I shared a couple of weeks ago that I’ve recently discovered Interactive Fiction, also known as text-based games. I’ve been learning a lot about this exciting medium and I’m hoping to start making use of that knowledge soon. Right now, though, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about how the tools of IF can be applied to enhance more traditional novels. Basically, I’m trying to define what I think would make a good interactive novel.
I use the term interactive novel to distinguish what I’m talking about from text-based, interactive games. I want to create something that is still a book at heart. Something the reader picks up and reads without concern for solving the puzzles or avoiding the dead ends that are staples of text-based games. I want it to be a book, not a game. Just a highly interactive book.
I’m not alone in my quest for the interactive novel, either. There are a handful of attempts to define this medium, mostly in the form of mobile applications for the iOS and Android platforms. The one I’m most excited by is Arcadia by Iain Pears. The story contains 10 POV characters with stories that intertwine across 3 worlds. You pick a character and start reading and when your character’s plot intersects with that of another character, you have the option of switching over to the perspective of that other character and continuing with his story. It’s a fascinating concept and it seems to be done very well (I’ve only just started reading it).
There’s a lot about Pears’ project that I want to emulate in my own work, though I’m not sure he gets quite to the point of an interactive novel, at least not as I envision it. I’d call Arcadia more of a customizable novel for the way it allows the reader to read the stories in whatever order she chooses. But the only interaction is in switching perspectives and the reader cannot actually influence the story, only choose how she reads it. A bold idea, to be sure, but not exactly what I have in mind.
However, Pears makes an excellent point in this Q&A that resonates with me, saying his goal “was to get something that people would read, rather than play with.” That’s exactly what I want and his approach is prompting me to ask whether the concept simmering in my head utilizes so much interaction that it crosses the line from book to game. I’m searching for that perfect balance that will give the reader a satisfying level of interaction with the story while maintaining the smooth narrative flow of a good novel. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think I’ve got a working concept that has the potential of achieving that goal. I’ll share more as there’s more to share.
In the meantime, what do you think? Does the idea of an interactive novel excite you or does it sound too much like a video game? How much interaction is possible before the work stops being a novel and becomes a game?