Interactive Stories: Past, Present, and Future

Greetings! Heather Massey here. I run a sci-fi romance blog called The Galaxy Express. I’m also an author of the genre. Having sold a science fiction romance to SilkWords, I’m here as an ambassador to discuss the topic of interactive stories. Where did they come from, where are they now, and where will they be in the future?To begin, let’s enter the WayBack Machine and depart on a brief history of gamebooks….
Image source: Wikipedia

The Past

A gamebook (a.k.a. the trademarked “choose your own adventure” story) is “…a work of fiction that allows the reader to participate in the story by making effective choices. The narrative branches along various paths through the use of numbered paragraphs or pages.”

Branching-plot stories began in earnest during the 60s. They were generally paired with genre fiction (SF, fantasy, action-adventure) and became popular in the seventies and eighties. They were published in countries all over the world. Needless to say, they were largely restricted to the print medium.

For decades, the target audience for fictional and didactive gamebooks was children. That changed in the 90s when erotic gamebooks were published for, you guessed it, adults. Around that same time, gamebooks were adapted for electronic mediums: In the late 1980s, a new type of non-linear text-based storytelling,

known as the adventure, was created by Allen Firstenberg with
collaborative, round robin-style authorship in mind. The idea
has led to the creation of large, web-based archives of potentially never-ending
stories linked together by hyperlinks.

The entire Visual Novel genre, mostly dominant in Japan, could be described as
branching-path stories with added graphics and music.

Then came a time when the market for gamebooks dwindled to the point of crickets. They lay dormant until technology found ways to breathe new life into them.

The Present

Currently, the concept of gamebooks seems like it’s on the verge of a revival. The existence of touch-based apps, tablets, and smartphones means readers can consume gamebooks on-the-go and with more convenience—not to mention (I hope) a smaller carbon footprint.

Not surprisingly, romance themed stories seem to be leading the pack.

Print

SilkWords is a new fiction site of interactive romance and erotica. It launched in February of 2014. The approach of founders Keri and Boyd Multerer is to inject romances with a bit of video game flair. In one way, it’s a natural fit because many romance readers are also gamers.

Image source: iTunes

Another example is a popular romance sim hailing from Japan called My Killer Romance (link is to promotional video). And romance publisher Avon has entered the game with A Girl Walks into a Bar, the first in a “series of choose-your-own-adventure erotic novels.”

What role do interactive romances play in the general market? For one thing, they provide readers with more choices. When print distribution was the only game in town, options like romance gamebooks was a risky, expensive proposition. Now, technology makes them much more feasible, accessible, and cost-effective. Readers benefit from yet another way to get their romance fix.

Second, interactive romances create another venue for niche genres like science fiction romance. The chances of discovering an SFR or fantasy romance at SilkWords is high because such sites are willing to cater to readers with adventurous tastes. In turn, authors have an opportunity to stretch their creative wings.

Agent in Time by Elinor Diamond – SilkWords

Third, romance gamebooks serve an under-served audience:
women. Contrary to prevalent stereotypes, women enjoy playing video games. In fact, 45 percent of all gamers are women, according to this recent study, and that’s in a $93 billion dollar industry (which is still growing). Those  numbers are difficult to ignore.

Fourth, women also read action-adventure stories—both in romance and other genres—by the boatload. They’re also sexual beings and crave erotic tales. Why not have a romance story experience that incorporates those elements—sometimes all in one package?

And fifth, a site like SilkWords offers all readers a private, safe environment in which to enjoy interactive stories.

The Future

Image source: Forbes

So what might gamebooks of the future look like? Will they even be books, ebooks, or apps as we know them? If interactive stories have evolved to the point of a digital story today, how might they evolve in the near future? Far future?

The topic of futuristic gamebooks made me wonder to what extent readers’ relationship with the stories will or won’t change. Processing words on a printed or electronic page creates a certain distance between a reader and the story. Readers control how they interpret text. They can choose to engage more strongly with some parts of the story or ignore certain elements altogether. Being able to quickly disengage from the text is especially important when stories include content readers prefer to avoid.

How will our relationship with stories change when the medium becomes virtual and immersive? Think about Star Trek’s classic holodeck technology. With the press of a button, one could be in a whole new world. That’d be one way to create interactive stories with various branches—and the possibilities could be endless (not to mention addicting). A reader/viewer could experience the story up close and personal. Imagine walking around a hero and heroine on an alien planet as they negotiate a rescue mission—or a scene of passionate sex! Then imagine being able to direct or reconstruct scenes using hundreds of different branching options.

Holographic gamebooks—how close are we to achieving that kind of entertainment? Closer than you might think.

In March 2014, Sony unveiled a virtual reality system called Project Morpheus for the PlayStation 4. The Oculus Rift is also in the pipeline. Its tech is so tantalizing that Facebook just plunked down $2 billion for it.

So what could the Oculus Rift offer?

The Rift is basically a TV screen that sits in front
of your eyes while you’re wearing a set of blacked-out ski goggles. Instead of
manipulating the camera in the world with a hand-held controller, as you would
with a normal video game, you perceive your ‘surroundings’ by turning and
craning your neck and head, just as you would in real life. Wearing a Rift
makes you look ridiculous to others, but it also creates the sensation that you
have teleported into an alternate universe.

While it may be “a new medium for storytelling,” the technology behind Oculus Rift is in its infancy. There are some bugs to work out:

Yet figuring out the right visual language for games,
movies and other fictional works in virtual reality is “probably going to be
harder than the technology itself,” Mr. Dennis said. Cuts, for example, are
extremely disorienting.

There’s also the issue of people with visual processing and other disorders. Would virtual technology be able to adapt to their needs or would it exclude such consumers altogether? Virtual reality technology would also need to address side effects such as nausea, eyestrain, and disorientation.

At the point when interactive stories in a virtual environment become possible, accessible, and comfortable, video games and game “books” might merge or become indistinguishable. But I’d wager that for a long time yet, readers will want the options of varying levels of participation (e.g., active, passive, or somewhere in-between).

Here’s more food for thought: in the future, will human authors even be involved in writing the stories? Computers today can generate news stories. Might they ever be in charge of creating complex, interactive stories? Could an A.I. ever deliver a heartfelt romance? Difficult to say which scenario would better supply the hypothetical demand, or if
computers would lack that “human touch.”

What if we could place implants in our brains from which we could access virtual stories? That’d sure be something! Might there come a time when we don’t even require our bodies at all? Just upload our consciousness and jack into a whole other dimension of infinite entertainment.

Whoa.

What are your thoughts about “choose your own adventure” type romances and other stories? What kinds of stories would you like to “play,” either now through a site like SilkWords, or in the far future using super advanced technology?

About the author

Dangerous Rendezvous by Heather Massey – SilkWords

Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express.

She’s also an author. Her stories will entertain you with fantastical settings, larger-than-life characters, timeless romance, and rollicking action. So sit back, relax, and pour yourself a cup of space java as the stories unfold. You deserve it.

When Heather’s not reading or writing, she’s watching cult films and enjoying the company of her husband and daughter. To learn more about her work, visit www.heathermassey.com.

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