Why Do You Love Interactive Fiction? (Bring on the Positive Feedback)

I’ve sort of known it existed since I remember, having heard about but never played Starship Titanic and a number of other text-based games. As a teenager I made mods for CRPGs which was my first foray into it; I learned about CoG through a now-defunct site* that reviewed books and games, around when Choice of Broadsides came out. I found out about Twine in about 2013 or so, discovered Emily Short and Sam Kabo Ashwell’s blogs, and finished my first Twine game in 2014. I socialised quite a bit with a group of IF fans and authors in a now-defunct chatroom*, then returned to Choice of Games around when Creatures Such As We was in IF Comp. I got really into the games that were coming out around that time and started making a couple of longer ChoiceScript games which never went very far. When I was published in a now-defunct* IF magazine, I then started writing with CoG.

*RIP these various nice places that used to exist online :cry:

When writing: the ability to explore many different possibilities, to play with player agency, and to make something that people can engage with actively. When playing: guiding a character through a storyline in different ways, seeing how the game responds to my character’s actions/background/personality, the interactivity making reinforcing themes/ideas/character journeys. I like that CoG games always allow me to play a variety of genders and to have queer romances; I also enjoy that there are varied ways to build a character both in skills and personality, so the roleplaying element is a good one for me.

My experience is: here, the HG and CoG subreddits, intfiction.org and the neo-interactives Discord server, various author-specific Discord servers such as those hosted by @JimD and @rinari, and Tumblr. There are a lot of IF and games people on Twitter and Bluesky - probably fewer on Twitter these days - which has tended to be more writer-discussion than player-discussion, though obviously there’s a big overlap.

Constantly, lol. I recommend stuff here and on the subreddits a lot, and post on Tumblr about games I’ve enjoyed too. I tell friends both inside and outside of the field of games about IF I’ve enjoyed. I’ve also recommended writing for CoG to writer friends, one of whom is working on an outline right now, hehe!

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Waaaait, there’s a game of it?! I loved the book!

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Summary
  • How did you first find out about Interactive Fiction? Ah, i was on a mobile otome binge, trying to find mlm/bl games and somehow found my way to a forum talking about “choose your own adventure” type games, my first IF (purely written not a VN) was actually from COG but i can’t remember which one.

  • What’s your favorite thing about IF, particularly CoG/HC/HG text-based games?
    I know it’s an eyeroll for some and usually i don’t care about it in other types of games (unless it’s an rpg or a game with romance elements) , but the inclusivity. Most otome/dating sims/visual novels are directed heavily if not only to a female audience (or a straight male audience) and it gets a bit… tiring? to see i guess. COG/HC/HG was a refreshing and pleasant discovery.

  • Where do readers for text-based RPGs hang out?
    No idea lol, I’ve seen them hang on tumblr and discord but i never really fully “join” a community… it’s rather toxic i’ve found.

  • Have you ever recommended a game to others? Online? heaps of times.

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Haha, yes! I’m the other way round - I didn’t realise there was a book of it.

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It’s hard to remember when I found my first IF, but I know I’ve always been into more interactive forms of story-telling since I was younger. From roleplaying, to visual novels, to fanfiction OCs and self-inserts, I loved it all because of the creativity and vast possibility of choice in them.

I’ve never owned many visual novels funny enough, and for a while when I was younger we just straight up didn’t have Internet. But I always owned my trusty Nintendo DS, and from the very beginning I’d noticed that I was always attracted to otome games and games with character customization options (though I was always too embarrassed to try buying the former because I never knew how my mother would react). I also remember playing the Sims a lot as a kid.

I think my very first non-VN IF might’ve been Magium, which I stumbled on completely by accident iirc. Then one day I saw Chroniric: Time Traveler, Guardian Maia and Seven Days on sale, and grabbed those too. After that, I kept looking for more written IFs, and eventually stumbled on my first CoG title, and the rest is history.

As for what I like about them… well, I’d always loved the concept of the books where you are the hero, and I really enjoyed the first few non-VN IFs that I played. But something I really hated about them is that most of the time my character was basically a non-character: no set appearance, no dialogue, no ability to interact with the world surrounding them beyond basic utilitarian actions. Here, IFs allow me not just to be an outsider looking into the world, but to be a person in the world itself, and fully let me immerse myself by giving me the chance to form relationships, build my skills, explore my surroundings, stuff like that.

Another thing I love is that it allows me to be the badass female protagonist of the story that I desperately crave to see in media. Because while gender never bothered me when I was little, I quickly started noticing a pattern of there being plenty of male protagonists in adventure stories for very little female protagonists (or even just gender-selectable options), and I even more quickly got fed up with it. Similarly, while female protagonists are starting to make an appearance in mainstream media, I almost always find them lacking in some way or another.

