What do you think is the most unique thing about the medium of Interactive Fiction?


Every medium has its strengths and weaknesses, as well as tricks unique to it.

Books and other written mediums have an advantage by being able to show inside the head of a character, as well as the author being able to control 100% of the information flow to the reader. Both of which fit really well for unreliable narrators and things that explore of characters in unusual states. It’s a medium that’s been explored for centuries so we don’t see much innovation there so much as resurfacing of old techniques.

Movies and other mostly visual media enjoy from having a lot of stuff that’s up for interpretation. From actor’s expression to what exactly is going on in the foreground and the background and why, it’s all stuff that can be explained by actions alone, even if the easier path is to use words. It’s more easily immersive then any of the static mediums and has the benefit of being able to engage two senses with the addition of music and sound. On the downside it tends to be a much more literal medium then most others, or else shrouded in metaphor, which limits some of the story telling techniques available to the writer.

Comics are somewhere in between. Being both a static medium and one the author doesn’t have full control on the information that gets to the reader by way of narrative. It lends itself wonderfully to foreshadowing by being able to both hide stuff in the background and give the reader time to explore each panel. Despite being somewhat of a mix between mediums, comics have their own tricks and things unique to them apart from both written and visual mediums.

Like comics, interactive fiction is somewhere between the medium of books and games. Games are a fascinating medium that only recently really started to explore the unique ways it could tell a story. They are the most immersive medium to date, and have the unique quality of having their building blocks in a place any computer savvy enough player could get into and start to play with, as well as making it possible for some pieces of the narrative not to be uncovered at certain playthroughs. It’s my opinion that game’s potential as a storytelling device has barely been scratched.

Of course that lead me to wonder about Interactive Fiction, especially in its current incarnation with keeping track of choices and stats, and I would love to hear some more opinions about it.

What are some of the things that you think it’s only possible to do with Interactive Fiction as a medium? What are the strengths and weaknesses of it? What kind of stories does the medium lend itself the best to?


The thing I find exceptional in this medium is the variety of it. All, stories, whether they be games or written, are limited and linear. Well there are visual games that are made to created around your actions (Nier:Automata come to mind), they never really where able to fully invest you in the world. Something may be pretty, it limits the imagination, while the written word is more vast. So combining the vast imagination of words and the adventure of games gives this platform.


I think something about IF is more personal than any other form of media. Video games can be very personal, but the characters all look a specific way, and 99.9% of the time, you can’t imagine them otherwise. In recent games, they’re fully voiced, too, and, as Mass Effect initiated, even the main character is usually fully voiced, now. While it can be a more immersive experience (I adore it, personally), it can make the game less personal.

Books are impersonal, as a general rule, unless they’re CYOAs. They can be fantastic, but you have little to no input and definitely no effect on the story.

IF blends the two - you don’t hear voices or see faces, most of the time, so everything is far more personal to you. A romantic character can look however you want, even if they have an unattractive (to you) feature (EG: you don’t like red hair, because of that kid, George, who used to beat you up, so you tend to not romance redhaired ROs…Peony, in Choice of Rabbits, is described as having red hair, but you imagine them with your preferred hair color), and the voices can be as interesting or boring as you prefer.

I think the best actualization of this ideal - someone else’s story, with the ability to take it anywhere, with limited railroading - is DnD and other such tabletop games. The DM runs a live campaign, so they need to be able to account for any and all options. It is as interactive as interactive gets. I love it.


I like this term and the way you use it, @ashestoashes018, because it’s just true. Let’s say you had a campaign in the jungles of Chult and then one silly player wanted to suddenly go to the Underdark, well the GM can handle it. But if that player wanted to have Gandalf ride in on a Borg Cube and give the party a lift to Narnia, well that’s just not going to happen.

It’s like I’ve said before elsewhere, truly “unlimited” play is impossible. It’s just a matter of when it feels like it’s enough; when the water is deep enough so that your feet don’t touch the bottom, then without looking down, the water could be 10 feet deep, or 1000, either way your feet don’t touch the bottom.

As far as the uniqueness of interactive fiction, I think it’s simply the fact that it’s interactive. In other words, as you’re reading the story, you have a limited capacity to change that story based on what you pick. That’s just awesome.


@BlueBell This is very good question.I’m wondering if it doesn’t depend on whether we can look at IF without the game tropes or not. (I realize to some this is going to be heresy.) But it seems to me if IF is to grow as a medium it needs to examine it’s relationship to games a little more closely. If it stays with games it will pretty much stay what it is, with perhaps some clever iterations. But if the gaming tropes can be examined a little more thoroughly then it can mutate into something more interesting as fiction. Those are some of my blooming thoughts at the moment.


