18 Reasons Interactive Fiction Fails

As I work on my interactive comic I’ve spent bunches of time thinking about interactive fiction. In this article I explore 18 reasons why interactive narrative often disappoints. Enjoy!

  1. Random luck determines the outcome of a choice.
    This is frustrating, boring to find the “proper” path, and bad fiction!
  2. Choices encourage moral decisions only…
    This approach makes all choices useless. A reader is no longer having an adventure, they’re completing a morality quiz. Yay.
  3. …or are designed to subvert moral decisions.
    World building doesn’t have to mean purposely punishing the reader for their beliefs. Interactive fiction using this method results in reader confusion.
  4. The story begins by asking the reader if they’d like to accept the adventure.
    Navigating 30 pages of banal choices before the story begins is annoying. I bought the book, I want to play in this world now.
  5. Many choices, no results.
    Every choice shouldn’t be Earth shattering, but if they all amount to nothing then why provide the option? The appearance of a diverse world that is all smoke and mirrors is a betrayal to the reader. Choices should change the world, narrative, or reader in some way.
  6. Lacking interesting narrative.
    Most interactive fiction reads like an instruction manual, which is fitting because that is where it got its start. Having a story that is personal and gripping are rare.
  7. Unique experiences are taken from the reader’s control.
    Tension is building, the reader is excited, and then the climatic action begins…without them. Readers earn the right to make the fun choices.
  8. Confusing choices with emotion or intent.
    Often readers are presented with preset choices, but how they react and rationalize these actions is wildly different. Prescribing emotion or intent to a choice robs the reader of autonomy.
  9. Identical choices.
    The potential of interactive fiction is enormous. If a reader is provided identical choices they begin to fault the genre, when they should be faulting the unimaginative writer.
  10. Identical dead ends.
    The endings of a interactive story are a chance to reflect on the specialness of a reader’s journey. Crafting duplicate endings reminds the reader that their choices amounted to very little.
  11. Identical experiences.
    When a reader makes a choice it should be a contrast to the others available to them. Very often interactive fiction allows for surface level choices all leading to the same experiences. Good fiction changes the reader’s experience often, providing the delight of exploring fresh elements of a fictional world.
  12. Zero characterization.
    Characters in interactive fiction are often cardboard cutouts. They exist to provide plot or to build the world, then they disappear. Interactive fiction readers deserve better.
  13. No motivation.
    Readers can be told the main character wishes something, but they rarely get to see why. Feeling it and hearing it are the difference between good and great experiences.
  14. Criss-crossing choices.
    When you make a series of choices they often link nonsensically into another narrative path. This can be felt by a reader and nullifies the value of their individual decisions.
  15. You.
    The heavy use of second person makes the protagonist a ghost. They only exist as a MacGuffin, often having no backstory, characterization, or personality. Readers are shackled to this boring automaton throughout their travels.
  16. Too many choices, not enough fiction.
    When choices exist on every page the reader becomes the editor. Choices are made not out of interest, but boredom. Offering readers the right balance of story and interaction can be maddening, yet is the most essential piece of a well told interactive piece.
  17. Deus Ex Machina.
    Choices need to have value. Removing agency from a reader’s actions is cruel and devalues their personal experience. Having this occur at the end makes the entire piece of fiction a waste of time.
  18. Effective choices take reader effort.
    When done well, interactive fiction should give the reader a mental workout, asking them to define their personal viewpoint of larger issues. What is the nature of life? What is truly alive? When is immorality okay? Are all crimes the same? Are all victories equal?All too often the choices provided are literal. Left or right. Good or bad. Punch or kick. By forcing readers to choose between equally weighted circumstances, all without a simple answer, writers unlock the power of this medium. Okay fiction tells us a story about another world. Powerful fiction helps us better see our own world.

This is the second article in a series about interactive comics.
Part 1: 9 reasons why interactive comics aren’t a thing…yet
Part 2: 18 Reasons Interactive Fiction Fails

  • Rockman

    This post seemed very useful initially, as I’m looking to make an interactive narrative. Unfortunately, without any examples for context,
    it’s hard to understand many of these as much more than vague complaints.