Story vs. Game

On another thread discussing CoG design, I once again began thinking about some of the philosophical elements of both writing and playing Interactive Fiction, so I started this new thread rather than bumping up one that’s seven years old :surfing_man:

For starters, I want to make it absolutely clear that I have nothing but respect for CoG and the brand that they have built over the past 10+ years. In no way, shape, or form am I suggesting that they should alter that winning brand formula even one iota.

When people see CoG or download a CoG game, they know what they are going to get, and this includes:

  • no blind choices (where you have no idea what you’ll get when you select an option)
  • a customized world that embraces diversity
  • a safe space where hate, discrimination, and violence are either absent or well-advertised in advance for those who want to avoid it
  • a story world where you’ll always get to a “successful” ending (defined as at least 75% completion of the narrative)

Fun, engaging, and the reason why we’re all here.

But while it’s called Choice of Games, a CoG story really isn’t a game, is it?

Yes, there are challenges to overcome such as achieving a specific goal (romancing a character/stealing a gem/etc) or arriving at a certain ending, but entertaining and enjoyable is not what makes something a game or not.

In my mind, CoG more like the “sandbox” version of a video game as compared to the “arcade” version. The sandbox version can be a whole lot of fun and a great way to pass the time, but there’s a reason why some people choose the arcade version.

To put it even more bluntly, if you can’t lose, it’s not really a game. And please, yes, I understand that some “successful endings” in a CoG game might include the death of the MC or superficially look like a “loss” of some kind, etc.

I’m using “lose” to mean that you don’t get to any ending at all, other than “game over - play again Y/N.”

My question to all of you, as big fans of traditional CoG “sandbox” story format, which again, I am not suggesting be changed at all, would you enjoy playing a ChoiceScript (text-only choice) game where you can lose?

Yes, it’d have to be done well, and of course, nobody wants blind choices (except for as satire, perhaps) or tedious mini-games with no purpose.

But would it be fun for you to play a game where it is truly hard to get to an ending? One that challenged you in a different way, to think long and hard before making a choice, precisely because you might “for realzies” lose?

Or, to use the positive affirmation, how excited would you be to win a CS game that was hard to beat?

For the third time, just to be super crystal clear, I am not calling on CoG or HG or anyone with a WIP to change their design or format.

I am inquiring as to whether an additional offering would be of interest to people who already enjoy the standard “sandbox” style story and would also like some “arcade” CS text choice games to play as well.


Only to remember, there are several game genres where you can not really loose. Like Adventure Games, Most of them do end positive No matter how long you need to Finish. Most “idle” games are the Same, so saying, If you can not loose its not a Game is not entirely true. I do not think that being able to loose is what makes a Game a game. What Interests me, I must admit is, what do you, just personally, think the possibility to loose the game adds to the fun? I am asking out of curiosity, Not to Attack or blame someone.


that definition of game is very blind and negates a 25% of game genres.

based on you input most classic graphic adventures aren’t games.
Walking simulators no games

point at click games no games
The sims no games
Flying simulator no games
Farm simulator no games
Minecraft explorers mode no games.
Animal Crossing no game…

I wouldn’t want an arcade game where I have to restart each five seconds that will also limit choice scope as you have to do X to win so anyone else will cause restart.


I’ve been thinking a fair bit about this myself. I am definitely not an author, I’m never going to write a novel or even a short story - that much has been clear to me after 15 years of failing to even seriously begin doing either. I came back to CoG/HG after exploring designing my own board/card games and finding some good success at sustaining motivation (long enough to design prototypes and even coding a game in python that the computer could play). Trying my hand at blending my non-existent writing and game design seemed natural for me.

So I am approaching the idea of my own HG very much from the perspective of a ‘game’ rather than a ‘story’ as that is clearly the only way I’ll be motivated enough to sustain the effort. Whether I am, or any games I make are, successful, that remains to be seen!

I am working on a full HG as well as an entry for CHOMP and in both cases I have tried to ‘split the difference’ between a game and a story. So, instead of having a dichotomous win/lose condition, I am planning to have a gradation of success. This means that no player should feel shut out of the end, compelled to choose certain actions or that they have not played the game correctly. But, players who wish to can ‘play the game’ and try to succeed better.

