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Interactive Fiction: Literature’s Latest Frontier

Throughout the years, the world of reading continues to evolve. From pamphlets to tablets, readers of all ages are discovering new and invigorating ways to read. Interactive fiction is becoming a successful sub-industry of the humanities as a result of the fusion of technology and literature. Companies such as Your Story Interactive, Pixelberry, and Episode Interactive are creating some of the internet’s favorite interactive tales.

The appeal of interactive fiction books comes from their game-like nature. Stories like The Crown And The Flame and Chasing You immerses readers into a vivid world of literature. While incomparable to the vivid imagery written on the pages, these stories offer the same themes and captivating plots as their hardcover counterparts. These interactive fiction stories are accompanied by dialogue, imagery, visuals and sounds. 

The enhancements don't distract from the experience; instead, they enhance it. Hearing the rustles of the leaves, and the voices of the secondary characters, bring the books to life in a unique manner. These stories have sounds and sights to compensate for figurative language and imagery. However, they do not take away from the themes and plots provided by the author.

Interactive fiction is also accessible. In an analysis of interaction fiction, writers in New Zealand explore the appeal of interactive fiction. Highlighting the interactive fiction book Guardian Māia, writer Shanti Mathias demonstrates how writers create an interesting, diverse, and empowering experience. In stories like Guardian Māia, the reader makes choices for the character. They can choose where she goes, who she speaks to, and who she saves. Giving the reader more than one perspective to consider. 

Moreover, interactive fiction books act as a bridge between the humanities and STEM fields. Leigh Fisher, a writer on Medium, examined a peer-reviewed article titled “Authoring and Playing Interactive Fiction With Conventional Web Technologies.” In her examination, Fisher found five imperative conclusions from the journal. The readers can step into the protagonist’s point of view. Readers take use of the opportunities provided by the digital media by acting as the mind, making them active participants in the lives of the protagonist and their peers. The choices prompt readers to consider their treatment of other characters in the interactive world. Furthermore, the choices also urge readers to consider their treatment of people in their real lives. Many of us have complex relationships with friends, family members, and co-workers. Reading wholesome content and engaging with the text through critical thinking provides readers with useful tips for conflict resolution. 

Interactive fiction stories also introduce readers and budding writers to coding. Using engines like Ren’Py and HTML, independent creators can include videos, GIFS, and personal art in their own stories. The integration of STEM and the humanities also equips audiences with crucial skills from both fields of study. Decision-making is yet another key component of interactive fiction, having readers choose life-altering choices and deal with the consequences. 

Aside from the technical benefits, interactive fiction stories are more accessible—and inclusive—in comparison to best-selling paperbacks and hardcovers. Pixelberry and Your Story Interactive, allow readers to choose from an array of skin tones, protective hairstyles, and gender identities. Independent creators allow audiences to select their protagonist’s body types as well as  physical features. When writing, these authors also consider readers who are neurodivergent and readers who have impairments.

For example, the Open Heart series on Choice, features main and recurring characters with disabilities such as Elijah and patients with an array of mental and physical health issues. The trilogy also includes imperative dialogue about ableism, corruption, and wealth disparities in a medical setting. Platforms like Choices offer a beautiful synthesis of socially conscious reading and enjoyable entertainment, even though entertainment is a phenomenon to be kept an eye on.

However, with positive points comes pitfalls. Pixelberry and Your Story Interactive have both received fair criticism about the lack of diversity available for protagonists. Options for players with different body types or characters designed from the viewpoint of those dealing with impairments or mental health problems are still not readily accessible. Despite the importance of having supporting characters with said disabilities, it goes a long way to include readers with disabilities and varying body types by making protagonists mirror their audience in all aspects. 

Somdyuti Datta Day, a contributor for Wired notes, said that although Choices has been a reliable escape for her, it too has a diversity issue. Interviewing one avid user, Day touches on the importance of representation. Camille, the user, asserts “that being able to identify ethnically and sexually to the MCs is important” to the overall enjoyment of the experience. Furthermore, she stresses that as a cis, heterosexual white woman, she “benefits” from having characters and love interests with her in mind.

Lack of diversity and adequate representation is a startling issue in all media forms. However, with diversity in mind, interactive fiction may be among the first entertainment genres to provide adequate, popular representation. Until then, readers can look to independent creators on websites like Steam and Itch.io to fulfill their hopes of captivating diverse stories. While independent interactive fiction works have a larger range in prices, content creators invite their audiences behind the scenes. Coding, programming, audio control, and script writing are some of the many components readers receive updates on. Supported through Patreon and SubscribeStar, readers interact with the authors and a development team—with some even contributing to the main and side plots. 

Interactive fiction as a whole revivifies reading for a largely unavailable audience, despite their growing regions. Readers engage in play and are exposed to new, approachable elements of the technology world, including coding. Furthermore, interactive fiction rewards empathy and critical thinking while emphasizing conflict resolution and upholding positive connections both inside and beyond the plot. Interactive fiction continues the tradition of the humanities. One that prioritizes a greater understanding of interpersonal relationships and improving the human condition for the better. A seemingly accessible form of entertainment aids readers in working towards a resolution. Interactive fiction stories capture the very real experiences and aspirations of the human experience. Difficult relationships, workplace rivalries, and generational trauma are all topics explored in interactive fiction with the same care and riveting language as most physical novels.


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