In my first blog post, I wrote about getting hooked on web comics, but I have an older love that vies for my Internet time. I speak of interactive fiction, a type of storytelling in which I’ve indulged from childhood. I am a game writer and I also like to write about games. (Back in 2008, I wrote a long post about games and interactive storytelling for Journey to the Sea; this long interest continues to crop up in my blogging and my hobbies.)
The Internet is the perfect environment in which interactive fiction can thrive, whether it’s through forum games, freestyle shared twitter and blog communities, or games that are a little more structured. Since the user-driven games are hard to judge from outside the community, I’m interested in discussing the latter style. And the perfect place to start for that is with Choice of the Dragon, the first game put out by small game company Choice of Games. (Disclosure: I write for Choice of Games, but I played Choice of the Dragon long before I started working with them.)
Released in 2009, Choice of the Dragon was the first multiple-choice novel game I’d ever played. Reminiscent of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, the story narrates in second person, allowing you, the reader, to become the main character. In this case, you’re a dragon.
As the story opens, a knight charges you. Do you deal with the predicament by engaging in combat, fleeing the scene, or quickly incinerating the knight with your fiery breath? The story progresses through a number of challenges, including a flashback to your hatchling days, a quest to find a proper mate, and a decision of how to deal with local humans.
The narration is delightfully silly. The multiple choice options give you the player the option to make your dragon combative to the game’s narrator, who cowers in a first person voice given the appropriate cues. Brief discussions about the sexism of always capturing princesses, the convenience of cultivating minions, and the hassle of traveling adventurers up the comedy value.
But while there’s plenty of amusement, there’s also a challenge. Your decisions as a dragon affect stats that determine whether you will succeed or fail at certain tasks. Is your dragon the type to charge into battle head first, or do you display more caution? Are you wary of even small threats, or are such things beneath your notice? While some of these skills are determined by your own choices at the game’s start, choices throughout the game impact how high you can raise them. And therein lies the replay value of the game.
Playthrough of Choice of the Dragon the first time takes between twenty minutes and an hour, depending on how focused you are on the game (or whether you’re playing when you should be e-mailing your boss meeting minutes). But after that, you can make the game a challenge of how high you can raise certain stats. I once played through with the goal of having as high a Disdain score as I possibly could. This was hazardous to my poor dragon’s health — I didn’t take those blasted traveling adventurers seriously as a threat — but I survived and got the score up pretty high by the end.
Even though I’ve played through Choice of the Dragon a number of times, I return to it every now and again, like rereading a favorite novella. Happily, Choice of the Dragon is free to play in your browser or on your mobile device, which makes it a great entry into this style of interactive fiction.
What interactive fiction have you found online? If you’d like to see a game covered, let me know in the comments. And if you managed to get a Disdain score higher than 85 in Choice of the Dragon, I’d be jealous if it weren’t beneath me.
Alana Joli Abbott is a reviewer and game writer, whose first multiple choice novel, Choice of Kung Fu, was published by Choice of Games. She is the author of three novels (one recently funded by Kickstarter). You can find her online at VirgilandBeatrice.com.