In my CHOMP entry, the player will be attempting to achieve an objective within a time limit. Within that space, they can choose a range of actions and responses and there should be enough time within the game to pursue any path and achieve the objective. But there will be an optimum path (and I’m almost certainly going to include a scoring mechanism), so players can seek to achieve a perfect run. I’m hoping this works well with the overall theme of my game.

I have no idea how successful such a game would be. I suspect that a significant part of it will be that:
a) The story, characters and ROs are strong enough to carry the game for all types of players
b) The game mechanics are simple to understand, use and utilise effectively (i.e. you don’t make random bad decisions and just feel bad for doing poorly)
c) You accomodate players who mostly want a story by allowing ‘automatic success’ in some form.

It’s a cruel twist of fate that I can fire out these 351 words in about 5 minutes off the top of my head and can’t do the same for my poor little stories :frowning:


Sometimes I hear people refer to CoG stories as games and sometimes if I explain them to someone who’s never been introduced to the genre of IF they’ll conclude that it’s a game.

Personally, I’m a bit fussy about referring to CoG stories as games since they’re not. According to a quick dictionary search or wikipedia, a video game is defined as this:

A video game is an electronic game that involves interaction with a user interface or input device – such as a joystick, controller, keyboard, or motion sensing device – to generate visual feedback for a player.

(noun) video game; a game played by electronically manipulating images produced by a computer program on a television screen or other display screen.

I consider CoG stories to be… well interactive fiction. An ‘upgrade’ for the genre from the choose your adventure paperback novels to electronic form.

It wouldn’t surprise me if some ratings on other platforms (GooglePlay, Amazon, iTunes, etc.) weren’t a perfect 5 stars and listed ‘can’t lose’ as a shortcoming. I think I’ve actually seen a tumblr post complain about the Wayhaven books that they’re harder to intentionally lose than to intentionally win.

I know you’re strictly addressing the forum crowd, but I don’t know how well a game over like that would be received by Steam, Google Store, iTunes, or Amazon audiences. I think it’s in conflict with the demand to have longer stories/complaints about these stories being too short… despite some of them hitting over 200k words…

I think a story with preemptive game overs like that wouldn’t be well received unless it was similar to Zombie Exodus (survival, horror, etc.) since readers might get frustrated and falsely believe that that’s the end of the entire story and not just one of the many early death scenes.

I don’t believe I would. I don’t read these stories because they’re hard or because I want to play a game. I read them to read an interesting story and because of that the “challenge” doesn’t come from ‘how do I get the best ending?’.

The “challenge” doesn’t come from any mechanics but rather hinges entirely upon the author’s delivery of the themes and/or story itself. Was it enjoyable? Did it leave a lasting impact on me? Do I want to play it again and again?

Zombie Exodus is probably the closest story that borderlines into game territory just because of the setting and how Jim made it so challenging. It fits and is obviously perfect for a zombie apocalypse genre styled story, but at times it’s very frustrating and I might just give up and go read something else if I hit a brick wall over and over again. In part because it’s hard to simultaneously speed run to the point where I died and remember which options I had previously picked that lead to my preemptive game over.

Personally, I’m not an achievement hunter. I don’t have the drive to get all the achievements in a story. I’d rather relax and read the story over and over again.


I’d be interested in a CS game that was hard to win if and only if there was a way to save and go back. With CoG games, that is not a thing or is highly limited. But if we’re talking about a game that I can easily receive a gameover, I am not restarting again and again. That would get mind-numbing and frustrating.


This makes me think of Missing Wings. It was very much a game, and a hard one at that. It was also massively unpopular in no small part because of this. Obviously there are other potential factors at play, but just seeing how that went down is enough to sour you on the prospect of ever making a deliberately difficult game.

My current WIP will be my first story to even have character death or any sort of premature end state, and that’s going to come with some huge warning signs so no one is blindsided by it. These are games, but they are games without save states, and that means we are best served if we respect the time our readers/players put into them. If we don’t, they’ll let us know exactly what they think about it.


