I’ve noticed that some people don’t like the idea of CYOA’s but like IF. What I don’t understand is the difference in the two. CYOA’s have different locations, different items to find and use, and hopefully a story. The only difference I can see is that CYOA’s have set instructions to follow while IF doesn’t, so your free to make your own choices based on clues in the text.
There are lots of possible reasons to dislike CYOA. But I think most people who know about them just have poor associations.
Most people I’ve met associate CYOA game books with fantasy books written for children. They’re about the same level as old text adventure games so far as game design is concerned: often you would die arbitrarily for taking the wrong time, the writing wasn’t amazing and the scenes and set pieces were often frankly ridiculous.
This all said, I greatly enjoyed CYOA books when I was a child, and recently I had fun playing through a ridiculous underwater adventure with some friends, taking turns acting out all the parts of the monsters. In the latest IFComp, both the Play and Binary presented themselves as successful examples of CYOA-style games, both placing higher than any other CYOA game in the comp’s history.
CYOA is more awesome, in a lot of ways. But … parser-based IF has the special-case awesomeness and implied freedom of the parser. That it’s illusory to a great extent is undeniable, but it’s a sexy illusion as illusions go, and the extent to which it’s illusory varies game-to-game, keeping the tease alive
The way I like to think of them is: CYOA is like skiing downhill … pure rush, pure progress, pure substance, pure course. Parser-Based IF is like walking the same slopes, downhill if you like, uphill if you like, or just spending all day poking at the same leaf. Or, if you feel like it: wandering off-course until that little stick-figure yeti thing eats you.
[or it’s like being airdropped onto the same slope, but wearing snowshoes instead of skis, and armed with a magnifying glass, some litmus strips, and a tuning fork … possibly one of several tuning forks … there could be a disambiguation question later …]
There are adventures that rock in parser form that would be lame in CYOA form, and the reverse is also true. CYOA is better for exploring impactful narrative choices, I think, and for exploring vastly divergent choices that would break or explode an IF’s model universe. IF is good for poking at potsherds and getting flashbacks. Currently, CYOA has much better porn.
CYOA does not necessarily model either locations or items. The series that gave CYOA its name, Choose Your Own Adventure, does not involve a world-model, an inventory or even (usually) much player knowledge: you just turn to the right page-number. There are plenty of works of CYOA, both electronic and paper-copy, that involve a lot of state-tracking, but it’s not a necessary feature of the form.
There’s a small minority of CYOA games that model the world in a manner somewhat similar to IF, with maps and inventory and so on, but even the most complicated computer-driven CYOA doesn’t tend to have a world-model built out of objects. (As a dangerous overgeneralisation, IF tends to be organised by physical location, while CYOA tends to be organised by time.) And, yes, there’s the parser, which is important in many ways.
Although you can technically produce CYOA-like works in IF and adapt IF-like works to a CYOA format, the forms tend towards different styles of play and of narration. IF tends to have finer-grained stories and worlds, while CYOA would rather keep the plot moving and deliver longer-arc stories. It’s easier for IF to be deeply interactive, have puzzles, etc., but easier for CYOA authors to deliver flowing narrative. This forms different kinds of expectation: if an IF game switches into CYOA-like play for a while, it’s a bit like reading a comic and then discovering that the second half of the story is all prose fiction. You might like prose fiction, but that wasn’t what you signed on for, and you’ll probably feel that the artist just got lazy.
There are also some historical differences: CYOA was traditionally written mostly for a broad audience of children and teenagers, and never really aspired to be Great Writing, while IF has generally been written for a somewhat older, savvier audience (people nerdy enough to own computers) and had literary aims even at the time when it was a commercial success. This has changed somewhat in recent years, but there’s still a widespread perception that CYOA is low-grade kid’s stuff by default.
Nick Montfort defined IF by two key elements: A world model and a parser. CYOA can have a world model, although it often doesn’t. CYOA never has a parser.
My favorite thing about Emily’s article is that it mentions a game called Kingdom Without End by Shannon Cochran. Not only does it sound very cool - it has a complex world model and many more choices per turn than most CYOA, but no parser - but I went to college with Shannon and we took a short fiction writing class together!
My personal reason for not playing CYOA is that I don’t really like branching stories. I avoid IF with multiple endings too - I like to see the “whole world” when I play a game, and get to the “right ending” when I’m done. Reading a whole CYOA by backtracking meticulously seems tedious.