Here I don’t have to worry about that. I can play as who I want when I want, and I can characterize that character however I want. The freedom of choice and representation is honestly liberating.

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Before discovering IF I played a lot of Choices: Stories You Play app, and on its subreddit someone recommended to try text-based games if you like the app, but at the time I wasn’t interested because I love visual aspect of games, and also I don’t really like reading regular books, so I thought I wouldn’t enjoy these games. Some time later I wanted to find new games to play, but it seemed like I had already played everything that suited my preferences (mainly customisable main character + mlm romance), so I remembered these recommendations from Choices subreddit and decided to give IF a chance. Turns out it was a great decision and now I’m a big fan. :grin:

I love coming up with unique characters for different games and roleplay them. I think there is some level of creativity in me that I want to express, but I’m not creative enough to make something from scratch, so being able to participate by making the MC and guiding the story in different directions while controlling them is very fun and rewarding.

Another important thing for me is the fact that I can make any story queer. This is something that has been bothering me for years about non-interactive fiction: it’s hard to find a story with a queer protagonist that doesn’t deal specifically with queer issues. Why can’t an adventurer on an important quest in a fantasy setting be gay? Or a detective who has been trying for years to catch an elusive serial killer? Or a superhero, or a bank robber, etc, etc. It seems like you have to have an excuse to make a character queer, a person can’t just happen to be lgbt without a good reason. But in Interactive Fiction the main character can be anyone you want them to be, and it’s so cool! The fact that you can tailor any game to suit your preferences and interests by customising the main character is a very important feature of IF, in my opinion.

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I love it.

Specific reasons may not be so positive though, not listing.

Its the only games i been seeking since started playing games after 95 once more involved in them.

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Very good questions! Thanks for the A2A Leia!

  1. Let me copy my answer from the IF forum here (the relevant parts):

I found some old Fighting Fantasy gamebooks at the library and at some bookstore. Found out more about them.

Got an online pdf copy of Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! from one huge online archive that was run by someone called Anna anthropy.

Found out that ink had done a remake of some sort of the entire series. Went to their website and there was, also featured, First Draft of the Revolution by Emily Short, amongst other things. At that time I had no idea she was going to make that big of an impact on what I’m doing now.

Read a gamebook blog. There were mentions of CoG on that blog (and Emily too), so went to their website, played a little and eventually gave in and went onto their forum. So this is how I came to be on this forum. Then thanks to some people on said forum, I ended up on the IF forum as well. So it’s really fortunate that I get to know such like-minded people.

Now as a novice, I was definitely lost. I wanted a community to discuss things. I had scant experience of IF at that time. I sampled, amongst other things, Hannah P S’ Creme and Brynn’s Keeper. That was went I stumbled upon the monthly writer support threads which Eiwynn was in charge of. I knocked on the door, and they welcomed me in- so long as I didn’t go out of bounds. It of course wasn’t easy. I won’t name anyone, but I had something- a fan work- brewing. It was time to let it out of the bag. Thus Maverick Hunter: Scandalous Mission was born.

Then I reviewed every entry in the 2023 IF Comp, and that was when things really, really took off. Somebody threw a ball in my direction, and I ran off with it. And now, concepts from Maverick Hunter will show up in my IFComp 2024 entry (but it’ll probably be in parser format, maybe?).

My story is like yours- I discovered IF by accident. With IF, it is indeed one can develop and consume a story in a whole new way than, say in a video game, or traditional fiction.

This is a challenge that we face. The IF community is sandwiched in between the fiction and the game communities that the niche that it crafts out, is looked down and stereotyped by the traditional communities as ‘too-specialized’ and ‘won’t-catch-on’. So the crux of this lies in the marketing - something that I haven’t figured out how to do yet.

This is a mission in which everyone in the IF community will have to undertake. This article by Emily Short describes several ways. Now on to…

  1. The scope. We can literally do endless things with it. There are infinite possibilities. (too bad in reality, only finite possibilities exist.) The author has set the stage and written the script, but it’s up to you to take the script in whatever direction you choose. Of course there are both good and bad endings, but it’s the journeys that matter most, and the characters we met along the way. It’s cliche, but it’s still right.

It’s all part of the journey, I guess!

  1. The CoG forum (here), the intfiction.org Interactive Fiction forum- there are plenty of nice people there as well! I was one of the contributors for a birthday card for one of the comp organisers (it was written in Twine, and I had no idea how to do stuff in Twine…)! I’m also pretty active there as well. The CoG and HG Reddit pages are also areas to hang out.

  2. Not yet. There is still plenty of ground to cover. But I’m trying.

This is an expression of our creativity. This is who we are. This is what we do.

