Interactive narrative

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For titles where the plot is driven by, rather than determined by interaction, see Interactive narration.

Interactive narrative is a form of fiction in which users are able to make choices that guide the outcomes, influencing the narrative through their actions.[1] This can be seen in both narratives with multiple paths and narratives with multiple endings.

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Branching-path narrative[edit]

Branching-path narrative, branching-plot, or branching storylines are a form of narrative. This form of narrative can be found in a range of different forms of storytelling and games; including Gamebooks, Interactive Fiction, Hypertext fiction, visual novels, interactive novels, and interactive storytelling.


A gamebook is a work of printed Literature that allows the reader to participate in the story by making choices. Some gamebooks allow the reader to chose between branches following alternate paths, typically through the use of numbered paragraphs or pages. These are formally called branching-plot novels but ate often referred to as choose your own adventure books (CYOA) which was the name of the well known Choose Your Own Adventure series originally published by Bantam Books.

In some comic book stories the readers are advised to make a choice, and then turn to another page, from which the story will continue. The 1983 strip Cliff Hanger was based entirely around this premise.[2]

Goosebumps also made books with branching storylines and multiple endings in the Give Yourself Goosebumps and Give Yourself Goosebumps Special Edition series.[citation needed]

Video games[edit]

In video games, the term "nonlinear" refers to a game that has more than one possible story line and/or ending. This allows the audience to choose from multiple different paths, that may be compatible with their style of play. This may be choosing either the order of events (e.g. Fahrenheit (2005 video game), Heavy Rain, and Beyond: Two Souls), the outcome of events (e.g. The Walking Dead (video game)), or dramatically effecting the plot of the game choosing the narrative branch by their actions (e.g. The Stanley Parable and Until Dawn).

Role-playing video games, such as Fallout, often contain multiple paths which the player may choose from the beginning of the game, or character classes. Multiple endings also appear in some adventure games (such as Shadow of Memories), survival horrors (such as the Resident Evil and Silent Hill games), stealth games (such as Metal Gear Solid) and platform games (such as Sega's spin-off game, Shadow the Hedgehog).

This increases replay value, as players must often beat the game several times to get the entire story, as creating a nonlinear storyline the complexity of game play is greatly expanded, and by allowing the player to put together different pieces of a potentially puzzling storyline.

More recently some companies have attempted to try the medium by releasing touch-based apps for several mobile platforms. One of the most prolific projects is based on the Sorcery! series, developed by Inkle.[3]

Interactive movie[edit]

Use of full-motion video of either animated or live-action footage.

Some board games use external media such as audio cassettes, videos or DVDs accompany the game, these were known as VCR games. An example of this is the Nightmare (aka Atmosfear) series, which is played alongside a DVD containing footage of The Gatekeeper who repeatedly interrupts the game to, if a player fails to answer him with "Yes, my Gatekeeper", he may banish them to the Black Hole and an alternative plot is selected. The idea may have been good, but they were heavily criticized. Party Mania.

Interactive Fiction[edit]

The text-based Interactive fiction, often abbreviated IF, is software in which players write text commands to control characters and influence the environment (e.g. players type 'take the pole' to pick the pole up). Due to the nature of the software some title emulate the experience of Gamebooks.

Hypertext fiction[edit]

The interactive novel is a form of web fiction and interactive fiction. In an Interactive novel, the reader chooses where to go next in the novel by clicking on a piece of hyperlink text or picture, such as a page number, a character, or a direction. Where multiple hyperlinks are offered the player is offered choices. In the late 1980s, a new type of non-linear text-based storytelling, known as the addventure, was created by Allen Firstenberg with collaborative, round robin-style authorship in mind. The idea has led to the creation of large, web-based archives of potentially never-ending stories linked together by hyperlinks.

While authors of traditional paper-and-ink novels have sometimes tried to give readers the random directionality offered by true hypertexting, this approach was not completely feasible until the development of HTML. Paper novels (indeed, some digital novels) are linear, that is, read from page to page in a straight line. Interactive novels, however, offer readers a unique way to read fiction by choosing a page, a character, or a direction. By following hyperlinked phrases within the novel, readers can find new ways to understand characters. There is no wrong way to read a hypertext interactive novel. Links embedded within the pages are meant to be taken at a reader's discretion, allowing the reader a choice in the novel's world.

