Hello, World! I’m Emily & I’m building Tap

We’re making Interactive Fiction mobile and building a new community along the way💞🌱

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I have a not-so-secret confession to make: I am a huge fan of interactive fiction…and I want everyone else to be, too.

In 2014, I learned about Twine and IF at a Dames Making Games event, and after playing Depression Quest I was hooked. To me, interactive storytelling is a medium that can help you feel and empathize with characters in such a deep and subtle way: I’ve been dropped into stories similar to my own and some that are drastically different — but by the nature of BEING interactive, I became more than an observer. I became a participant. That’s why I love it.

Last year my obsession was with Florence, a narrative game that had me crying my entire commute home. This year, I can’t stop talking about Lionkiller by Sisi Jiang. I was sold the minute I read the description: you’re a “gay Mulan set during the first opium war.” I know, right? It’s as amazing as the tagline suggests: dark, aesthetically pleasing, not whitewashed, and beautifully written with very careful details — you make powerful choices, go to war, and kiss girls! I love it — I’ve been spamming anyone who will listen about it ever since I first played it, I wanted more people to play it and feel what I was feeling.

But when I actually had the chance to chat with Sisi to learn more about the story, Sisi guesses not many people have seen their story. They weren’t even sure if those readers had completed it.

I was shocked. I am truly sad that it hadn’t been played by every person in the world! (They really should.)

So why is that? Why haven’t more people played Lionkiller or the many amazing Twine games that exist today?

I’ve talked to many Twine creators and interactive fiction players and have come up with a theory:

To play these games — especially Twine ones — is high effort: You have to find the game, open your laptop, download an HTML file or browser on your laptop…it’s a lot of steps. I get it: it’s hard to get audiences and readers motivated to do one of these things, let alone all of them.. I mean, I do it all the time — I open my computer to entertain myself with a game, but then make up excuses about not having enough time and end up scrolling hours on Twitter and Instagram.

That left me with more questions:

  • Why don’t these types of stories exist on mobile? Why aren’t these games mobile optimized? How might we allow more people to access interactive fiction and Twine games?
  • How can we help people discover these great stories and write their own? If more people were to discover these, can we create a safe community for marginalized interactive story creators?
  • How might we prioritize more trans, queer, Black, Indigenous, and women of colour voices in interactive storytelling?

These questions are something I have become obsessed with, something I have the privilege of trying to fix on Tap.

Hold on, let me take a step back: what is Tap? Actually, let me step even further back…who am I?

Hi! I’m Emily.

I’m a storyteller, community organizer, a feminist who practices with anti-oppression and anti-colonial lens. I’m also a product manager at Wattpad. Wattpad is a global multiplatform entertainment company that builds storytelling products. Our main product, also named Wattpad, is the world’s largest social storytelling app and platform that connects 70 million readers & writers.

Even though I’m a product manager today, when I was younger I wanted to tell stories: to direct and write movies, a desire I kept secret for a long time. I had internalized that being a writer/director wasn’t something a Southeast Asian woman could be…so I never pursued it. It was not an option for me, I thought. But I couldn’t stop thinking about stories, and imagining these worlds in my head. So my storytelling outlet became internet communities in fanfiction… on LiveJournal, Neopets, Xanga, and Tumblr. They were places I could be my authentic self and explore how to tell stories through fanfiction. I joined Wattpad, because it reminded me of LiveJournal. It reminded me of the safe spaces and communities for women to express themselves and tell their stories. Today, these safe spaces are harder to find. I keep working here because I share Wattpad’s belief to democratize storytelling, remove gatekeepers in traditional publishing, and to raise more marginalized voices in storytelling.

After a few years at Wattpad, I started working on new storytelling products like Tap because I know the reading world is shifting. People are consuming stories in different ways and it’s changing how we think about stories. I was inspired by Florence, many Twine games I have played, Fish: a tap essay, and Hardbound. I’m curious about what the future of storytelling and reading will look like and how that shapes the stories we tell. What will the new forms of storytelling look like?

So I started asking questions. What does a safe space for interactive fiction look like? What does a mobile community for interactive fiction look like? I started to think, “Could we make Tap that home?”

So, that being said…

What is Tap?

We want support all types of interactive stories including Twine, Chat Fiction and many more in the future.

Tap is a community for interactive stories on your phone. We’re building an intimate and safe community of interactive storytelling folx who care about playing unique interactive stories and giving meaningful feedback back to those storytellers. We hope to support all forms of interactive stories in the future.

