarier, more painful, than speaking them aloud. but i think there’s also a thing where i’m careful about how autobiographical i’ll actually let a game be. metaphor is a way of protecting myself. i never actually say “trans woman” in witches & wardrobes, for example. i say “witch.” i say “plucking hairs from warts” instead of “shaving my face every morning.” i think i’m wary of casting myself as a victim. it’s too easy, and i’m tired of people using my games to make themselves feel like they’re good people for sitting and listening to me.

i mean, i say this having just released “ohmygod are you alright?,” my most blatantly autobiographical game so far. i guess there’s just a point where you’re so hurt and so angry that you can no longer keep up the pretense that the tiny pixel girl bobbing around the screen isn’t just you. i try to make things that will outlast my moments of pain, but the pain got too big, and here were all these people sitting around and talking about what great listeners they were. i wanted to really be heard for once.


Devi: In the same vein, what has the reader response to your work been like? 

anna: they don’t like the right games! my biggest seller—the game everyone emails me asking if they can exhibit—is still this game about hormone replacement therapy i made four years ago. i would disown it if it didn’t provide such a big chunk of my income. i made the exhibition fee $200 so people would stop emailing me.

the projects i’m proudest of are weird interactive fiction pieces no one else seems to care about. star court has almost 30,000 words—the length of some of my books—but you only see a fraction of the game in any single playthrough. i spent weeks on the mystery of the missing mythics—this weird, very silly adventure game i built around this “image search madlibs” idea. the idea is that the game will give you a phrase—”weird beard,” for example—and you image search it. pick your favorite image from the results, tell it to the game, and the game will spring it on you at some point in the story. i’m really proud of how i used many of the images.

but it’s a lot to ask players to sit and do twenty image searches before they start the game, i guess. you can’t control what people will like, but i wish more of my new stuff met with anywhere close to the enthusiasm this hormone game that’s—from my perspective—ancient history still does.


Devi: Loved taking a look at “Witches and Wardrobes“! Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration behind it?
anna: think of it as my version of the “what i wanted to wear” hashtag. if you haven’t seen this, it’s trans women posting photos of the outfits they would have liked to go out in versus the outfits that, for safety’s sake, they actually did. i’m a white woman, and i’m a big, tall woman, and i’m a fat woman so i’m less desirable to the kinds of dudes who hit on trans women and then react to the “discovery” of their transness with violence, so it’s less dangerous to be me than to be a lot of other trans ladies, especially trans women of color.

but every time i go out, i have to deliberate over what i feel like i can get away with. what ways will this outfit invite strangers to question my womanhood? what failings of my trans body to look cis will this outfit emphasize? do i have the self-confidence today to weather the judgement (and catcalls, and harassment) of strangers? maybe if i wear tights i won’t have to worry about people looking at my legs. maybe i can get away with wearing pants and a simple top today.

witches & wardrobes” is about how every decision feels like a compromise, but also the bravery, the strength even in those compromises, in ways we’re able to take care of ourselves, how we’re able to endure as women. the ability to find femininity where we can, to fully inhabit even smaller expressions of our womanhood. even these are victories.


What's this?


Devi: Where do you see your future headed? Any big interactive fiction plans?
anna: i’m working on two books right now. neither of them are technically announced yet, so i can’t say much. but one is a traditional gamebook, lone wolf-style. it’s set in the future bay area, where water is scarce and all government functions have been privatized to san francisco startups. the other is—well, it will hopefully produce some new interactive fiction authors. stay tuned!


Devi: Is there anything else you want to talk about?

anna: well, if you’re reading this and it’s october, then i just put my kid detective halloween adventure game, “a very very VERY scary house,” on sale at a big discount. it’s free! you can find it on my page.

i wrote this game a few years ago for jerry belich’s “choosatron” project—a machine that prints out physical interactive fiction (in the “choose your own adventure” mold) on receipt paper. when you’re done playing, you get to take the story you created with you. “v.v.V.s.h.” was my largest attempt at a “pure” choose-your-own-adventure work—there’s no stat-tracking of any kind, and the game branches widely into over fifty different, mutually exclusive endings. i’m really proud of it, and it’s perfect for halloween.


Devi: How can others find out more about you and your work?

anna: here are some links: is the home for all my tabletop projects. most recently: a two-player role-playing game where a dungeon janitor and their apprentice argue over who’s going to clean up the minotaur poop. it’s also where you can get “be witching,” a game about witch fashion that might be appealing if you like “witches & wardrobes.” actually, “witches & wardrobes” was originally going to be the name of that game, but the game changed to the point where that name no longer really made sense. is where you can support all the free games i make and get updates on all the new stuff i turn out. i post a lot of previews and sneak peeks that are patron-only; if you want to play my new games before anyone else, this is the place to be. is my storefront. you can get many of my tabletop and digital games there, including several pieces of interactive fiction.

finally, isn’t really about my own work, but i want to mention it anyway. it’s where i host all the scans i do of documents i think are important to games and technology history. my most recent additions are martin amis’ invasion of the space invaders and the 1993 book the joy of cybersex. possibly by the time you read this, i will have started scanning and posting issues of lisa palac’s future sex magazine, one of the first ongoing attempts to chronicle the world at the intersection of sex and technology.

i keep busy i guess!


Devi: Thanks so much for your time!
anna: thanks for the interview!
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