Future Voices is an iOS-based anthology of eleven CYOA stories from inkle, culled from an open competition. As one might expect from inkle’s work, it’s an aesthetically pleasing object: it uses Frankenstein’s imagery of pieces of paper being attached to the end of an ongoing, developing story. Proofreading is not flawless — I ran into a handful of typos here and there — but this is a fairly rare problem, and overall the app is an elegant-looking piece of work, tactile and classy.
I’m also delighted to see someone running with the concept of anthologized interactive narrative: curating and promoting the best material from the wide variety of freeware is still a really useful role for publishers or publisher-equivalents. And I gather that the competition leading to this anthology drew work from a wide range of authors, some of whom had no previous experience with interactive writing.
The content itself is varied, both in genre and in authorial confidence.
In some cases, the interaction options are of the type I think of as classic naive-CYOA choice: Go left or go right? when the reader does not as yet have any context for that decision, and no narrative stakes have been attached. (Yes, IF often starts off by asking the player to choose a direction to explore, but the fact that there’s a model world to chart out makes this a very different experience — and even there, you risk losing your player if you don’t provide some motivating goal right away. In CYOA, this kind of blind choice often means selecting one branch of the narrative tree without having any idea why, or any purpose behind the decision.)
Sometimes, too, there are null-outcome choices, where the player is allowed to pick one of two options, but one of the options leads essentially to a “you can’t do that” response and then promptly re-converges with the second branch. This kind of thing is occasionally useful, for instance to demonstrate constraints acting on the protagonist; but if there’s not a narrative purpose to the protagonist’s unsuccessful attempt, the inclusion of such choices can just feel clumsy.
Elsewhere, authors are working a bit more confidently within traditions of interactive narrative, or discovering them anew.
JMR Higgs’ “Try the Swan” explores a moral point — is it valid to kill people who are arguably detrimental to society? Under what circumstances? At what costs? — and, in a way reminiscent of some morality-focused IF, does this by presenting a problem, letting the player react to it, changing up the situation, letting the player react again until the moral territory has been charted out in moderate detail. What would you do in this scenario? What about this slightly different one? The scenario itself felt rather contrived, and this contrivance, together with the narrator’s vehement desire to convince me of his political viewpoint, distanced me emotionally from the problem a bit. It was a piece where I felt the author had a clear purpose for the interaction in the work, though.
“Facing Life, Facing Death” (Jeff Xilon) is more about the fact that the protagonist is being given a horrible choice to make, in a short-short setup reminiscent of classic SF scenarios. Again, there’s a certain set-piece feel to the question that prevents too deep an investment. Unfairly, I found myself comparing it to James Patrick Kelly’s Think Like A Dinosaur, where similar choices are given weight by the personalities of the characters involved. All the same, the piece does pose a question — if we fear death, what is it that we fear most about death? — that goes well beyond typical CYOA territory.
“Dance of the Mara” (David Essex) is doing something considerably more character-oriented: a story of two children who bond over an odd bit of make-believe. I felt it could have used an edit to tighten it up as a story: some of the dialogue meanders and viewpoint is inconsistent. But it is definitely story, not game or puzzle or morality set-piece, and it stands well outside the most of the genre traditions of CYOA.
Future Voices is a free download for iOS.