The Secret Language of Desire (Megan Heyward)


The Secret Language of Desire is an iPad app, enhanced with images and music and sound effects, which tells the story of a woman’s erotic awakening through a series of 27 short vignettes. It is available via iTunes, and will also be shown at the upcoming ELO conference in Bergen.

It’s fully linear: there are no branches in the story, no hypertext links to dig into. Unlike in PRY, there’s very little hidden information to tease out of the interactions, either. In one case, there’s something to uncover that explains the meaning of an intentionally vague and referential bit of text, though I was pretty sure what I was going to find there. This is the exception rather than the rule.

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Nightmare Cove, Coliloquy

Nightmare Cove is an interactive text horror game for Kindle Fire. I don’t have the right equipment to run it myself, but it looks to be illustrated, and its creator describes it as being choice-based with a “light inventory system” (which suggests something perhaps like the CYOA created with Adventure Book). There are also a couple of pre-defined characters to play with, which suggests a little less personal configuration than in the most open of the ChoiceScript games, but that the product does rely on some RPG features.

And speaking of new commercial choice-based work, the company Coliloquy is publishing a variety of interactive stories — 18 are already available on Amazon — including supernatural thrillers, mysteries, and interactive erotica where you can pick the characteristics of the hero.

There’s a long article about their work in The Atlantic. The description there focuses most on the reader-satisfaction qualities of this kind of book: Coliloquy uses analysis tools to track which choices are being selected and help authors write more of the content that readers want. I feel bit dubious when I read things like this, because I think it can lead authors down the wrong path: “everyone picked A therefore choices B and C were a waste to write” fundamentally misunderstands the way choice-based literature works. I also think reader gratification is sort of the least common denominator goal of interactive narrative, and that there are lots of choices to offer that are more interesting than letting the reader color in the eye color of the protagonist.

Still, having good stats on what readers are picking is a very interesting feature (see also Varytale) — and it’s extremely interesting to watch the expanding ecosystem of free and commercial textual games of all sorts.

Charlotte: Prowling For Enchantment

“I’m a vampire. It’s very boring.”

Thus Ryder, one of the love interests in the CYOA Charlotte, Prowling for Enchantment (Take Control) (also available for iOs). Personally I think it a little risky lamp-shading the tedium of your own characters, but Charlotte doesn’t have much fear on that front. Or how about this:

The bubbling sexuality eating at her flashed into steam.

This is one of those metaphors that’s not so much mixed as fatally mangled at the blender factory. How can a liquid both bubble and eat? Are we talking about a flash-boiled acid here? Or, speaking of hot things you don’t want to be dipped into:

Lava tickled the tender skin between her thighs.

Such a tease, lava. Or

She needed a drink. Of skin.

You just don’t really want to think about that too hard.

The prose is not good — not keenly observed, not stylish or lyrical, not surprising — but it has a glossy professional assurance. And, indeed, the author, who works under the name Mima, has apparently published a whole series of non-interactive paranormal erotic romances.

The premise is that the protagonist has gone on a cruise, not realizing that (a) the cruise is a singles cruise for fantastical beings and (b) she has paranormal powers herself. At once she is being fought over by a vampire and a werewolf (where have I heard this before?). The first choice, therefore, is about which of the two she’s going to spend the night with. From there, many of the additional choices are about whether she is going to use her power, as it turns out she can command people to do her bidding. You would think she would have noticed this before the age of 29, but apparently the power is activated by proximity to bodies of water, and she was raised to avoid them all her life.

Some of the paths have a fair amount of plot; others are almost entirely porn, the kind of porn consisting largely of boggling euphemisms. (“The pleasure roared past like the blue line metro had missed its stop.”)

As CYOA, it’s structurally unusual. The passages between choices are long — the app calls these chapters, and it’s not wrong to do so — and there can be only three or four choices in a complete play-through. This makes the choices seem more surprising when they appear, because there’s so much that Charlotte decides to do of her own accord that getting agency back is a little startling. It is also a bit of a drag on replay (at least, I thought so), because there’s necessarily such a lot of previously-seen text to reread before one gets to any new branches.

It does offer a fairly polished interface, though, and the credit text on the iOs version is interesting: it invites published authors or professional writers to contact Branching Path Books to get their adventures out there.

The tactic of approaching static-fiction authors with an established fan base and getting them to write various types of interactive fiction has been discussed before, but I don’t know of a lot of cases (post-80s, anyway) where it’s happened. Mima isn’t exactly Stephen King, but there are those 19 published erotic romances; and the result is a CYOA that feels fairly different from the average example of the genre, both because of its subject matter (mostly the “silken bar” the vampire has in his pants) and its structure (choice points are rare and feel arbitrarily placed, with the emphasis of the experience still mostly being on the author’s story vision).