Terminology for Talking About Choice-Based Fiction

There’s nothing I like more than inventing specialised terminology to elucidate hidden features in the things that we discuss.

If you suffer from the same compulsion, you might like my series of articles about concepts in cybertexts. There’s two up so far, with more to come. I discuss why I like the term ‘cybertext’ over ‘CYOA’ or ‘hypertext’, and I talk about momentum, a kind of pacing that might be unique to the kind of works that CoG make.


I like CYOA or interactive fiction (IF) more. A lot of games that have some sort of dialogues and no voice acting, have text. An Amnesia game is a horror video game where you find letters from survivor’s and read about their backstory and you can move around in the visual created world and interact things, but I wouldn’t call that IF, because you don’t get to really interact with the story by making choices or saying words outside of a puzzle sandbox type way. This is also seen in some slender man games and rpg maker games. Cybertext seems like it could refer to any video/computer game with text in it. Lots of games are fiction, so interactive fiction could refer to a lot of different things, but it is a more commonly used and understood term.

On momentum, I prefer to have at least one screen (without scrolling) worths of text before a page break and having to keep clicking the next button after only reading a small sentence also looses momentum, but not in a good building tension way and more in a fustrating way. A story needs a good balance between choice and narrative and too many choices at the beginning can bog down the story, but people do like to generally know what the story is about and who the character is which is usually why short summaries are at the beginning of games or are on the game info page. I do agree that there needs to be a good pace, but it can get kind of difficult to achieve the right pacing especially in the introduction.


I use IF a lot, but I use it to encompass parser games as well (which I also write). CYOA is often fine, especially when talking with people who are more familiar with the books. However, sometimes I want to make clear that I’m talking about text on screen that you navigate primarily by clicking or dragging text rather than entering text or moving through a visual environment or turning to page 17 in a book.

Exactly, the very beginning is possibly the toughest point for pacing. You’ve got to engage the player, define some things about their character, introduce the core setting and conflicts of the work all at the same time. This is why character creation choices are probably better when they’re embedded in the setting.

Hollywood Visionary does this very well: all your initial choices about the nature of your screenplay, gender presentation etc., are embedded in a prologue conversation that also works as the inciting incident. While you’re setting the basic facts about your character, you’re also setting up the reason you quit your old job and start your own studio.


Here’s an article I’ve written with strategies for encouraging the player not to hoard in-game resources. I discuss how this was tackled in Choice of Robots, Morrowind and Numenera.


“cybertext” is such a cool word… but then again, “cyber”-anything sounds cool. Cyberwriter, cybernarrative, cyberstory… “dynamic fiction” (dynatext? dynafic?) is also something i’ve heard…

With regards to the idea of momentum I think different cybertext systems have different properties w/r/t how links work. In choicescript I feel like there’s more “investment” in clicking a link as opposed to Twine or undum (maybe because Twine links are usually more embedded in the text, and undum/ink just append new text to the current view). Also there are different concepts of what a link means in cybertext - there’s a distinction between link=choice/action (where the player is explicitly deciding something for a character) and link=story progression (where clicking on a link just reveals more of the story or a digression). Story-revealing links might affect pacing in a different way from choice/action links. In choicescript, links customarily represent actions (except for the “Next” button), whereas other systems like Twine allow action and story-revealing links to be mixed freely.

(sorry if this is just vague rambling. it’s a really interesting topic to me)


Good point about the links and investment. Twine tends towards a more exploratory style: you can take your time investigating and often it’ll be clear when you are or are not taking irrevocable actions. Whereas the norm in CS is for every link to be an irrevocable action, so each choice is invested in greater meaning, at the sacrifice of possibilities inherent in the exploratory style.


I actually enjoyed reading through all of the three post, especially the parsimony one. Given to the consideration that I’m usually really bad at writing choices that won’t end up with the players hoarding for stats.

Definitely waiting for the fourth edition to the post.

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I’ve continued the series, talking about how romance subplots are handled in games. I discuss how I tried to do it in Trials of the Thief-Taker and the pitfalls with the different approaches.


Is there a place on this website that lists different relevant terminology? When I first came here, it took some time and guesswork to figure many of the common terms, like CYOA, WIP and HG.

Still there is stuff that I’m wondering what means, like NPC and RO. (it’d be cool if anyone would let me know).

NPC = ‘non-player character’ Any character in the story the player isn’t controlling (so, usually, every character except the main character).
RO = ‘romance option’ (or something like that…) A character that’s available to romance.

PC = ‘player character’ The character the player controls, as opposed to NPC
MC = ‘main character’ usually used interchangeably with PC, since basically every game here has you play the main character of the story, but (unlike PC), can apply to the main character of a traditional book or any other medium

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Nah, since this is a pretty relevant place to put it here… I might as well put up a list, here. (if the mod feels that this should be put on a different thread, feel free to move it)

NPC = Non-player Character
PC = Player Character
MC = Main Character
RO = Romantic Opportunity *cmiiw

IF = Interactive Fiction
CYOA = Choose Your Own Adventure (a trademarked term, btw)
WIP = Work in Progress
CoG = Choice of Games
HG = Hosted Games
CS = ChoiceScript

and the list goes on…