Interactive fiction (narratives) are text-based games where the player controls the characters and environment through choices they make. These narratives hearken back to the old choose-your-own-adventure novels where you would reach the end of a passage and be told to turn to a certain page if you’d like to make one decision or another page if you would like to make an alternative decision. Readers crafted their own storyline through their choices, and no two readers would necessarily experience exactly the same paths.
Interactive fiction games take on the same concept, only through digital means. Players make decisions on what they’d like their character to do or say and they experience the outcomes of those decisions. Outcomes may include successful acquisition of a desired game object, a new pathway opening up within the storyline, or a dead-end where the player is forced to start over and try again.
Examples of these types of games in the industry include:
- Colossa Cave Adventure – the first known interactive fiction game
- 80 Days – loosely based on the novel Around the World in Eighty Days
- Life Is Strange – focuses on repercussions of choices through time
- The Wolf Among Us – based on the Fables comic books by DC Comics and Vertigo
But interactive fiction gameplay is not only used for fun, it can also be used for learning1(p480). This dual purpose of game development is defined as entertainment-education, whereby the game is designed to entertain the player while also increasing their knowledge and changing their attitudes/behavior1(p482). Through the course of the game, players are provided information and learning points that not only help them achieve success in the game, but also can carry over to their real-life and prompt them to make different or more informed decisions.
Interactive fiction games are ripe with potential in the entertainment-education arena. Through these types of choose-your-own-path environments, players can make a variety of choices, experiencing the outcomes through a system of “trial and error”2(p222). If unsuccessful choices are made, the player is not penalized with real-life negative outcomes. Instead, they get to play through the event and then try again, making other choices that will lead to more successful outcomes, which allows them to experience multiple “possible selves”1(pp487, 491). These experienced outcomes can help in teaching in many areas, such as healthy decision-making (example: not to drive drunk), long-term effects of nutrition (example: how food choices can lead to obesity), or even professional decision-making (example: training physicians on patient diagnosis).
Allowing the player to navigate through different pathways, making choices and seeing outcomes, within a fictional world allows them to think critically about their decisions without being pressured by potential real-world negative outcomes1(pp493-494). “[S]ome story options may allow a reader to choose negative behavior and suffer a consequence (e.g., choose to text and drive, thus causing an accident), or make a positive behavior choice and experience rewards (e.g., refraining from texting and arriving safely). These choices reinforce the same conclusion, but in different ways”1(p492). Through this type of gameplay, the player can reinforce knowledge of proper choices, increasing their ability to make such choices in the real world1(p483).
Additionally, a heightened sense of identity-alignment may occur within interactive fiction games as opposed to other types of games. Unlike in games where the storyline is already pre-chosen and there is a specific beginning and end point, in interactive fiction games the choices the player makes can shape the game itself1(p494). This changes the gameplay and makes it individualized to the player, which in turn heightens their alignment with the character’s actions and their feelings of responsibility for these choices 1(pp481, 485, 488),3(p530). Using interactive fiction experiences can help players think about their actions’ long-term outcomes, and thus create positive changes in their real lives.
- Green MC, Jenkins KM. Interactive Narratives: Processes and Outcomes in User-Directed Stories. J Commun. 2014;64(3):479-500. doi:10.1111/jcom.12093.
- Bösche W, Bredl K. Serious Games and Virtual Worlds in Education, Professional Development, and Healthcare. Hershey, PA: IGI Global; 2013.
- Elson M, Breuer J, Ivory JD, Quandt T. More Than Stories With Buttons: Narrative, Mechanics, and Context as Determinants of Player Experience in Digital Games. J Commun. 2014;64(3):521-542. doi:10.1111/jcom.12096.