I’ve not tested anything out, but I am pretty sure I have a design for a save state mechanism that should be relatively light weight - it would facilitate auto-saves and player saves.

I’ve not played enough games or been around long enough - does anyone know what sort of approaches have been used or are regularly used? Would it be worth me mocking up a demo to see if my idea works and appeals to people to actually use?

I don’t think I would. Unless the story was just incredibly good, and even then I might not finish it if it’s too difficult (not that I don’t like challenging games, it just doesn’t work as well in interactive fiction).

This medium is very tedious for these sort of thing. In a videogame I could lose a hundred times, but it’s easier to start over and try something new, not only because of the save system, but because I’m seeing everything happen and don’t have to read and then select a choice over and over, and hope that next time I don’t hit a dead end.

In a game like Fire Emblem (it’s the one that comes to mind when it comes to having to think really hard about what to do) I have a limited number of characters I can bring with me, they each have their skills, their weaknesess, I have to really sit down and think “This one is better suited for this terrain, this one is a little weak defense wise so they need a tank nearby,”. I can see the map clearly, I can check the enemy’s stats easily, I can check my own without too much issue.

Space is something I have a hard time imagining. In written form I would have a really hard time understanding and remembering where everyone is, I would have to go through a lot of menus or text to check my stats, to check what each of them mean. Not to mention fighting would get repetitive and tedious because writing an unique scene for every single attack would be just cruel to the writer (or maybe that’s just because action scenes are so stressful for me to write).

I think that a game like War for the West does the “game” part very well. I was skeptical because I just had very bad experiences with that sort of stat heavy games, but War for the West gives you a lot of time to get used to the mechanics and made me feel very inmmersed in the political affairs of that world. I actually sort of understood what I had to do and the random events make replaying when you fail more interesting. Still, I often used cheats because there were some things (like money) that never seemed to work out for me.

But if there were no ending at all, just a “you died.” Well, I don’t think that would bode well with me. Unless you had autosave before every important choice and even then, if I don’t have the stats for it I would still have to go back to improve my stats if I want to play a certain way.

Still, if this is something anyone wants to do they should totally do it! It might not be that popular (or it will, I can’t know) but if it’s something the author is interested in I would want them to follow their heart. This is a very time consuming medium, so it’s better to write something one is truly passionate about.


It looks like I’m not in the majority haha but I would actually really like a more “gamey” story. However. It would a lot better if the arcade-y portion was integrated into the story. Kind of like if each choice was nested within the larger “game” if that makes sense. I’m not a huge fan of ridiculously hard pure chance based arcade games, like a betting system or something of the like. But if you’re betting on where to send troops or what combination opens the safe, thats different.

I don’t know if any of that makes sense haha

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Wow, I’m a bit… confused by what the definition of a “game” is to you, considering the crazy amount of games that don’t have game overs?
I mean, classical RPGs like Final Fantasy or other things don’t have a true game over, considering you just go back to your last save not to the beginning of the game if you loose a battle.
I play a lot of types of games, and IF is one of the most “gamey-game” type of game in my opinion, considering the player influences most elements of the story, if it’s well done, and it has multiple outcomes depending on player’s actions etc.
I’d also like to add that written text IS a visual expression and consequence of the player’s actions. So please don’t tell me a game needs to have a “visual aspect” to be a game, considering IF has one!
So yeah, having established that “if you can’t lose, it’s not really a game” doesn’t make any sense at all to me…

I like game overs to have at least a little bit of story to them, like, have them described, because otherwise it’s just boring?
And well, in case of CoG/HG games, the thing is… most of them don’t have a save-load feature. Sooo… having random game overs with no story whatsoever would be the most tedious and unplayable thing ever in my opinion, and I probably wouldn’t even want to try that game out. I wouldn’t bother, basically.

Now, if the game has game overs or bad endings with a story, then sure, I’d play it, because I like the satisfaction of seeing all the bad outcomes of a game before seeing the good one - it makes the good one even more satisfying. But yeah, for that to be enjoyable, the game overs and bad endings must have some story to them.
Some games and WIPs I love have game overs - but always with at least few lines of story.

