I love story in all its forms be it a novel, tv show and or movie but I always gravitiated towards games especially role-playing games because they had the illusion of choice embedded in their gameplay and story.
I remember playing old school Bioware games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic which had you choose a character and take actions within the story. When you are playing these games the narrative and structure is meant to empower the player so that you can feel that choice, that was you are doing in the game, the choices you make are influencing the world and the characters within it.
When you think about choices in stories I think of gaming, choose your own adventure books and in today’s media landscape Black Mirror’s Interactive movie Bandersnatch. Interactive storytelling isn’t uncommon but is only possible today because of the Internet and videogames that allow a level of player involvement that is active instead of being passive as what most stories are in most media.
I remember how cool it was to play the first Mass Effect game and near the end having to choose what character would live and who would die. Although it is only a game those choices you make not just at these pivotal story moments but the choices you make in conversations made you feel apart of the world. You were active within the world and it felt like things were chancing because of actions you did to further the narrative.
When I think about choice in a narrative context there are competing interests one of the reader and that of the writer. If you empower the reader to make choices that change the narrative it allows the reader to take more ownership of the story, they become more invested in it because there is an illusion of choice.
This increases the work for the writer as they have to consider many different paths and if there are many endings how do you carry on from that without making the narrative feel convoluted or fragmented. I get the feeling that during the initial read the reader will feel empowered but later on this could backfire.
How would it backfire? I go back to gaming RPGs where you create a character and explore the world and can make choices that influences the world. It feels great during but the longer you are in the world the more you get a sense that it doesn’t matter what you choose.
I’m gaming there is a ton of content creates in open world games and no matter what path you choose to take the gamemakers don’t want the player to feel like they missed out on something. In the original Mass Effect game you have the choice of saving a species from extinction if you save the rachni queen to help you in the third game. If you kill it, the reapers create their own queen so they can use the brood as warriors in their army.
From a developer stand point they don’t want to create these soldiers from the Rachni and not have then used by a a portion of the player base which is why they make the villian create an artificial queen. This is so that the player can still fight these enemies without changing the choice you made in the first game.
Although it makes sense that this would be possible in this world it undercuts that initial choice from the first game, making it feel less impactful in the grand scheme of things. How do I tell a story with some element of reader choice involved without undercutting the story or my ability as the writer to direct the story.
If I allow the reader to choose what a character does I fragment the story possibilities in a way that significantly increases my workload while also constricting my choices of where the story can go if the universe is supposed to be more than a single story.
In Mass Effect 3 all of your choices end up coming down to 3 choices , destroy, control or synthesis. A fourth refusal was added later which had the Reapers win. What made a lot of people angry was the illusion of choice boiled down to a handful of choices. Taking the complexity of choice and making just 3 options totally undermines the feeling that any of your choices mattered throughout the entire trilogy of games.
I am scared of doing interactive storytelling because of this threat (and the work load). Instead of having the reader or I’m gaming the game player choosing their path in the story I want to create a story where their path through the story changes even if the story doesn’t. This means that what characters they read, the events they experience and through will change and even the tone dependent on the POV whether it is first or third person will change based on questions at the end of each section.
This isn’t possible in print but could be done online and provides a mix of choice for the reader on how they experience the story wnd the universe without relinquishimg my control of the narrative and story overall. That is what I want to do, it’s is the story or tale they whispers in my dreams but I wonder if this would or could work since it isn’t something that can work since it goes against the very foundation of publishing. It is the dream for how I want to explore and tell stories in a universe I’ve been crafting in my mind for years.