The problem with branching stories
The most common solution
Or another solution…
From You chose wrong
Your first assignment is a branching story.
The most popular artifacts of this kind are the Gamebooks or Choose Your Own Adventure. Very popular teenage literature in the 80s and 90s.
CYOA diagram – Michael Niggel
Or you can check this impressive formal analysis of Choose your own adventure books:
Visualizations, playable books and essay here.
We have to go back in time to find more “noble” precursors of non-linear and interactive storytelling.
Apollinaire – il pleut 1916
F.T. Marinetti and the Futurists “Words in freedom” (1909 – 1916)
And the DADA movement
To make a Dadaist poem
Take a newspaper.
Take a pair of scissors.
Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
Shake it gently.
Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will be like you.
And here you are a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.
– Tristan Tzara, 1920
Writer William Burroughs in the ’50s applied this technique to his own writing.
(And David Bowie, and Kurt Cobain, and Thom Yorke…)
Jorge Luis Borges
The Garden of Forking Paths (1941)
In the short story a character named Ts’ui Pên tells everybody that he wanted to write a book and build a labyrinth. Nobody ever found the labyrinth, only a very confusing and contradictory book. We then discover that the book *is* the labyrinth. In the fictional book, every chapter is followed by “every” possible continuation.
"In all fiction, when a man is faced with alternatives he chooses one at the expense of the others. In the almost unfathomable work of of Ts'ui Pên, he chooses - simultaneously - all of them. He thus creates various futures, various times which start others that will in turn branch out and bifurcate in other times. This is the cause of the contradictions in the novel"
The Garden of Forking Paths - Jorge Luis Borges
Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) in which non linear storytelling is used to explore the subjectivity of truth, subverting mystery drama cliches.
Agusto Boal’s Forum Theatre (1960)
In this process, the actors or audience members could stop a performance, often a short scene in which a character was being oppressed in some way (for example, a chauvinist man mistreating a woman or a factory owner mistreating an employee). The audience could propose any solution, so long as they conveyed it on stage, working, acting, and directing not from the comfort of their seat.
Hopscotch, Julio Cortázar (1963)
Written in an episodic, snapshot manner, the novel has 155 chapters.
The book can be read either in direct sequence from chapter 1 to 56 or by hopscotching through the entire set of 155 chapters. There are several other ways to read the novel, such as reading only the odd or even pages, or choosing chapters in completely random order. There are multiple endings.
Founder of Oulipo – Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (workshop of potential literature).
Hundred Thousand Billion Poems (1961)
web port here
Also by Queneau: Story as You Like It (1984)
Computer Lib / Dream Machines – Theodor H. Nelson, 1974. Self produced later republished by Microsoft.
Like many early geeks, Ted Nelson saw computers and networks as empowering tools and advocated for the democratization of these technology (You can and you must understand computers now!).Personal computer = personal liberation.
Ted Nelson coined the term Hypertext in the 60s.
“A system of non-sequential writing that would allow the reader to aggregate meaning in snippets, in the order of his or her choosing, rather than according to a pre-established structure fixed by the author.”
A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia – Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1980)
These ideas, and a general antipathy toward the author-as-authority, resonated with the post-structuralist theories (late 70s – 80s). In particular with the concept of Rhizome.
“Unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states.”
“The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots. Unlike the graphic arts, drawing, or photography, unlike tracings, the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight.”
Even before the world wide web popularized the hypertexts, Apple already provided an intuitive way to create hypertext documents. Maybe too ahead of its time hypercard never allowed the connection of remote documents, it could have been the first browser and the first visual editor.
The concept of hypertext is now familiar to anybody thanks to the World Wide Web (invented in 1990 and popularized in 1995 with the invention of modern browsers) but in the 80s it was a quite exotic medium, especially for non-utilitarian uses.
Still some fiction writers started to experiment with the hypertext as literary form.
Afternoon, a story by Michael Joyce (1987)
You can read Afternoon, a story online here
And “253” by Geoff Ryman here originally published in 1996. It’s assigned as “home play”.
The most vital legacy of hypertext literature is Interactive Fiction.
IF uses more sophisticated structures than the simple branching and a parser for the interaction, usually employed to navigate spaces, interact with characters and objects in a game-like fashion.
Everybody Dies by Jim Munroe and Michael Cho (2008) is a good introduction to IF. Also in homeplay.
IF is a kind of universe on its own which deserves its own course. A great introduction and a collection of resources can be found on Emily Short’s website.
The parser was pioneered by a more popular form of hyperfiction, the adventure game.
In recent years there has been a revival of digital choose your own adventure – type of games facilitated by Twine an accessible and open source tool.
Usually experimental in nature, twine games are emblematic of a fierce DIY game making movement spearheaded by queer authors.
253 by Geoff Ryman
Everybody Dies by Jim Munroe and Michael Cho
The Immoral Ms. Conduct by Hannah Epstein
Spent by McKinney
How to Speak Atlantean by Porpentine
Ultra Business Tycoon by Porpentine
Cyborg Goddess by Kara Stone and Kayte McKnight
Coming Out Simulator by Nicky Case
Nested by Orteil