The Toronto Silent Film Festival 2015 is known for showcasing black and white films from a century ago, half of which are probably Charles Chaplin dancing like a tramp. Now it can also be known for good actually clever social media marketing, releasing a Choose your Own Adventure from clips of silent films on Instagram. It’s as entertaining as watching the movies themselves and the TSFF’s agency, Red Lion, should applaud themselves for their innovative use of Instagram. But with the Choose your own Adventure narrative, it isn’t a new gimmick, rather just one of the most unusual narrative formats enjoying a revival.
Originally called Gamebooks, what we know as Choose-your-own-adventure grew into mainstream popularity through a series of unconnected books that every the 80s and 90s kid became familiar with. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it’s a story where at select moments of the story the reader makes a choice to flip to different parts of the book to make their own story. The Choose-your-own-adventure games eventually went the way of most children books, passing on as a fad like the Redwall and Goosebump series for Harry Potter, and now Dystopic/mythological stories.
Fast-forward a decade, Choose-your-own-adventure have enjoyed a renewal (I blame nostalgia) moving from its pulp origins and into the online world. Many entertainment websites, such as Cracked and CollegeHumor, have used the Choose-your-own-narrative as a variation for their traditional article and comic formats to engage with their users in another way.
It’s not unexpected that sites would use Choose-your-own-adventures. They are easy to make on browsers, just create several pages with direct links along the story decision chain. But they have also evolved in their own right with the introduction of new game-making platforms for Choose your own adventures such as inklewriter and twine, allowing anyone to make them. And people will, as the popularity of user-made game content, it’s likely that Choose-your-own-adventure games will only become more popular.
Interestingly enough the revival of the Choose-your-own-adventure has coincided with the revival of another narrative format: the adventure videogame. Thanks to companies like Telltale, adventure games have been making a comeback, and often entwined with the Choose-your-own-adventure. This means replacing the often acid-tripping logic puzzles for choose your own adventure gameplay has led to opportunities for character development and emotional depth. Most popularly with the Walking Dead Games, for which its critical acclaimed reception is indicative that we are not going to see it end anytime soon.
The Choose-your-own-adventure holds an unusual place in terms of medium and narratives. It cannot be classified as a genre, or as gameplay. In fact, it occupies and can be transmitted throughs several forms of communication whether through books, browser or games. However what it does offer in its vagueness is it’s flexible, a narrative medium that has the opportunity to engage with audience by offering user control, one of the main appeals that videogames have over other mediums. TSFF 2015, while not sparking any revolution but by pulling a clever spin on their narrative marketing efforts have just taken advantage of a narrative medium being taken in a new way.