Before I found Choice of the Dragon by Dan Fabulich and Adam Strong-Morse, my experience with dragons was entirely objective. I had read about dragons in popular fantasy works, including (but not limited to) The Hobbit and Eragon. I had never been one, and that was perhaps the most profound element of this work of electronic fiction. The most recent Hobbit movies inspired in me a certain respect for the mythical figure of the dragon, no doubt thanks to the voice and motion capture talents of Benedict Cumberbatch. Choice of the Dragon gave me a perspective that transcended any objective reading of dragons; I was able to be a dragon and decide exactly who and what that dragon was. The level of customization is about on par with any other work of interactive fiction that I have encountered, but the major difference is glaring and prevalent: it is about dragons.
Now that we’ve cleared up what the subject matter is about, let’s get into it. Choice of the Dragon is about dragons and their impact on the environments that surround them. This includes (but is not limited to) humans, human royalty, goblins, wizards, sorcerers, and livestock. One thing that stands out to be about this work of interactive fiction concerning dragons is its jokingly-questioning assertion that dragons only ever kidnap princesses. This is a response to the typical portrayal of dragons as dominating male characters within a narrative, a trope that is not often defied (unless an ogre named Shrek is involved). I’m sure proponents of feminism have made points about the ratio of dragon/princess kidnappings throughout the history of human narratives and the corresponding effects on the roles of women in human society, so I won’t engage that particular argument. All I will say is that the challenging of the “male dragon kidnaps the princess” trope is an interesting narrative turn and that it provides a refreshing avenue for story and narrative as far as dragons are concerned.
The challenging of the trope really gives the proverbial dragon a bit of “wiggle room”, really. No longer constrained by the traditional mannerisms of a dragon, the player’s dragon in Choice of the Dragon can be whatever the player decides that it should be. In my case, the dragon was a cunning and intelligent beast that never directly challenged other factions and dragons, instead insisting on facing those enemies on its own terms. This made for an exciting story, as my dragon picked its fights carefully and forged its alliances with equal care. Compared with the pop culture dragons that I was familiar with before encountering this work, my dragon was much less brutal and much more cunning. In that essence, I found my dragon to be superior to the dragons of pop culture that I had read about and seen. In this sense, Choice of the Dragon allowed me to experience a dragon that transcended any that had come before in my personal experience. The traditional mannerisms of a dragon were further challenged with the questioning of a dragon’s motives concerning the kidnapping of princesses. The dragon’s gender came into play here, and even more so their moral standards and their greed. The story allowed the player’s dragon to be any combination of honorable, trustworthy, ruthless, cunning, and more. All these factors played into the dragon’s treatment of princesses, royalty in general, and the dragon’s overarching opinions about human lives.
Cunning and Honor are treated as two entirely separate entities in this work of interactive fiction, as a dragon is rarely possessing of both. True to the illusion of choice, each factor weighs heavily on the outcome of the player’s dragon. Dragons focused on cunning will be trickier but less physically dominant, whereas more physically dominant dragons will be less cunning and tricky. It all boils down to the style of the player behind the dragon. The strategy-minded player will see merit in a crafty, cunning dragon that manipulates and ambushes opponents on their way to the end of the game. The force-minded player will see merit in a brutal, oppressive dragon that threatens and destroys opponents on their way to the end of the game. Overall, this work of interactive fiction allows for players of various perspectives to complete dragons of various perspectives and experience the game and world through different lenses every play-through.
Considering the recent pop culture fascination with dragons, Choice of the Dragon is wisely positioned in the annals of interactive fiction. It allows just enough non-linearity to assure player satisfaction in their own individuality, while simultaneously affirming that the player’s actions are in tune with what a dragon would actually do. It is a refreshing experience in a realm of fiction (interactive and otherwise) that paints a picture of the dragon as a certain monolithic figure that cannot stray from certain conventions and habits.