Occasionally, the IF community discusses/debates what to name things. One thing that has been particularly hard to name (or even describe) is the distinction between so-called “stateless” CYOA gamebooks and other products (usually software) with “stateful” branching narrative, where earlier decisions can affect the results of later decisions.
I used “scare quotes” there because even “stateless” CYOA gamebooks do have one kind of state: the current page you’re on is the current “state” of the game. In traditional paper gamebooks, that’s the only variable in the entire story.
But a great deal more can be done with “stateful” branching narrative, including, for example, Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, (which are basically computer RPGs, even if the player runs the computer program with paper and pencil), but also including a lot of interesting Twine stuff, everything Choice of Games has ever published, and a lot more than that.
I propose that we should not call the distinction between these two types of works “stateful vs. stateless.” Instead, we should be asking how many variables the work has. If it has just one variable, your page number, then there’s just a single dimension of freedom available in the story. But better branching narratives have more than one variable, ideally a lot more than one.
(Of course, the more variables you have, the more complex your story is to write/test/debug, and the harder it is to write a longer story. More is not necessarily better. But one variable is usually not enough to tell a good interactive story.)
We could therefore call the distinction “single-variable vs. multi-variable.” But “multi-variable” sounds so mathematical, and there’s another slightly more mainstream word to use: “multidimensional.” “Multidimensional” sounds only slightly less technical than “multi-variable,” but non-technical people also use the word “multidimensional” to describe something full, rich, with varied characteristics, and that’s exactly the point I think I want to get across with the term.
As to what to call branching narratives, that’s another tough topic. (Choice-based IF? Interactive stories/novels? Gamebooks? Not CYOA, that’s for sure.)
What do you think? Is “multidimensional” a better/clearer term to use than “stateful?”