Are you the hero/ine?

For those of us that can remember, the 1980s was an exciting period for anyone interested in gaming or indeed interactive fiction.  Why?  I hear you say!

Well, for me it mainly boils down to a series of books called Fighting Fantasy.  These books were different because they allowed the reader to control the narrative.  This wasn’t a new concept, in fact it was said to have been first discovered around 1969 by Edward Packard, who asked his children to come up with different options to resolve the ending of bedtime stories as told in this interesting blog by Jake Rossen.  It’s worth pointing out that some of the titles of the choose your own adventure series are a little odd!

The idea behind choose your own adventure, is that you can decide during the story which route to take or an action.  So for example, if you are the hero/ine of the story and there’s a path north or west – you can choose which path by turning to a specific page.  I always loved choose your own adventure books they inspired me to want to write as a 15-year-old.  What I found was that I could really immerse in the book and feel like I was part of it.  Have you ever seen The NeverEnding StoryThat golden moment, when the character Bastian realises that he’s actually part of the story and the interconnection between him and Atreyu?

These days, with the advent of a massive surge in technology and advancement in computer graphics and gaming consoles, the ‘choose your own adventure’ book isn’t something readily available in the bookshops.  In fact, despite several revivals of the FF series – it’s never really been fully reignited and even passionate readers like me may not be enough to create a second person revolution.  Let’s face it, gaming allows a very rich experience of adventure to tantalise the senses in a very visual and cognitive way – something that a book can’t do, not to mention provide the adrenalin rush and testing of physical reflexes.  Games can heighten many of the senses, so people can literally be inside a completely different world and virtual reality is even allowing gamers to immerse directly inside the game.  (Watchers of Red Dwarf note: It’s not yet better than life, but it’s a long step closer than it would have ever imagined being in 1988)  I must add here that for me there’s not a lot better than a book for conjuring magic inside your imagination.

Can you still choose your own adventure, even today?

There has been some success with the gaming apps for choose your own adventure and you can go ahead and even buy some now through Tin Man Games, who even have their own digital books, not just FF.  There’s also Choice of Games, which have an extensive number of interactive adventure apps, plus a number of other developers.  In fact some of these apps have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, with Choice of the Dragon being downloaded over a million times!  Several other noteworthy apps include: Choice of the Vampire, 80 Days, Sorcery and To be or not to be.

Text adventure gameInteractive fiction isn’t just choose your own adventure though, in fact before this was born there were some pretty awesome (at the time, probably to me still awesome..) computer adventure games.  The very first was called Colossal Cave Adventure by Will Crowther.  More on that here.

The idea for this type of computer game was that you would be faced with some kind of predicament, whether trapped in a maze or on some kind of quest and in order to win you would need to type in commands.  So for example ‘go north’ or ‘get sword’, you could even talk to other characters and use objects to interact in the world, like using a key to unlock a door.  Doesn’t sound particular ground-breaking, but remember this was 1976 and we may not have had such amazing advancements in gaming or interactivity without these first pioneering steps into interactive fiction.

Commodore 64I had The Hobbit for the Commodore 64 and I was about seven years old at the time of playing.  I can remember either being eaten by a spider with big bulbous eyes or being killed by goblins.  Either way, I learnt what ‘bulbous’ meant!  You can explore a small section of the game by watching the below video: (popcorn at the ready…haha)

Funny how back then I thought this was great, but I’d imagine a child of the same age might not give it a lot of thought or time before reaching for their Playstation controller.  Maybe I’m wrong!

So, why would you want to write a piece of interactive fiction anyway isn’t this like so dated? 

Well, why not!  If you’re a budding writer, you should explore as many interesting forms of writing as you can.  Writing a novel is very different to writing a piece of interactive fiction or a play for example.  The second person perspective is unusual in that ‘you’ is the operative word.  So the narrative focus is on you as an individual making choices within a fictitious world (unless you’re Bastian of course and it really is real!)

There are many free open source platforms that will enable you to create your adventures, so why not start with something like Quest?  You can download the software or create your stories in the browser.

If you’re really inspired, why not investigate creating a gaming story app, like Paladins: Text Adventure RPG – you may be surprised at what you can achieve.

Interactive TV?

There is some hope for interactive fiction for the entertainment industry as TV giant Netflix looks like it’s going to produce TV shows where you can change the story and shape what you want to see from your favourite show.  Hopefully they’ll remake the ending to Dexter then… Can you imagine that not only could you watch superb TV shows, but if you didn’t like something that happened, you could go back or control what happens in the show?  Sounds to me like we’re getting spoilt!

If you’re looking for more interactive fiction, here’s my Pinterest self-publishing gold mine.

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Matt Ewens

Digital Innovation Technologist

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