With that being said…

Hmm I think the answer is no, IF the game doesn’t have a save feature.
I’m a perfectionist, and I consider I’ve “lost” if I make a single choice that makes my stats move in a way I don’t like… And I have to go through the entire game again then just to be back to the point where I did that mistake. So if the game added easy game overs to that, it wouldn’t be fun anymore without saves.
Also, I DO think real hard about each choice I make in these games, aside from the very obvious ones!

Now, it also depends on what you consider to be “hard to beat”? Would it be because the stats requirement would be very specific, or because of hard roleplay based decisions? Because stat-oriented games are my bane. I play these games so I can have the MC I want and make him progress the way I want. So, if I’m forced to min-max stats and raise some stats and personality traits just so I can avoid the game overs and bad endings, then I can’t shape my MC as I want anymore.
If it’s purely about the decisions said MC makes, but with still the possibility to shape him like I want, and if it’s not or only mildly stat oriented, then I may give a tentative yes? :thinking:

I’m sorry if I sound harsh, this isn’t my goal!
It’s just that your way of thinking is so alien to me that I have a hard time comprehending even your vision of what a game is, and don’t let me started on that “sandbox” vs “arcade” idea, especially considering arcade and sanbox games are two of the types of games I actually hate, considering they usually have little to no story, and story is the most important aspect of a game… So seeing you compare IF with sandbox makes me sooooo damn confused :sweat_smile:


First thing first to enjoy a “You died” screen I would need a saving system or at least a checkpoint system.

Then variety in tracks and options, like “I went left and I died, let’s try right this time…or forget this area, let’s go back to the previous area and let’s check that secondary route I left behind”.

Something CoG games don’t provide and I think are rather difficult to accomplish instead of the forward-like progression of a story.

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I prefer story-based COGs, and I tend to skip any that emphasize the mechanics / stats / resource-management side of things.

Basically I agree with what others have said about Choicescript being ill-suited to non-standard IF games: there’s no saves, there’s no visuals, etc. so that makes it much more tedious when all you have to go on are some stat numbers on a page. For instance, if the focus is going to be combat mechanics, I’d rather be playing a 3D shooter than a text version of one.


To make an example.
If you were to propose me to play a game like The Age of Decadence as a CoG game I would say yes! The visual and sound department are somewhat secondary to the narrative and the skillchecks are really demanding, but could it be pulled off with ChoiceScript?

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This thread is emblematic “game theory” that often leads authors/developers astray.

Game genres are best defined by their mechanic structures and implementations. Platform games have a set of defined mechanic systems which defines the genre, as does any other “pure” genre that exists.

Cross-genre or multi-genre games have multiple mechanic systems that make the whole.

Story telling or “game writing” is often seen as separate and often opposed to mechanics by many, but the simple truth is that writing a story in a game is just another “system” that defines the game you are making.

Josef Fares from Hazelight, says it best (They just released a very popular “co-op” game):

A cohesive experience – I told @Brian_Rushton the other day that for the bulk of text-based choice games, mechanics are not the key that unlocks the kingdom.

Regardless, mechanics still do help to determine a text-based choice game’s success, because the ultimate goal to reach success is a cohesive experience.

A text-based choice game that has a “win/lose” mechanic needs to make sure that every other system in the game design creates a cohesive experience.

If one aspect of the game is emphasized over any other, the mix creating the user experience is going to be unable to provide the cohesion needed for a successful game.

If you are designing your own Hosted Game or if you are under contract for a COG game, please take this to heart.

A game designer’s ultimate goal should be to create a cohesive experience, utilizing every element used to build their game.


I just don’t anticipate finding gameplay in a COG/HG fun like a video game, personally. When I’ve “won” at a video game, that’s because I (the player) became skilled enough at the game and its mechanics. I don’t think there’s a way to become real-life skilled at a COG/HG, because ChoiceScript is not that type of engine.

