Choose Your Frame

CYOA has historically been presented in various frames. This has been a matter of marketing, identity and politics.

The kids playing paper gamebooks like Lone Wolf or Fighting Fantasy were convinced that what they were playing was a sub-category of role-playing game, and I’ve seen multiple-choice sequences within videogames referred to as role-playing. Contemporary Twine authors, having been catalysed by a book with the word right in the title, are adamant that what they are doing is videogames; at least one SilkWords author, on the other hand, explicitly contrasts her medium against videogames – to her interactive fiction is closer kin to books, to romance novels consumed on an e-reader. Visual novels are not made for remotely the same expectations as hypertext novels.

Asking, or asserting, which category CYOA really belongs to is unhelpful and uninteresting. What’s worth investigating is how the frame sets expectations, and why a particular identity is being asserted.

This ties in to why I find the ‘story vs. game’ dichotomy limiting. I have stories on my bookshelf that are written from a set of narrative expectations so remote from mine that I can hardly interpret their proper meaning at all. There are game subgenres which I will never be able to enjoy because they are so tightly focused on a set of desiderata that, to me, are marginal or downright undesirable. Both categories have notoriously fuzzy edges. These are not two unified points between which we can draw a simple spectrum on which to locate players or games.

This isn’t to say that ‘game’ and ‘story’ aren’t real and important categories that can sometimes be useful. But they are very cloudy lenses through which to view any given issue within the overlapping territory. So what’s a better approach? …yeah, more on that later.

(Spurred, in large part, by a conversation with Emily Boegheim on Twitter.)

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4 Responses to Choose Your Frame

  1. unwashedmass says:

    This ties in to why I find the ‘story vs. game’ dichotomy limiting.

    I always framed it as narrative vs. simulationist, ignoring the untidy matter of narrative emergence. They’re all games, just some with more of this and less of that.

    • Simulationist is another thing, I think – there are plenty of games that aren’t really very interested either in narrative or in simulationism, unless you’re aiming for a sense of ‘simulationist’ that’s far broader than I’d want to use.

  2. Eriorg says:

    The kids playing paper gamebooks like Lone Wolf or Fighting Fantasy were convinced that what they were playing was a sub-category of role-playing game

    I’m not sure at all it was the case for me! I knew that role-playing games existed and had some things in common with gamebooks, but I really think I rather saw gamebooks as books, maybe in part because the main CYOA collection in France was called “Un livre dont VOUS êtes le héros” (i.e. “A book of which YOU are the hero”): for me, there were “books of which you are the hero” and, well, the other books, of which you aren’t the hero.

    • I’m going partly here off letters written in contemporary UK magazines in which players explicitly described gamebooks as a kind of RPG, partly based on the less clearly-articulated intent of Fighting Fantasy (to serve as a gateway-drug for more involved forms of gaming), and partly as the attitude to gamebooks among me and my peers in school – I’m not sure if we thought of them as being RPGs, but we definitely saw their role as being the poor man’s RPG, something you played because you didn’t have the D&D books, or your friends weren’t around, or if you weren’t old enough to cope with the complex rules of Proper Role-Playing.

      But I’m sure other people viewed them in other ways! That’s kind of the point here.

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