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I suppose Goosebumps and similar books where my first foray into the genre as a whole. On the internet it’d have been through abandonware games such as text-adventure games made for MSDOS or PC98 Visual Novels. And then interest in the medium was further hammered in by old-school forum-based CYOA; where people would upload stories and hyperlink to specific posts for the choices.

There was also Academagia which I’ve spent hours delving into ever since I stumbled upon it years ago. After that I suppose MUDs (Multi-User Dungeon/Domain) also played a part but those lean more into being a themed chatroom-esque experience (and a precursor to the modern day MMO) and live roleplaying than strictly as an IF.

For CoG/HG specifically, the first one I played here was Choice of Romance.

Depends on what your looking for. Visual Novels are probably the most mainstream (though still quite niche) of the Interactive Fiction umbrella and depending on the type of VN (otome, galge, eroge, etc) you can find specific communities that tackle each type or by a specific series.

There’s also Lemmasoft forums for most indie vns (including WIPs and game jams) or the Visual Novel Database for a more comprehensive view.

For other types of IFs your more than likely better suited searching for games based on the engine and type of IF you want to play like choice-based, parser, or hybrid. The Interactive Fiction Database is also a good place to check out for a variety of IF and you can likely find communities for it more easily by focusing on specific engines.

And that’s before getting into counting the even more niche 18+ sites that also cater to text-only games.

If I recommended anything it’d have been a VN of some sort; but a game that’s mostly reading is a hard sell for a lot of people in general even when it’s paired with all the things that come packaged in a visual novel.

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Choice of Robots was my first real one, which seems somewhat common. I found it on Steam. Before that, Call of Duty Black Ops had the Zork easter egg in the opening menu. I wish they’d do something like that again.

Well, making the decisions that impact the plot significantly is one of my favorite types of gameplays, and these run mainly on that. It also allows for many interesting ideas to see the light of day that would otherwise be hard to program, enables a lot of people with minimal programming knowledge and funding to make their ideas. I’ve seen a lot of IF games with ideas I’d never seen done before.

I know there’s a COG subreddit, though I’ve never been. I usually go here or the specific discords for the IFs.

Yeah, a lot of the Discords have a dedicated server for that. A lot separate WIPs and complete ones too.

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I got into IF by reading the interactive Goosebumps books when I was a kid. What I love about it is that you can have several versions of a book that are all cannon

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I found Choice of Robots on steam. But it wasn’t until Wayhaven Chronicles came out that I liked it enough to play WIPs as well.

The ability to control a customizable protagonist and romance a male character. That’s the only reason I play despite my poor English.
I know some games don’t have romance, but I don’t play them.

I have not. I am not in an English speaking country.
I don’t think people around me would be interested in a game that has no pictures, no music, and a lot of text to read, and it’s all in English.
Unfortunately. :crying_cat_face:

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The technically correct answer is Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid, but the more useful answer is that I found CoG twice, really.

The first time I found it was for Choice of the Deathless and The City’s Thirst, both by Max Gladstone, and I found them because I liked the books he’s written and was actively looking for more content he’d created. I didn’t play anything else, though. The second time was years later when they released Night Road, and I found that because it came up as a newly released VtM game when I was discussing the trainwreck that is the development of Bloodlines 2 somewhere.

So, both times I encountered this place, I did so by following existing non-IF properties here. What actually got me to venture out into their other games was the great Texas Snowpocalypse of 2021, when I had a sudden need for things to do that had low battery drains and didn’t require constant internet connectivity and I basically just a grabbed a couple of their game packs from the appstore at random. Luckily, some of the games(Choice of the Robot and SLAMMED, specifically) in them were good enough to get me to come back. Not that the others were bad, those two were just the standouts that made me go “huh, maybe it’s worth looking at more of these things.”

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I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s answers. Thank you all for sharing! :sparkling_heart:

I want to comment on everyone’s posts but it’s the end of the day and sleep is calling. I have read every reply, however, and it’s great to see so many different perspectives and paths to enjoying interactive fiction.

This bit rings especially true for me as a writer:

The scope is huge. Different players can have completely different experiences in the same story. It’s like magic, except not, since it’s actually a lot of work and imagination. The fact that I (and others) can write stories with such variability and so many possibilities is exciting, daunting, and liberating all at the same time. I’m really glad I found this corner of the literary/gaming universe.

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I don’t know why, but visual novels tend to be not highly regarded by the IF community. The IFDB, as said, is a great place to search for games by engine- these include: parser, choice, hybrid- and their various languages, e.g. Inform (7), TADS, ADRIFT, Adventuron, Twine (very, very popular!), Choicescript, Texture, and other less-well-known systems, by author, by genre, by rating, by difficulty level (yes!) and other criteria- there is also one whole list of competitions/jams, both big and small, and every game entered in that event is listed there. And also not to forget, there is a treasure trove of reviews there. It’s not really a place to hang out per se, though.

