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Coming Down the Pipe

Hello friends!  Happy Friday!

Haven't gotten to check/update everything on the blog just yet.  Still a work in progress.

If you recall, way way back in August, my awesome friend Leah did a guest post for me about visual novels, which was a great way to introduce you guys to some alternate forms of interactive storytelling.  I'm going to introduce you today to some other forms you may or may not have seen, because this is the format I'm exploring for my next project.  I haven't decided on one in particular, I'm still weighing my options, but it will incorporate reader choices that directly affect story consequences.

Why reader choice?  Why not just tell the story?

Some time last year, I was watching a Let's Play of the game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.  At one point, one character is burying someone he loves.  The digging of the grave is shown as a cut scene, but the player is then given control and has to drag the body of the loved one into the grave in order to advance in the game.  That punched me in the gut in a way I was not expecting.  And it taught me that giving the audience control, making them participate, makes them more invested in the story.  Even removed as I was, watching a Let's Play recorded by someone else months earlier, I felt that pain that the character felt.  I was no longer the invisible watcher, I was him.  It gives the audience some taste of empathy for what the characters go through.  It makes them feel like they weren't just witnesses to the action, but that they did it.
I have also been trying to figure out different ways to tell the stories of ensemble casts.  Multiple POVs can do a great job, when done well, but they often lose the closeness that first-person offers in the process.  I think adding reader choice can help bring that closeness back.  I just haven't figured out if I want to do chapters/scenes in different POVs and offer choice there, or if people would be interested in going through the whole story through each different character, requiring multiple runs of the story to fully explore.  People that read visual novels often go back and play the novel several times to try to get to all possible endings, so it's not completely outside the realm of possibility.  Still ruminating on those options.


A few games you might be more familiar with are ones produced by Telltale Games (The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Tales from the Borderlands, and lots more) in addition to games like Life Is Strange, Until Dawn, and Dreamfall Chapters (continuation of The Longest Journey series by a different company) are ones that make player choice have direct consequences on story action.  The Witcher and Mass Effect series also dabble in this, but not quite to the same extent.  Undertale went beyond players choosing dialog options and also had player combat choices come to bear on their final boss encounters.  Through the mobile app Episode you can choose from hundreds of user-generated and professionally produced stories to play through.

These are just a few examples of  how player choice is gaining popularity as a mechanic in the industry.  I suggest you check out Extra Credits' video about Choices vs Consequences and about the impact of player choice because they do a much better job of discussing these aspects than I.  You should also watch The Feeling of Agency, The Illusion of Choice, How Much Agency do Games Need?, Negative Possibility Space, and Choice and Conflict.  You will feel so smart.


Interactive fiction is making a more substantial, albeit small, imprint on the fiction market.  Leah did a great post on visual novels, so I won't belabor them much longer.  You could argue that they are actually games because you can get them on platforms like Steam, or because many of them are dating sims, or because they are so closely related to JRPGs, but I place them here because the majority of them solely focus on narrative.
Leah mentioned Ren'Py as a tool for creating visual novels in her post.  Another tool out there is called Twine and it's being used to create more text-based interactive fiction than visual novels, although it has plug-ins that can be used to add images and sound.  A simple search can bring you to thousands of free examples of these interactive stories, but a magazine that's curating interactive fiction and giving it a bigger platform is called Sub-Q.  They pick wonderful interactive fiction to feature, and they're FREE (though you should seriously consider supporting them, because they're awesome).  A few of my favorites from them are Snake Game by Vajra Chandrasekera and Neon Haze by Porpentine Charity Heartscape.  Highly recommended.

Leah posted on Facebook this week about this awesome site called StoryDevs, where creative types of any stripes (I am more proud of that than I should be) can make portfolios of their work and be solicited to work on interactive fiction and story-based game projects.  The site is still being developed fully, but hopefully this can get off the ground soon, as it looks like a great option for collaboration.

Okay, so ...

Interactive medias make a powerful impact on their audiences because of the freedom of experience that they give their audience.  They trust the audience enough to give them options in the way to experience the work.  The power to change a story that's not my own is seductive, yet terrifying.  Three months ago, I played two chapters of Life Is Strange and since then, I've been scared to play any further because I know the decisions that I make, even if I feel like they're the right decisions, can have awful effects on the lives of the characters.  Sometimes when real life gets intense, letting down imaginary people too is just too much to face.  But I think that's another power of this type of story.  In fiction, we can make choices we regret.  We can take risks because the consequences are all in our imaginations.  We can go back a chapter or a save point if we don't like the way things turn out.  In real life, we're not so fortunate.  Being able to explore this aspect of the human condition, that our actions have lasting consequences, can teach us valuable lessons.  And, in the end, that's part of what storytelling is about.


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