Jason Shiga’s choose-your-own-path comic Meanwhile has been around in book form for a while now. There’s even a copy in my household, but I haven’t ever gotten to the point of reading it properly (and there is a “properly”, as one soon discovers). Now, thanks to Andrew Plotkin, it’s available as an iPad/iPhone application, and in that new format I finally finished it last night.
Meanwhile is a puzzle story: there are many endings, but you’ll know when you’ve reached the point where you finally understand. Structurally it has more in common with Möbius, Rematch, or other replay-puzzle IF than it has with, say, the Choice Of series. Going through the choices with the right knowledge puts a new spin on the things you see, and equips you for a couple of combination lock puzzles that otherwise would be laborious to guess your way through. And — like many games of this ilk — it uses time travel and parallel universe tropes to explain its loops of repetition and discovery, so that you can if you wish rationalize all your playthroughs as belonging to one(ish) reality.
Meanwhile is self-graphing CYOA — you don’t just jump pages, you actually see the lines of narrative — and it plays with that fact frequently and intentionally. Embedded in the story are many witty moments: places where you find yourself stuck in an infinite loop, points where two paths reconverge for comic effect, panels that mirror or summarize other panels in surprising ways. Sometimes the lines connecting panels spiral or tangle or knot, indicating narrative complication or a breakdown of causality.
As a book, it’s a pretty cool artifact — lines running out from the comic panels to the edge of the page, leading to tabs leading to new pages.
As an iPad app, it’s more solvable. All the elements of the story are assembled on a single infinite canvas, making it easier to see how panels relate to one another. A trace records where you’ve been on the current playthrough, so you can easily jump backwards to the last choice or to an earlier segment of the story if you want to try taking a different route. There’s even voiceover functionality for the visually-impaired, though I didn’t experiment with this myself.
If you’re inclined to read Meanwhile, I highly recommend the app version. The crazy, mindboggling outcome is worth getting to — and worth getting to honestly — and it’s easier to do that with those helps.