As interactive fiction becomes more accessible via reading apps like Kindle Fire,[4] digital publishing houses like "Coliloquy" have emerged.

Visual novel[edit]

Visual novels are interactive fiction featuring mostly static graphics, usually with anime-style art and music. As the name might suggest, they resemble mixed-media novels or tableau vivant stage plays. Visual novels are especially prevalent in Japan, where they make up nearly 70% of PC games released.[5] They are rarely produced for video game consoles, but the more popular games are sometimes ported to video game systems such as the PlayStation 2. The market for visual novels outside of East Asia, however, is limited.

Visual novels have been a staple of PC software sales in Japan and other East Asian countries for over a decade, so much so that popular titles are open ported to consoles, and some even have famous manga and anime series based upon them; such titles include Kanon (1999), Air (2000) and Clannad (2004) by Key; Rumbling Hearts (2001) by Age; School Days (2005) by 0verflow; Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (2002) by 07th Expansion; and Fate/stay night (2004) by Type-Moon.

Interactive storytelling[edit]

Interactive storytelling is a developing kind of computer entertainment. The term was coined by Chris Crawford, a main proponent and developer. He defines interactive storytelling as, "a form of interactive entertainment in which the player plays the role of the protagonist in a dramatically rich environment."[6]

Multiple endings[edit]

Multiple endings refer to a case in entertainment where the story could end in different ways. Typically when there are multiple endings, some may be referred to a 'good ending' or as a 'bad ending', where a good ending refers to an ending in which the protagonist is completely successful by the end[7] rather than the ending being well written.


Since multiple endings usually require audience participation, books are able to capture the concept better than movies or television. However, for the sake of telling a story, this device is rarely used. An example is the popular 1980s children's Choose Your Own Adventure series where the protagonist is "you," the reader, and you are given choices that lead to multiple outcomes.

The Charles Dickens 1860 novel Great Expectations underwent a change in ending just before publication. Modern editions often print both versions. (However, this situation is more akin to an alternate ending.) However, perhaps the first true multiple-ending novel was Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar in 1963.[citation needed]

The novel Life of Pi offers the reader two choices as to how the protagonist's story should be interpreted.[citation needed]


Ayn Rand's 1934 play Night of January 16th allowed the audience to affect the ending by acting as the "Jury" and voting the defendant "innocent" or "guilty".[8]

The 1985 musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, based on the incomplete 1870 Charles Dickens novel of the same name, has many possible endings. In the middle of a musical number in the second act, one of the actors announces that it was at this point that Dickens died, leaving the mystery unfinished. The audience votes on who they believe committed the murder. Each possible choice—even those considered unlikely to have been Dickens' intended guilty party—has a song in the score that will be performed if, and only if, they have been chosen as the murderer. The audience chooses which of the characters has assumed a false identity and appeared in the second act as a disguised detective, and the chosen "Dick Datchery" performs a song. And finally, the audience votes upon which two characters they'd like to see together in the end, and these two sing a duet. However, the same number, "The Writing on the Wall", always closes the show.[citation needed]

Dario Fo's 1970 play, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, provides two endings to the play. Firstly, the journalist, Feletti, leaves the policemen to die. Once this happens, though, the Maniac, who was off stage, returns to tell the audience that the ending would not appease everyone, and so another ending is played out. The second ending sees Feletti freeing the policemen, who then handcuff her instead, and she dies. This ending serves to show the police's corruption whilst also being comical for the audience, and providing endings that suffice more of the audience.[citation needed]

The long-running play "Shear Madness" has multiple, audience-selected endings. Several characters may end up as the murderer.[citation needed]


DVDs often include an alternate ending as a special feature. These are often interesting in terms of characterization and provide insight to the production team's vision for the movie, but are usually not considered canon.

When it was first shown in theatres in 1961, horror film Mr. Sardonicus featured a "punishment poll", in which audiences could vote (with glow-in-the-dark thumbs-up-or-down cards) on whether the evil lead character should die at the end of the picture. Audiences always voted for Sardonicus' death, which was fortunate, as producer William Castle did not actually film a scene where Sardonicus lived.

