A Short History of Choose-Your-Own Adventure (Public Lecture, 18th September)

If you enjoyed exploring the various narrative options and possible endings of the recent Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, choose a path to attend our next Late Summer Lecture. George Cox takes us back through the history of interactive narratives. Free and open to all, from members of the public to schools to academics.

When: 18th September, 17.30-18.30
Where: Alington House Community Association
Reserve your free ticket via Eventbrite or Facebook.

In late December 2018, Netflix debuted the new interactive movie Black Mirror: Bandersnatch on their platform. Users could participate in young programmer Stefan’s descent into psychosis, and explore the parallel pathways that branched off at different narrative decision points. Despite the attention that this Netflix phenomenon received, the interactive narrative has a long history in both print and digital literature. It will be the goal of this lecture to identify some of the links between the form’s print incunabula and digital instantiations. Namely, across gamebooks (or “the interactive”) the narrative is conceived as a space to be navigated and mapped by the reader, reflecting both external storyworlds and interior subjectivies.

Cover of The Cave of TimeThe form’s affordances and conventions solidify with Bantam Books’, now Chooseco’s, trademarked ‘Choose-Your-Own-Adventure’ series. The Cave of Time (1979), by lawyer-turned-children’s author Edward Packard, gives intrepid readers the chance to explore the eponymous cavern, and warns that “one mistake can be your last… or it may lead to fame and fortune!” The frustration the reader feels at reaching a ‘bad’ ending encourages them to trace back their decisions and embark on another adventure, until they have satisfied themselves that they have experienced each of the narrative’s branches and diffuse storyworlds.

In digital interactive fiction these choices are used to represent internal subjectivity. Twine fiction enables those marginalised by the games industry (such as LGBTQ+ communities, women and racial minorities) to intimately portray personal experiences. Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest (2013) uses the constraints of the digital gamebook to portray the inaccessibility of mental spaces to a depressed person, whilst Anna Anthropy’s Queers in Love at the End of the World (2013) uses time constraints to reinforce the universality of love. These affordances of interactive narratives are subsequently incorporated into Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, to suggest that Stefan’s psychosis is leading him to a loss of agency.

For more information about Late Summer Lectures, including accessibility to the venue, visit our FAQs for the series. For an idea of what to expect, enjoy listening to podcasts from previous series.

Late Summer Lectures poster

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