Is the Player Part of the Game

…Continuing my train of thought from my post of January 16…

I guess the primary difference between Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) games and Interactive Fiction (IF) games is the role of the player. Is the player in the world, or of the world? Is the player a (semi) independent agent, or little more than a glorified bookmark within the story?

In the simplest CYOA game, the player will always be in a particular state when in a particular location. If you have chosen to open the Big Wood Door, and you go to page 52, you will always be in the same state on page 52. It doesn’t matter how you got there; if you are on page 52 then you got there through exactly This Route. There are variations on the CYOA games where you may Open The Door after you Acquire The Sword, and that takes you to page 111. This is still a completely deterministic approach as you do not have the option of, say, Dropping The Sword once you are in the room. Where you are is no different from what you are. You cannot interact with the environment. You are embedded within the story. While the story may be remarkably complex it is still mapped as a two-dimensional flowchart with exactly 1 entrance and n exits, and every possible route from the entrance to those n exits is written out before you make your first decision.

Some of the CYOA -type books are meant to be played along with a random number generator (dice) and a tally sheet (inventory), but this is a bad hack-ish attempt to duplicate the behavior of an IF game without resorting to either a computer or a live storyteller.

And you cannot interact with the environment. For all intents and purposes, you as a player do not exist.

IF-type games allow interaction with the environment around the player. You are in a room. There is a sword on the ground. You pick up the sword. You go to another room. When you go back to the first room, the sword is no longer there on the ground. You have interacted with the environment.

There are objects in the world which are separate from the player, and separate from the world. The objects are in the world, not of the world.

And this is the point where the story ceases being linear and is suddenly multi-dimensional. It is non-linear (or less-linear). Decisions and actions become conditional. You are in a room with a troll. If you have picked up the sword then you can kill the troll. Otherwise the troll kills you.

The game is still linear in that it has a single entrance point and n outcomes, but the path between beginning and end can be enormously convoluted. At this point we begin to differentiate between ending the game and winning the game. And depending on the complexity of the game, it becomes increasingly unlikely that any two sessions of play will be identical.

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