Storytelling as a game?

A review of Jon Ingold’s All Roads by Nicholas Fulton.

When I popped in the cd rom I found an eclectic home page the electronic literature collection provided with mildly descriptive thumbnails as links. They did provide a very interesting display purposed thumbnail space for more information such as title and author for each piece. I digitally strolled around the page looking at which of the thumbnails interested me. I decided on all roads by Jon Ingold. Its thumbnail; the command shell with the word wake was very intriguing for someone with my computer background. I had to install a few things but soon I was on my way to this interesting world John put together for us to enjoy. It was a game, an interactive form of telling a story through text based commands. Is a game a good way to tell an in-depth story and keep people’s attention?

The introduction was very brief and didn’t offer a lot of navigation options which might have been on purpose but became frustrating early on. I started out the way I suppose you are to start out by typing wake; this clue being offered in the introductions and thumbnails. As you hit enter a string of text pops into the window. A poetic but shocking start of the story finds you on the gallows about to be hung. You follow this story by typing in actions such as “talk to” or “escape” to further your adventure. The author has engineered this story to use sensory statements to express how you should be feeling as the main character. The loud pigeons in the dungeon, the darkness of the sack over your head are all used to immerse you in the story.

I find that this is very reminiscent of some of the very early computer games that were primarily text based. This story differs because the author has one true story to tell you and will not let you stray from that. In previous games I have played there are several outcomes to every choice. The commands would have to be the hardest portion of getting through this piece of literature. If you are unaware of the right commands you cannot progress. The author doesn’t provide hints to these commands either you have to look up the game engine used and get some of its basic commands to even get through the story;  for all I know I missed a great portion of it.

In all I find this medium for story telling fascinating. Given our western societies love of video games and customization and interactivity I think we will be seeing more stories provided this way. The author certainly has an imagination and way with words that you would yet to see in such text based games in past. How customizable you would like your story to be should be a thought when choosing a medium like this. The game aspect makes for different twists and turns to be taken in the story. If you want to tell a straight forward story there is a plethora of other electronic mediums to play with for that.

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