And did you know, that the CoG blog, Emily Short’s blog, Hannah P S’s blog and various other blogs are on a unified site called Planet IF?

I’m grateful for having writers like you, Hannah and the rest. We all encourage each other at our work.

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I love reading, even though it took me awhile to learn how to do so (I struggled a lot with learning to read as a kid due to my dyslexia). I consume a staggering amount of words on a yearly basis. So when I finished my education and found a job at the other side of the country (I’m from the Netherlands so it’s sounds more scary than it is) I killed the 2 hours of time commuting to my work and back home again with reading. I first read books but to change it up I searched for some texted based games. I stumbled upon The Great Tournament (I think 3 a 4 years ago?), and absolutely fell in love with the playstyle. With some internet searches I found the omnibus app from COG (and later from HG), and down the rabbit hole I went.

My favourite thing about IF is that I feel part of the story and not just an outside inspector looking in on a story. I love how the stories change based on my decisions, like I’m co-piloting with the author how the story goes.

On this forum, Tumblr and reddit. I don’t know where else to find them.

I quite frequently recommend games in the subreddit of COG and HG. I also enthusiastically recommend these games to friends and colleagues, but so far I haven’t managed to get someone else hooked on these gems.

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I was looking for some apps on play store and ended up finding Magium. I didn’t play it that much, but since the concept of a interactive book was interesting I tried finding others similar games and that’s how I stumbled on Fallen Hero and The Shadow Society (though I only started reading IFs more frequently after discovering the forum years after)

The ability to see different versions of the same story and characters, as well as seeing how our choices impact the course of the story. One thing I was always interested in when reading books was what would happen if the protagonist had made a different decision at a certain point, and interactive stories let me see exactly that.

Mostly here, Reddit and Tumblr, I think. I know there’s another forum besides de CoG one but I forgot the name

Yes, I used to recommend more often when I was on the Reddit forums (since every now and then there was someone asking for recommendations) but I still recommend some when I have the opportunity

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I think it mostly comes from a place of people viewing visual novels as it’s own separate thing rather than as a branch/sub-genre of Interactive Fiction itself.

Which is kinda amusing when the medium came about by Japanese developers wanting to emulate the likes of Colossal Cave Adventure (the game that founded the IF genre) and other text-adventure games. The first VN ever made, The Portopia Serial Murder Case, was even a parser-type IF lol.

  • How did you first find out about Interactive Fiction?

Back in the 90’s I got started with the Alternamorphs and some Star Wars based choose your own adventure style books. Then I moved on to muds and played the telltale games as they came before moving on ttrpg’s, and in about 2014 I played Mecha Ace but I didn’t really get into the sort of IF offered here until 2021, when I basically became obsessed and now buy everything interesting-looking that comes out and even enjoy visual novels that have similar levels of agency if I can get my hands on them.

  • What’s your favorite thing about IF, particularly CoG/HC/HG text-based games?

I crave agency and the ability to put my mark on a character and the story they’re a part of. I get a lot of that out of TTRPG’s whether as a player or gamemaster, but IF is where I get my self-indulgent fix where it’s all about me and my choices. Obviously the freedom is more restrained, but that’s balanced by having a coherent, focused narrative that is driving towards a conclusion while providing as much agency and reactivity as the author can realistically account for.

  • Where do readers for text-based RPGs hang out?

I am mainly on Discord with a few groups mostly centered around our tabletop games, but I do like to come here to these forums and hear from other players and the authors of these experiences I enjoy so much. I mostly lurk here but I do throw an opinion out here and there. Itch.io is a very difficult gold panning operation where nothing is organized or has any hope of being a complete experience in my lifetime but occasionally has something worth all the otherwise wasted effort.

  • Have you ever recommended a game to others?

Yes, I recommend several games to different communities. I play with a couple of groups that are really focused on the Chronicles of Darkness 2e systems, but I recommend the World of Darkness IF games to them as they’re close enough to scratch the itch (sadly CoD never gets the same attention). I also recommended games like The Fog Knows Your Name or The Passenger to a group I’m a part of that is a bit more eclectic but mainly focused on occult/horror in all its forms. I don’t know many people outside of this community that are as into IF as I am.

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I can’t remember the specifics, I just came across the COG websites and was instantly hooked, if not a little confused at the format. Later, after playing all the demos and now bored, I saw a link to the WIPs section of the forum and the rest is history.

It’s a video game you can read. What’s not to love? That, and I love all the different choices and branching paths you can have. And the customization; not alot of the video games I played had that, so I was happy I could make my own character instead of having to play a preset one with looks and personality you can’t choose.

Tumblr. Thats the only reason I made my account.

Ballad of Devils Creek to a friend interested in Western RPGs. Otherwise, it’s not something I usually discuss.

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