All Fun and Games: How Interactive Electronic Literature has Influenced the Video Gaming World, by Jake Black

Games such as The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead have been used as discussions and examples as the genre of Interactive Fiction and Literary Games bridging into the mass market of video games. Both games (published by Telltale Games) are interactive games, both stories revolving completely around the decisions made by the player, with several different outcomes and endings for every plotline and the ultimate climax. They do have certain fixed events that help lead the player towards the more desirable conclusions, but ultimately, both The Wolf Among us and The Walking Dead are completely driven by their players.

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However, they are not the only games of this kind to note, as several games (several products of the developer Bioware for example) have been developing and building on the idea of interactive, decision based gaming, programing multiple plotlines and paths resulting from the player’s decision. The Dragon Age and Mass Effect game series have been offering decision based, interactive fiction for years, even allowing character creation and personalization (and even has it’s story affected by the character’s gender and romances). It’s a highly personal and intimate approach to video gaming, and one that is continuing to grow in the mass market, constantly receiving upgrades and alterations that continue to make them popular.

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The likes of Colossal Cave Adventure (1976) was the result of continuing to expand Electronic Literature as a whole, continue pushing it into new direction, with followers such as Zork (1980) and Galatea (2000) only a very few examples of the text adventure games and interactive fiction gaming. This genre of Electronic Literature always has a desired direction in which to send the player (and an eventual desired outcome and resolution), but allows the player to stumble and struggle their way, giving them freedom of some decision and choice, at least until they discover what the game wants them to do.

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That is the biggest difference between Electronic Literature gaming and mass market decision games; the amount of freedom. Most works of Electronic Literature have a goal and story the author and artists is trying to tell, and giving the player some freedom of choice and will (to keep with the common intimacy of Interactive Fiction) while telling the story intended is a balance the authors and programmers of these games had to find in order to make their pieces successful.

As discussed in this post regarding the history of Interactive Gaming, this type of attitude soon leapt from the pages of adventure novels to visual novels and video games, where there was less focus on leading the player to the heart of the story, and more letting the player create their version of the story. It’s less art, perhaps, but it carries the intimacy and personalization that I think makes Interactive Electronic Literature one of the most (whether it makes the reader/player comfortable or uncomfortable) so interesting and important. This freedom of decision is an intimate experience, allowing the player/reader to feel genuinely part of the story and world. It’s something I’m grateful for breaking into the mass market media world,

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