People who write interactive fiction in the narrow sense often look upon Choose Your Own Adventure-style writing as a lesser form of art. Interactive fiction, they may say, allows the player complete freedom, whereas CYOA only allows the player to choose from a number of predetermined paths. There is something wrong and something right about this statement, and it will be useful to explore it further.
The first thing to notice is that interactive fiction allows the player only unlimited freedom in the very trivial sense of allowing her to type whatever she wishes. The vast majority of commands - even those commands which are written in perfect english and reasonable given the knowledge the player has of the fictional work - will be met with a completely unhelpful response. In any work of IF, it is in principle possible to list all the commands that actually do something: change the state of the world or impart information to the reader. It is therefore possible - in principle, though generally it would be extremely cumbersome in practice - to rewrite a piece of IF as a CYOA game which gives exactly the same options on the same situations.
Interactive fiction thus gives the reader more freedom than CYOA-style games do in the following respects:
- In interactive fiction, the reader generally has more options to choose from. That is, in general the number of possibilities is higher.
- In interactive fiction, the reader has the freedom to guess which options are available. In CYOA, on the other hand, all possible options are listed.
I would like to introduce some terminology now.
Veiled and unveiled spaces of possibilities
Let us call the space of all possible significant actions the PC can do in a given situation the space of possibilities of the situation. This space will always be finite, and often it will be quite small.
If the player can look at all the possibilities; that is, if the player can know which actions are, and which are not possible in the given situation without trying them out, the space of possibilities is unveiled. We can see all the possibilities, and choose the one that appeals most to us.
If the player cannot look at all the possibilities; that is, if the player cannot not know which actions are, and which are not possible in the given situation without trying out the potentially unlimited number of possible possibilities (forgive me), the space of possibilities is veiled. We cannot see all the possibilities, and have to try whatever seems best to us.
Typically, the space of possibilities is unveiled in CYOA, and veiled in IF. But things are not so black-and-white.
Blurring the distinction
An example. In a piece of IF, we encounter the following object: "a large chest (which is closed)". At this moment we know with near certainty that "open chest" is a possible action.
Another example. In a piece of CYOA, we encounter a crying girl. We are presented with a menu: "(1) Ignore her. (2) Talk to her." At this moment, we have no idea whether consoling the girl is possible, although we know we have to try option 2 in order to find out.
These examples show that there are ways for authors of interactive fiction to indicate which actions are possible, and which actions are not possible; and that here are ways for authors of CYOA to hide, at least for a time, which actions are possible and which are not, and how those actions can be reached. Thus, authors of IF can unveil a part of their space of possibilities, and authors of CYOA can veil part of theirs.
We should not underestimate the prominence of this technique, especially in IF. If a room description is: "This is a cosy room. A television set is switched off. Exits are west and south. You also see a rubber duck here.", we can infer a lot of things about the space of possibilities:
- It contains: "switch on television", "go west", "go south", "take rubber duck", "examine duck".
- It does not contain: "switch off television", "go up", "go north", "take credit card", "x beggar", and so forth.
More about using mixtures of veiling and unveiling in your interactive fiction next time.