Let’s make your Twine game mobile together

So, if you’re interested in the work we’re doing I have an ask: I’m looking to find people who are interested in bringing their Twine / IF games to mobile to join our Tap Beta Creator Program. People who would want to work with us and we’d help convert their games — carefully and collaboratively — to mobile. We’d love for you to join our beta program.

Why?

Everyday, the Tap team gets to work with and learn from people who have built the world’s largest social storytelling community. We’ve learned so much about how to build great products & tell great stories. Here’s what’s in it for you if you join our beta program:

  • Making your game more accessible to more people: By bringing it to mobile, your friends don’t have to download HTML files, or open your laptop to play your game. We’re hoping to make it super simple for your friends to play your games on their phone. We’ll help you, with our developer on staff, convert and reformat your game to work on mobile.
  • We’ll drive people to your story: We already have a community of people who love interactive fiction stories on Tap and we’ll also find folx from our 70 million Wattpad community who are your people that would love your story. We’ve seen early success with stories on Tap like Coming Out (which has 26k reads) and many other stories on Wattpad, like White Stag which has received 1.1 million reads to date. While we can’t guarantee what readers will or won’t like, we can guarantee that we’ll work hard to make sure we get your story in front of as many eyes as possible.
  • Understand why and how people engage with your games: It’s always heartbreaking creating a work of passion, a story you want to share with the world, sending it out and….nothing. No feedback… are people even enjoying it? With our mobile app, we want to help you capture the important data about your story — so you’ll finally know if people are completing your game and how many. While not available at launch, we’re committed to implementing this as we further develop our app.
  • We promise to respect your work: You own and retain the rights to your intellectual property and work. We will not redistribute or republish your story without your permission, nor will we do anything with your story other than bring it to mobile without your expressed written consent. It’s your story and we respect both it and you and want to make sure you’re treated fairly. For more details visit our Creator FAQ.
  • Commitment to meaningful inclusion: For the beta, we’ll prioritize games and stories from trans, queer, black, indigenous, non-binary, women of colour, and people of colour creators in surfacing these stories in our app.

What are our plans? What does the future look like?

For me, bringing interactive stories to mobile is just a small first step. There are lots of problems and needs I want to tackle but here’s an overview of what the future could look like:

Opportunity to be compensated for your work

We recognize, especially for those in independent creation and art, that although we want to do it for the love of the craft, all of us have expenses, housing, and things we need to pay for. We know lots of these works take weeks, months and we want to figure out to get you compensated. We’ll be exploring various monetization opportunities for creators to find something that fits, including looking at models like those created for Wattpad, where that team has created a program that allows readers to reward writers directly. We’re going to learn more from Wattpad’s experiment in the coming weeks, and use those learnings to figure out how we would want to compensate creators on Tap.

A safe and moderated community for interactive stories

As I mentioned earlier, safe spaces are something I am very passionate about building. From Facebook to Twitter trolls, the internet is not a safe space. At Wattpad, we have experience building safe spaces from day one, and have been recognized as such, being named one of the top 6 most safe spaces on the internet for LGBTQ+ youth by the Daily Dot. On Tap, we’re exploring how to connect you to your people and find people you trust to engage in your work. This could involve closed, private communities or moderated spaces & tools for marginalized folks to connect with other creators and their fans.

Accessible to all creators — no coding required,

In the future, we hope to automate making Twine games responsive to mobile through an uploader. But more than just converting Twine games to mobile, I strongly want more people to be able to tell interactive stories without learning Twine or how to code: this will increase the accessibility to folks that don’t have the time or means to learn to code. I believe that everyone is a storyteller: anyone should be able to tell their story and Tap will allow them to do so.


I may not have made my movie (yet), but with Tap, we’re setting out to make sure that anyone who wants to tell an interactive fiction story has a place to do so, no matter who they are or the systemic barriers they face. I hope you’ll join me in redefining how we tell great stories together.✨🙏🏼🌱

Join the beta program

Visit our website to join the beta program. If you have any questions or feedback, happy to address them here or DM me at @mailyngyn. You can also e-mail me directly at emily[at]wattpad[dot]com.

We’re hoping to continue writing more posts detailing our process in this medium blog. Stay tuned for more updates!

Acknowledgements

Acknowledgement to all the wonderful interactive fiction creators, developers who have paved the way and inspired me so much. Thanks to Sisi for letting me share their game with the world.

I’ve had a fear of writing for a long time, so thanks to all of you for reading this and for hearing my story. Many thanks to Wally (you should REALLY play Wally’s game Your Merman Boyfriend), Tom, Emma, Tim, Tarun, Seema for the heavy reads and edits. I appreciate y’all supporting me sharing my voice with the world.