Twitter Games

What games can you play on Twitter?

With Twitter exploding into the mainstream, the opportunities for Twitter games should also expand yet there seems to be very little out there at the moment. There are several dull games for Twitter like Twit Brain which sends you a calculation every three hours and you have to see how quickly you can solve them. Beat My Tweet offers something similar except with word puzzles. Other, similar games exist but none of them really exploit Twitter’s potential.

A Twitter Server for Games

Both the examples above use a central server that manages and scores the game. Twitter’s API allows makes it simple to develop a server and the low bandwidth requirements should mean that will be cheap to run. These factors make Twitter ideal for an individual or small company looking for a platform. The problem is finding the mix of technology and ideas to deliver the perfect Twitter Game.

A concept for a killer Twitter game than no one has exploited yet would be a return to old fashioned text adventure games. Most people under 30 will not be familiar with this form of computer game but to those of us of a certain age, we look back fondly on the hours spent typing “Go North” and “Take Torch”. The most famous of these games were from Infocom including Zork, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Leather Goddesses of Phobos.

Often referred to as Interactive Fiction, these adventures would make great Twitter games because of the technological constraints. These games evolved out of an era when 16K (yes kilobytes not megabytes) was a lot of memory so their functionality is limited to a simple text interface. The 140 character message limit would be ample for the user’s instructions and most replies from the server. Longer descriptive text from the server could be split over several messages. Whilst the actual Infocom Adventures are copyrighted, the technology they used is in the public domain and a whole host of Z-Code and virtual Z-Machines are out there. There are also plenty of modern adventures released under CC or other open licenses.

The big difference between playing these adventure games on Twitter and playing them as a standalone software is the audience. Every time you tweet, everyone following you gets the message, not just the games server. So all your followers can see your progress and give you advice about the Grue. It is only a small step in concept and not much of one technologically to have a multi-user Twitter game. As well as the fun of exploring adventures with friends, there are other possibilities such as capture-the-flag games or solving-the-adventure races.

Distributed Games

As fun as interactive fiction would be on Twitter it really doesn’t take advantage of Twitter’s unique structure. What Twitter games can you play without the need for a server, that just anyone can start, join in and drop-out of as required?

The big limitation here is the length of a Tweet. With just a 140 characters it makes it very hard to explain complex rules. So the ideal Twitter games would be self explanatory or explainable with a single word. Any such game has to rely on people being aware how to play the game already. One obvious example of this would be word association.

#WordAssociation giraffe

Anyone who is aware of the concept of word association will immediately understand what is going on. A slightly more demanding example would be:

#NextLine Take me down to the paradise city

Again it is fairly intuitive that the correct response is:

#NextLine Where the grass is green

Because of the networking nature of Twitter and it asynchronous nature, the person spawning the song could end up starting several independent #NextLine threads that they never see. Friends of friends of the original poster will miss out on the first line but see the second line, prompting them to respond.

#NextLine And the girls are pretty

To which their friends would reply and so on.

Next Lines is almost the perfect Twitter game as song lines fit nicely with the 140 character limit and the game works regardless of the number of people involved. But it is not really a game. It is one of those things you do on long car journeys or other times you are bored. No one invites their friends round for a game of Next Lines.

RPGs on Twitter

How about D&D on Twitter? Would this be the perfect Twitter game?

Definitely not. Playing D&D involves the exchange of a lot of information and Twitter is not the right tool but that doesn’t mean role playing games on Twitter are impossible. We simply need to expand our concepts of role playing. Just as tabletop role playing games spawned live action role playing, there is no reason Twitter-top gaming cannot evolve.

A Twitter-Top Game (TTG) has to fit perfectly with the 140 character messages and be able to cope with people dropping into and out of the game. It should ideally either involve the audience (Twitter followers of the games participants) or at least provide them will some entrainment and not a steam of unintelligible tweets. Dice roles would be out of the question because each one would take three messages (GM: Role to hit; Player: I rolled a 17; GM: You missed).

It might be possible to combine the Interactive Fiction approach with D&D to form a TTG. The GM could have a special client that is basically an Interactive Fiction server with the adventure loaded on it. This could automatically handle all the obvious and mundane tasks the players need to do, allowing the GM and players to get on with things at their own pace. However, if a player tweets a non-standard action, the automated software warns the GM who can now create a response on the fly. An option that added that non-standard action and response to the stored adventure allows the game to evolve with play.

So the TTG would very different from what we currently know as a role playing game. Using some automation for the routine tasks but importantly allowing the players and GM to personalise the experience. The potential for this or any other working TTG would be massive. Imagine if you could get your RPG adventuring fix whilst waiting for the kettle to boil or whilst on the train or whenever you can Tweet. Now that would be a Twitter game worth playing.