Why Interactive Fiction?
Playing it, designing it, making it—I enjoy it all.
What is Interactive Fiction?
“Interactive fiction” are stories that the reader somehow interacts with. This can involve making choices that affect the outcome, winning a game battle, solving puzzles, and more.
Interactive fiction that focuses on player choices affecting the story are called “gamebooks”. When they’re more advanced and include imagery and music, they can qualify as visual novels, though visual novels and gamebooks are not synonymous nor interchangeable methods of experiencing story. Some of them are even RPGs, though such hybridization isn’t a necessary part of them.
Gamebooks are necessarily “interactive fiction”—the reader makes choices that affect the end results. The focus is on the user choices and story. These can have images and other multimedia, but they don’t necessarily. It’s essentially an RPG that focus to the story the combat and stat elements.
Visual novels incorporate multimedia in some fashion, with it being set up as an integral to the story experience. They ultimately are a hybrid format, though the popular ones tend to fall into specific types.
MoaCube and Winter Wolves are two companies that illustrate how just emphasizing different aspects of the format can affect or change player experience. They don’t cover the full breadth of what’s possible with this format, but they do illustrate the common RPG and dating simulation elements.
These two formats are also more popular in places like Asia (and, I’ve heard, Russia) than they are in the USA. This may be why manga-style artwork is so common in them.
An advanced gamebook can look like a simple interactive visual novel, but visual novels aren’t necessarily interactive (gamebooks are), and gamebooks don’t necessarily include multimedia (and visual novels do).
How Does Someone Play Gamebooks and Visual Novels?
Depends on what type you get. Visual novels can be made for computers, tablets, phones, and game systems, making them dependent on your device (computer? phone? game system?) and its operating system (Mac? Windows? Android? iOS?). Gamebooks can be computer-based, web-based, or even built into an e-book*.
*Right now, the e-book forms are mainly simple gamebooks (text with choices). Multimedia texts that incorporate things like on-hover illustrations and music do exist, but to my knowledge, that mainly works with textbooks. The most recent EPUB format (EPUB3) could be used to produce some of the more advanced gamebooks and possibly visual novels, but the vast majority of e-book vendors and e-readers do not yet support the features that are required to make those things.
So for visual novels, you just open the game program and play.
Gamebooks can be the same way, but most often, they use your Internet browser. Building them as mini-websites more easily cross-platform compatible.
Where Does Someone Get These Gamebooks and Visual Novels?
From the game companies, of course!
Oh, you mean what stores offer them? The more advanced visual novels are actually marketed as games and can be found where video games are sold, including on Steam. Some can be found in actual disk form like more conventional games, such as Clannad—an old but still-popular visual novel that is sadly not Mac-compatible.
Gamebooks can be found on app stores—browser app stores, phone app stores—and the simple book form can be found on e-book stores.
Visual novels can be found on Steam and other game sites, including from companies or by looking up software used to make the visiual novels, which tends to have directories listing examples of what’s been made with it.