In Support of CYOA as a Concept and a Competition

There is something pure about CYOA that makes it a good proving ground for ideas about interactivity. I have my own CYOA system as well, but it isn’t JavaScript it uses server-side scripting (served by LambdaMOO but the MUD/IF-like features of LambdaMOO have nothing to do with it — I just use LambdaMOO as a dynamic webserver replacement for PHP sometimes, my art blog is written in it, etc).

Anyway I’ve never released anything with this server-side-scripted CYOA system — it was part of an interactive video experiment I tackled in 2003 which failed for related reasons of production timeline and casting (losing actors because it was taking me too long to deal with all the disparate storyline threads: I messed up on the sequencing of when I recruited people in the process and started shooting, and I made technological mistakes as well, which slowed me up at crucial times — now corrected).

So the server-side scripting setup allowed me apply my CYOA tool to any form of media, and I chose video at first, but that’s not what I’m doing anymore. After the abject failure of my video project collapsing under its own weight I opted for a more lightweight production environment. Now I’m working on a hybrid of a standard IF-input window and surrounding photography which is more manageable to experiment with as there is much lower time commitment from my photographic models and I am way less likely to have people quit with the various branches of their tale incomplete.

However, the CYOA-like tool I originally wrote for video has come in immensely useful, since the choice encoding I used for it I am now using to communicate player choice info back and forth between the LambdaMOO and JavaScript sides of my hybrid project. It’s become a way of encapsulating and communicating the interactive structure among different (what ppl are now calling) “transmedia” modules.

So I think the right kinds of CYOA tools have a big future as a lingua franca of transmitting information about choice, quite independently of the actual interface used in the end to navigate those choices.

I’ll stop before I give away too much of the farm here. (These tools will be released freely anyway when I am actually happy with what I’m creating with them, and have written documentation etc.) Point is, CYOA comps are great, multiple systems investigating different approaches is even better because there’s all sorts of magic out there in this territory: and I don’t think CYOA is a throwback either. It’s a purer form. IF itself is more of a hybrid form compared to CYOA. Not that pure == good and hybrid == bad; because hybrid also = sophisticated; but the purer, more focused expressions of a particular art or idea are mathematically and experimentally significant. It’s incorrect to consider them rudimentary or primitive or outdated. I think CYOA is to IF somewhat as poetry is to prose. In fact, it’s trivially easy (tech-wise) to write an elegant, CYOA poem but the same attempt made with a parser seems over-designed and -interfaced.

To attempt another relation: IF is to the purity of game narrative as CYOA is to the purity of narrative choice. They are both purer expressions of something found all over the world in hybrid forms. This makes them both very valuable for slightly different but parallel reasons.