After my twelve-year-old read a few Choose Your Own Adventure’s, she really enjoyed them, but she had two complaints.
The first: “In some of the stories, no matter what decision you make, you end up at the same place.” This is known as “False Forking”. For a good technical article on interactive fiction click here.
The second problem: “There was never any danger of not being able to finish the story or any danger of possibly losing one’s life.” As soon as she realized this, the sense of urgency and excitement would drain away. Danger, tension, dilemmas … in a word, conflict. Conflict is at the heart of good storytelling.
So one way to add more real choices in interactive fiction without making the story impossibly long is to have more of those choices lead to a definite end, a failing end. Something like:
The Green Archer, half-starved, decides to eat the moldy bread. Dizziness ensues. Reaching for a chair, he stumbles. He falls to the floor. Arms, legs, even his neck feel like they are weighed down with stones. His eyes also are heavy … so very tired, he lets them close.
The story path the reader was on just ended, and it ended badly. Now the reader knows that there is something at stake for making a bad decision — tension and excitement necessarily heighten.
Now for a whole new twist. Game fiction!
What’s that you say?
It’s Choose Your Own Adventure with the added element of solo game play. The reader might need a piece of paper, pencil and a six-sided die. She can keep track of items found in the story which might be needed later, stamina points, food etc. The game system for a book or series of books must be very simple or moderately simple in order to keep the story flowing.
Now, a story might end, not only because of a wrong choice, but because of an encounter with a dragon or some other opponent.
Ebenezer Dragon Encounter: You’ll need a six-sided die and your piece of paper with your current stamina score. Ebenezer has a Fighting Ability of 6*. Dragon has a Fighting Ability of 5. Carry over Ebenezer’s Stamina Score from the Goofy Foot Encounter.
Roll six-sided die for both Ebenezer and the dragon. Add rolls to the respective Fighting Ability scores of the two opponents. If Ebenezer’s Fighting Ability score is higher, then he scores a hit. (3 hits are needed to conquer the dragon) If the Dragon’s Fighting Ability score is higher, subtract 1 from Ebenezer’s Stamina Score. If scores are even, then nothing happens, roll again. If Ebenezer’s Stamina reaches zero ….
You get the picture, I’m sure. Tension and excitement increase. The story has more outcomes without adding more story threads.
There are some solo game fiction books available, but all I’ve been able to find are in the Dungeons and Dragons, pagan, witchcraft, magic and luck categories. Why not use this format for Christian interactive fiction?
I don’t have any evidence that this game aspect will work with children, but I’m hopeful and I’m giving it a try right now. As soon as I have something finished, I’ll put a link at the end of this post.
I’ve got another angle brewing. One of my visually impaired students and his friends love reading Choose Your Own Adventures. They especially like a series called Twisted Tales that their public school library supplies them with. I’ve read through a number of them and I’ve noticed something disturbing.
The books reward the reader for making unethical decisions that often glorify evil. There are many instances where the book will end if the reader tries to follow the right moral path. This has a powerful effect on a young mind. In essence, they are being exercised unto evil. Why not purposefully pursue the opposite tactic — exercising them unto Godliness:
1 Timothy 4:7-8 7 But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. 8 For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
You could have some choices that relate directly to proverbs or other scriptures. The protagonist could even feel a pang of conscience when they decide to do something that God would not approve of, then see the scripture before them, and have an opportunity to repent.
Something to think about anyway. Well, in part three I’ll try to show some excerpts of what I’ve been working on in the Choose Your Own Adventure format.
Grace, peace and blessings to you.
In Jesus, Matt