The New Zealand Book Council webpage loads smoothly, the familiar teal banner and pleasant san-serif font welcoming you like an old friend with open arms. You see that there’s a new blog post.
‘Interactive fiction,’ you think to yourself, ‘What’s that?’
> I decide to read the blog.
> I retrieve arms from chest.
> I go back to Instagram, safe in my knowledge of cutting-edge narrative forms.
Interactive Fiction isn’t a new thing – text adventures are some of the oldest forms of computer game, many people will fondly remember Choose Your Own Adventure, Fighting Fantasy and Give Yourself Goosebumps from the 60s through 90s, and even more people will have seen Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.
But perhaps its most popular form these days is digital text-based narrative games, which are kind of like a cross between an e-book and an RPG. In these games, rather than reading a linear story from start to finish, you make decisions along the way, guiding the characters through different challenges and events until you reach one of a number of endings.
Reading in the digital age is a key theme for the Book Council. Interactive fiction is a uniquely digital way of telling stories. One concern that some people have over reading in an online environment is that it’s shallow and hard to concentrate on deeply. Research shows that when we read online, we usually scan the page in an ‘F’ or ‘Z’ shape, with our focus quickly shifting around the page. Interactive Fiction neatly sidesteps many of these issues. Much interactive fiction features short, easily digestible pages that end with the reader having to make an active choice based on what they just read, which is a recipe for deeper engagement than just skimming.
Interactive fiction presents the reader with an immersive experience quite unlike any other. The best interactive fiction is personal, allowing the reader to make decisions both for and about the character they take control of, but also sprawling, as each decision changes their story in new ways, leading to a different experience every time you re-read the story.
Image via The Martian Job Steam page
Wellington-based author M. Darusha Wehm is one writer from Aotearoa telling stories in this way. Their interactive novel The Martian Job (2018), won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novella and was nominated for a Nebula Award for Best Game Writing. The Martian Job tells the story of a safecracker trying to pull off one last job and walk away with a trunk full of platinum, while being plunged into the murky politics of humanity’s first interplanetary colony.
Interactive fiction doesn’t just lie in the realm of science fiction or fantasy, though. Auckland Museum‘s recent exhibition Being Chinese in Aotearoa featured a piece of interactive fiction, to help better tell the story that the exhibition presented. Golden Threads (2017), created by Renee Liang and Allan Xia, explores and celebrates the history of Chinese immigrants to Aotearoa in the 19th century.
What a fascinating and unique storytelling medium! I think I’d like to learn more about interactive fiction, or maybe even experience some for myself:
> Listen to this RNZ Nine to Noon Interview with M Darusha Wehm
> Listen to Elizabeth Heritage talk about IF with Jesse Mulligan.
>Visit Choice of Games, a popular developer and publisher of interactive fiction.