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Interactive Fantasy
An interactive narrative may be defined as one in which members of the audience exercise some direct control over the events and outcome of the story.  On the one hand, a degree of "interactivity" has always been intrinsic to the narrative experience, since all storytellers wish to tell the kinds of stories that their audience wishes to hear: hence, good oral storytellers have learned to be alert to the reactions of their listeners and may alter what they say to suit their mood, and storytellers in other genres have been attentive to various sorts of feedback, including readers' letters, sales figures, and audience surveys, in deciding how to shape their stories.  On the other hand, all of the recent hype about more directly interactive narratives is probably misguided; the joy of experiencing a story has always involved surrendering oneself to the control of a talented storyteller, and the notion that readers and viewers desire direct control over the stories they are absorbing seems dubious indeed.  Nevertheless, since some forms of interactive fantasy have enjoyed visibility and even success, the phenomenon must be examined.

In written literature, the most popular form of interactive text is Bantam Books' Choose Your Own Adventure books, promptly imitated by other publishers.  These follow the format of a programmed learning text: a story begins, typically addressing the reader in the second person, and proceeds for a page or two until a point of decision occurs; then, readers who wish to enter the forbidden CAVE are told to turn to one page, while readers who wish to stay and talk to the DWARF are told to turn to another page.  Wherever they turn, the story will proceed to another decision point and another choice of pages to turn to.  Thus, one 100-page book may generate, in effect, dozens of different 10-page stories.  While all sorts of stories have been adopted to this format (westerns, mysteries, undersea adventures), sf and fantasy stories seem to be most common; in fact, the first book of this type, Edward Packard's The Cave of Time (1979), involves a MAGICAL CAVE resembling a LABYRINTH that takes one to various past and future times, including encounters with DINOSAURS, the LOCH NESS MONSTER, medieval KNIGHTS, the TITANIC, and aliens.  Generally speaking, such books provide as empty a reading experience as can be imagined—pure, crude plot unadorned by character development, imagination, prose style, or thought.  In addition, since many of the "wrong" choices may lead directly to the death of the reader-protagonist, there is in these constructs an overall spirit of nastiness and inappropriateness; the senseless death of a hero because of one arbitrary decision seems utterly alien to the craft of effective storytelling.  One hopes that these books have remained popular only as a transitional stage for younger readers on their way to genuine novels with some shape and meaning.

Next, there have been sporadic efforts to grant play and film audiences a degree of control over the plot; for example, the Broadway musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood (later Drood) polled audience members every night to decide on who would be revealed as the murderer in the final scene (since original author Charles DICKENS did not live to complete the story), and the film Mr. Payback (1995) allowed audience members to vote periodically on what event would happen next.  Supposedly, Mr. Payback is the first in a series of such films, but such exercises in group voting may represent the least promising avenue for interactive narrative, since individual, not group, direction would presumably be more satisfying.

Finally, one could readily argue that ROLE-PLAYING GAMES are one exciting form of interactive fantasy, along with their electronic equivalents, VIDEO AND COMPUTER GAMES; but these subjects will be discussed in separate entries.

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