Why I wrote a story for the Choosatron
The challenges and enjoyment of writing interactive stories
WORDS: SAMUEL FRY
I recently wrote an article on the apps that are making storytelling more interactive. In the article I explained that I think it is great that writers are creating stories that challenge the way that readers engage with them.
At that time I didn’t expect to pick up a pen and write myself. But, in a thought that came between at least a second and third beer, I suddenly realised – why not?
I have always written; whether as a journalist, short story writer or a playwright. So, when I saw that Jerry Belich, creator of The Choosatron had put out a call for interactive stories I jumped at the opportunity.
For those that don’t know, the Choosatron is an interactive fiction arcade machine. Currently being developed in Minneapolis, the machine allows its reader to choose their own path through one of their stories.
It has already received a lot of media attention. Wired magazine described it as the cardboard box that “fuses arcade gaming with interactive fiction” and the project has already raised a fantastic $47,485 ($25,485 more than its target goal) through its Kickstarter campaign.
So I decided to get involved. Excited and anxious, I sat at home one Saturday night alongside my good friend Tobias Phillips and wondered, “What on earth am I going to write about?”
Choosing the right topic
Here lies the first challenge. For an interactive story to be engaging it needs to run at a quick pace and in a context where decisions are made fast.
My first idea was to write a detective story. Full of clues and mysteries, my reader was going to be Sherlock Holmes’ new assistant. The problem I found was that a typical detective story is long drawn out and structurally complex. This was my first foray into interactive storytelling. Taking on Sherlock’s brain was definitely beyond my abilities. I needed short and snappy simplicity.
So, I chose to write around another genre: the superhero story.
The action, humour and excitement of a superhero story seemed perfect for this kind of writing. Set in a dark alley, late at night my story was born.
So, Tobias and I began to write. Well, not quite. It turned out that we couldn’t write completely freely. What struck us from the start was how much planning was needed to write an interactive story.
Writing for the Choosatron is like playing a game of chess: you need to plan for a couple of moves ahead. So, the first few options take some time as you have to really focus on their outcomes.
But fear not; it gets easier. All it takes is clear planning. After a while you realise that you can block out the story based on key choices and then have a lot of fun with the content itself.
After a while, the story began to flow from one to another. The journeys became more varied with every choice. Then, before I realised it, the story had come to an exciting and dramatic end.
So that was it, right? Not with the Choosatron.
One of the unique features of the Choosatron is that all the choices the reader makes are rated. These points add up towards a ‘perfect’ score and any wrong choices takes points away.
So I decided to fill my story with ideal scenarios and dangerous paths. Which will you choose?
The Choosatron is one of many interactive storytelling devices. Yet, this one is different as not only does the reader get to experience the story, they also get a print out of their choices afterwards. In my mind, that makes it that little bit special.
If you loved reading those “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories as a child, you’ll love this new machine. Although, I ask one thing. If you did love them, why not try your hand at writing your own? As a platform like the Choosatron makes this easier than ever before. Whether my story is any good is up to you to decide but I’m pleased to have written it. So, why not do the same?
You can find out how to write for the Choosatron on their website. Have you written an interactive story for yourself? Do you have any tips for future storytellers? Join in the conversation by tweeting me @samueljfry #WritingForChoosatron