I can boss Assassin’s Creed, Crash, or FIFA, but it’s not (just) because I equipped the best armour/I knew when to jump/I picked the best players in every position. Even with a walkthrough, they’re hard to beat before I’ve learnt, in my hands, the physical gameplay. What actually would make a COG/HG hard to beat, other than not knowing which is the right button to effortlessly press?

The challenge of COG/HGs is balancing and getting what you want. I think “losing” is a state of mind, and relative to the genre/platform. Getting the ending I didn’t want here is a loss.


An ‘arcade’ style text game sounds absolutely terrible. There is a reason why computer games moved forward with saves and similiar ways to enable more people to get to something of an end as soon as the tech was available.

Here is the thing. If you get a game over early, why would you replay? In an arcade-style game it might be because the graphics were cool, you liked the gameplay, you wanted to beat the high score or you wanted bragging rights. In a text game of the CoG style, only the last would apply, and in order for it to do so, it would need to be popular enough that others played it. I suspect most people would not get past the demo, and if they did but died immediately afterwards, the reviews would be a killer.

One of the draws with an arcade game is that it’s not the END that’s the draw (most people won’t get it) but the journey. The gameplay. The zoning out and getting in the grove. You’re not going to get that in a text game, people will skim the text, get frustrated, and have to reread the same thing over and over again. It is one of the WORST formats available for emulating that kind of experience.

This brings me to achievements. THAT is how you do it in interactive fiction. Have hard, weird outcomes that only a few players will hunt for, but the majority that won’t care will still be able to have a fulfilling experience. I have people who have replayed FH so many times, hunting for the ideal outcome. Everyone can finish, but finish it the way you want it? That takes skill.


I’ll add that I think you have to consider the limitations and advantages of the platform.

The lack of major visual elements really hampers the 70%-ish of people who need them to engage with material in any medium. However, I’ve found the special effects for my project to be very affordable. I think it was Chuck P. who said that if you write, tell stories you can’t tell in other mediums, due to budget, scope, ratings approval. That is the main reason I broke away from screenplay, which I am more established in, to try an idea that no studio could budget for. Heart’s Choice is exploring that in the ratings sense. Visual RPGs touch on the erotic, but nothing quite focuses on it yet. Nothing big, anyway. There are a few oddities on Steam.

The unique value proposition of a CoG, to me, is the emotional impact of story elements (like a book) because of the way characters and events are instilled with meaning over time. As far as gaming goes, it’s a slow dosage. However, it is more co-creative/participatory than a novel. The writer promises delayed gratification, and the reader pays by suspending disbelief.

I worry that game-ier games will try to be a bad game, rather than a good book, if that makes any sense. Even creative use of ChoiceScript will struggle to make something as interesting as Number Munchers which is >20yrs old. I guess it could do an Oregon Trail, but I bet $10 that the bookish version in the right hands is 10x better.


I think I lost you there (no pun ?). You’re using the word “lose” as not attaining an ending, but it seems you allude to losing at CS as some sort of difficult to get ending, which I assume done by “game over, try again”? edit: I reread your post and probably misread something, so just ignore this part that get crossed out.

What is losing here? An unbreakable ouroboros loop that must be broken? Getting the bad ending? Or bored out you drop the game?

I think a better descriptor is to compare CoG as a single-player TTRPG adventure. It’s clearer and easier to describe “A GM wrote a campaign and anyone can play that campaign single-player.”

My own thoughts on the topic.

It doesn’t matter whether a game is hard or not. What is is if the game (story) is fun to play (read). Doesn’t necessarily means that there’s no place for hard games in CS, but I think it’s a mistake to think of “how to make this game hard” first rather “how to make a fun game”.

Just as how Eiwynn put it: a cohesive experience, but non-gamer/designer might more familiar with the word “fun” better.


No, I would not. No saves means that losing is going alll the way back into the start, reading all the same stuff I already read once, just to choose a different point at the same place and hope not to die. The cog engine is just not build for it.

Also COGs and Hosted are not sandbox games??? At least not sandbox by the definition most uses. I think that has been one or two attempt to make a sandbox version of a game, but they have never been finished.