I disagree with this completely. The “clever iterations” is a dismissive way of saying any innovation in the game side of IF is inferior then mutations on the writing side that makes it “interesting as fiction.”

The scripting engine is evolving to be more flexible within the gaming side and as such there can be much more innovation and growth. Tropes from both gaming and writing are dangers to avoid and unfortunately we see both types of tropes worm their way into the genre.

The growth of the medium depends on this innovation, as there is not much “innovation” or “change” in the written world, where the rules and tropes are hidebound and hundreds of years in existence. :roll_eyes:

Now, I might be overemphasizing the immutable nature of fiction writing by itself to illustrate a point here.

The simple fact is that IF is a cross-over medium and ignoring the dual aspect of that crossover weakens the genre as a whole. I honestly think both aspects of IF could be further explored and further developed for the betterment of the entire whole.

The flaws of IF are exaggerated and magnified if either polar is ignored.


To me, the great thing about writing IF is the ease with which one can explore “the other way things could have gone.” Non-interactive fiction has lots of great examples of multiple perspectives on a single event or character, but only rarely digs into alternate plots and the way those reveal character. In this narrative, so-and-so is a hero; but had events gone differently, perhaps that would have brought out different aspects entirely, resulting in an entirely less (or more) appealing picture of the character.

Because this is what I most value about IF, I quite enjoy “defined-protagonist” IFs and getting to explore how all the characters are shaped by the protagonist’s choices. For others, of course, the immediacy of feeling that you are the protagonist is a key part of the pleasure of IF.


My favorite thing is that it’s a book with replay value! The best of both worlds!

… Can’t add much more, I’m not insightful enough to delve into intricacies.


@Eiwynn Thanks for your comment. I would like to point out that I only said to examine those tropes more. I did not say throw them out. I don’t think you quite understood. Especially since I worded it in such a way as to invite questions about what I was saying. And questioning.


For me it is 1 they have the control and agency of video games and 2 the fact that the imagination can take every scene and make it a 11/10 version of itself
Like this
Normal mediums

Choice of games


from a newbies perspective, what makes IF really compelling compared to lets say videogames, and reading books or comics/manga is the fact that you have the choice of how the story goes and instead of being a backseat driver, you get to be the driver. Also like as others have said, the best kind of scenes are the ones in your own head :slight_smile:


Oh boy boy-o, I take a break from editing an essay on this very subject to come here and now it’s time to rewrite my essay on this very subject once more. But I’ll condense it from seven pages to a couple of paragraphs because I doubt any of you want to read a full seven pages about the benefits of interactive fiction and how it’s evolved since ye ole days of hypertext fiction.

For me one of the most interesting things about interactive fiction is the way it effects immersion and the way, as an author, I think about plot and character.

In linear fiction the reader relies on the narrator for their story and, thusly, their immersion. The narrator functions as a conduit, allowing reader to experience a story not as a bystander but as a participant in the plot itself. However, the reader can still never truly be fully immersed. For the narrator is not them, such is made clear by the distinct point of view (in first person, it makes it clear you are seeing it through someone else’s eyes, in third you float above the crowd watching) and the fact that the reader has no real affect on the story’s progression that they are not really a part of it. They are experiencing it along with the characters in the book but they are still not a part of the book itself. Even those written in second person such as Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler (which is a fantastic book by the way, definitely recommend it) it’s made clear that you are not the protagonist because the protagonist will act according to his own will and wants and wishes with no input from you. The protagonist still has his own identity that separates reader from the reality of the fiction. And while this gap can be shortened if you line up with the identity of the protagonist, if even the smallest part of you is different, or if even the smallest part of you disagrees with one action that the protagonist takes, it puts a block between the ‘you’ dictated in second person of the book, and the you reading about the ‘you’ of the book.

Now take interactive fiction. You can first of all take away the conduit of a narrator and shove the reader in there as the narrator- an evolved form of If on a winter’s night a traveller’s narrative styling. You are the narrator- the one who has the thoughts and emotions and actions on the story. This is almost as close to a full immersion as a solely text-based form can get. The more your actions effect the story, and the more your thoughts effect the ‘you’ of the book, the more the reader becomes a character themself- no longer separated by the imposed view of the narrator.

