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.)