Branching Fiction Map

Interactive Fictions & Narrative Games

ENGL 370-002 / TuTh 12:30-13:45 / HLG

Pr. John Laudun / HLG 356 /

Course Description

Branching narratives, interactive fiction, text adventures, CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure) all describe a form of entertainment—be it literary, performed in a group, or in a video game—in which a reader is given choices and their choices determine the nature and outcome of the story. This course explores the history of narrative games, from collaborative storytelling in oral cultures to the robust open-world games to cinematic universes in which multiple storylines exist (and sometimes interact). Course inputs include reading, viewing, and playing. Course outputs include analytical explorations of forms and mechanisms and the development of fictions of your own.

Games have long enjoyed a place in human culture and have thus also enjoyed the attention of storytellers and writers. In this course we will move from looking at certain historical forms of games to representations of games and game-playing in both traditional literary texts, like Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, as well as non-traditional texts, like the science fiction novels Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game or Iain M. Banks’ The Player of Games. We examine how game playing and storytelling intersect, as in Italo Calvino’s use of a card game in The Castle of Crossed Destinies. But we do not restrict ourselves to conventional forms of literature: we examine the narratives of today’s games, many of which come with “back stories” in order for the game to be played correctly and are in fact forms of interactive storytelling. Along the way we will have occasion not only to play some games as well as create some games, with the latter being a possible course project. (Be sure to check out the current competition by the Wizards of the Coast.) In order to do so, we will take some time throughout the course to examine relevant theories about storytelling, about play, and about games.