And that’s where the reader begins to even have an effect on the author and the way stories are composed. In a way, the reader- or at least the disembodied idea of ‘a reader’- will now have an effect on how the story progresses. Plot, choices, characters, you name it and what could have been written in a static, self-contained bubble of existence in linear fiction must now become at least somewhat flexible and branching in order to accommodate for this new layer of immersion. Because the deeper the immersion runs- the higher the risk it has of being broken. The more a reader falls into the place of the narrator the more that those small moments where they think ‘Well, I wouldn’t do that’ become all the more jarring. Before, in linear fiction, these could be brushed aside as silly actions of the narrator, of someone not you. But now that the goal is to make you in the story those small immersion hiccups can be reality-breaking for the imposed narrative. Therefore, it forces the author writing an immersive interactive fiction to think more about the different kinds of actions a person might make in any given situation, and how many multiple personalities might respond to the same situation. How must the plot change to accommodate for a pessimist? An optimist? A do-gooder or a villain? How must the reactions of the characters change? These thoughts are unique to interactive fiction because interactive fiction does not have the static narrator that linear fiction, or really almost any other type of media, does. This can lead to stories of people who never would have had the spotlight beforehand. But now the author must account for the reader’s continual presence in the fiction of their world.

I compared it once when trying to explain the thing I was writing to a friend to basically giving the author a stronger tool, but at the same time adding on the caveat that in order for that tool to be used effectively the reader has to use the tool in the same way at the same time. You can do whatever it is you want to do, get across whatever it is you want to get across, and bring the player into the text with more effectiveness than ever before- but if the reader doesn’t want to use the tool in the specific way you’ve set out, the tool will break and crumble. It forces you to get creative and think about the situation you want to use the tool for in many different ways- see just how many different angles you can use the tool at. But if you do use it correctly, then the effect will be stronger than just about any other tool out there.

EDIT; Whew, that was wordy. Sorry. I should probably add on an:

TL;DR - The most unique thing about interactive fiction to me is the fact that it can put the reader in the story, instead of just watching it go by, and how that effects how the story is written itself.


Ey, that’s fine. It’s a great textwall to fire up my sleepy brain :ok_hand:t4:
It definitely deserve a heart :heart:


I found don’t get an A+ on your paper we will sue the school


Yet again, I think the summation of my thoughts have pretty much already been stated brilliantly. The two most unique aspects of IF, to me, are the chances to explore the what-ifs and to be given one of the only possible medians to put the audience directly as the protagonist instead of simply guiding that position.

To delve into these further, however, both strengths and weaknesses arise from these in a way that is directly linked.

When you’re creating a protagonist for interactive fiction, you’re essentially creating a tabula rasa for the reader. This character is someone they are and want to be in the given story, and so you have to design around the what-ifs around the whos. Who would this person be? Who are all the possible iterations created from this circumstance and how might they react in this narrative? What-if this who decided to react violently opposed to the same scene that another who might have unwavering volunteered for? In this sense, the strength here is that you get to explore different perspectives that directly dictate outcomes. Instead of having to be confined to one conclusion, such as in a traditional novel designed for one character, you get to go down the rabbit hole of your writer’s mind and ask, ‘how else could this story have ended?’

But therein hides the weakness, too. To break a story down into the most simplistic form, I’ll borrow a few steps named in The Anatomy of Story. Basically, it follows - Weakness & Need, Desire, Opponent, Plan, Battle, Self-Revelation, and New Equilibrium. These go by many names and I don’t have the nearly five-hundred pages to summarize the concepts, but to the most simplistic point - a protagonist has a weakness. Or a moral blindspot. From this, they have Need/an immoral effect which presents itself outwardly. A story will keep the former hidden and focus on the desire, which is what the protagonist is trying to acheive, but then you’ll eventually get to the self-revelation. They realize their weakness and from here they can embrace it, and grow as a character, or reject it (or embrace it to the opposite spectrum) and become ‘worse off.’ Now again, interactive fiction is brilliant in which you can explore both of these outcomes - what if they go down the ‘darkside?’ What if they choose to better themselves? How will the world change? But every story has this most basic structure, from Finding Nemo (positively embraces and grows) to The Godfather (embraces to the opposite spectrum), and without it you are given a situation. I find that gaming media often has situations, and another main character will be far more developed and inticing/nearly the protagonist because of this. But there’s nothing wrong with that - situations can be just as, and more so, enjoyable and can work better for interactive forms of entertainment.

Anywho, the pitfall here for my personal endeavors is deciding how you go about creating a weakness when the character can be anyone. How can you develop something personal that invokes growth when the protagonist can be a build-up of endless traits and characterizations? It’s hard without creating a more defined mc, which you can still choose to do if you wish because they can be immensely satisfying to play, and probably one of the biggest drawbacks I’ve found. But I have also found it immensely - to state in plainly - fun, rewarding, and downright challenging trying to create and balance a character that offers this endless amount of choice and development but that still encompasses something that allows for compelling maturation in the first place.

Ever new possibilities with writing in a way that allows you to write all the others, to say the least.