It is rare for a film to have true multiple endings, but one notable example is the movie Clue. Three different endings were used in the final version of the film (plus one unreleased fourth ending), with each having a different killer. This is a unique case in that the theatrical release had only one of the three endings, depending on the theater. For the DVD and video releases, all three endings were included, preceded by screen text such as, "That's how it could have happened..." The home viewer can either choose who he or she wants to be guilty, or the viewer can allow the DVD to choose randomly instead. A fourth ending (where the butler did it all) was filmed but scrapped. Clue was orchestrated this way in part because it was based on a board game which offers multiple outcomes. The stage version of Clue also has multiple endings to a certain extent; the killer is randomly selected before the show. However, the true mastermind is always the same at the end.

Also, in the movie Wayne's World and its sequel, Wayne's World 2, there are three endings; each of the first two end with the two main characters appearing on screen and suggesting a different ending, until ultimately deciding on the "mega happy ending".

Multiple endings also occur in the movies Drift (where the main character is seen to make one choice, then when the movie seems to end, it begins again back at a previous point in the film, where the main character makes a second choice, and it happens again for a third time) and Sliding Doors (where we see two versions of the film concurrently after "splitting" when the main character catches, and misses, her train). Neither of these films offers any ending as the "right" ending, but seem to offer both as plausible outcomes to different choices and events.

The movie Run Lola Run features three different "realities", with each story having its own ending.

The movie I Am Legend features an alternative ending.


The Saturday morning animated versions of laser-disc arcade games Dragon's Lair and Space Ace had multiple situations and endings, with two "false" (wrong), and one "right" (successful).

The fifth season finale of the Rooster Teeth web-series, Red vs. Blue, had six alternate endings, and one canon ending. When the episode was first released, these ending were randomly generated when someone would visit the web-page, giving multiple experiences to the viewer every time they visited the page.

Video games[edit]

Due to their interactive nature, multiple endings have become popular in video games. This device is most often used in games that are story-driven, such as adventure games, RPGs, or survival horror, as opposed to games that are action-driven (like puzzle games, shooter games, platform games, or sports games). This was innovated and popularized by the RPG Chrono Trigger. Many such games will artificially enhance their length by encouraging more than one play-through via multiple endings. Generally, endings have to be vastly different in terms of plot to be considered[by whom?] multiple endings; having obtained certain characters to get slightly different results at the end of the game (as in Final Fantasy VI) does not count[by whom?] as a distinct ending. Also, the "Game Over" outcome is usually not counted[by whom?] as an ending in this context (although "bad endings" are counted). Also, there exist two different ways one could alter the story in video games; failing or succeeding to do an action (i.e. succeeding or failing to evade arrest in Heavy Rain), or the process of making a decision. Most games are more decision-based than failure-success based.

In Undertale, the game actively monitors and records the player's actions in game, and logs these down, so that any actions carried out in one playthrough will affect later playthroughs. Resetting the player's save file allows for the player to witness specific dialogue based around this action, such as characters throughout the game remarking on the fact that they saw the player before, or considering them to be an old friend. For example, completing the 'Genocide Route' has a drastic effect on future playthroughs, with the Genocide Route's main antagonist reappearing in Pacifist and Neutral playthroughs carried out afterwards.

Multiple endings, continuity and canon[edit]

In terms of continuity, only one of a novel's, film's or game's different endings could possibly have occurred, the ending that is 'blessed' is then considered as canon whilst the other ending are referred to as 'alternate'. Sometimes this is left unresolved, allowing an individual to interpret the end of the story as they will. However, if a sequel is made, whether it is made in the same media or not, it usually becomes important to establish a narrative conclusion to the previous story (unless the sequel has little to do with the characters or certain settings of the previous game). Generally, one of the multiple endings is explicitly established as the "true" ending through the description of past events, with the other endings assumed to be speculation as to what might have happened. However, in some cases (such as the Resident Evil games), elements of more than one ending are drawn together to create a story that does not quite make sense if only one ending is to be accepted as canon. This is usually seen as a plot hole.

Most Fighting Games have an ending for all characters, however, many of these endings either contradict one another or have no purpose story-wise, the next game in the series will tell whose ending, if any, canonically happened, and often has parts of other characters' endings happening under different circumstances. For example, Guilty Gear X had many of the events that occurred to characters in their Guilty Gear endings, such as the rebellion on Zepp and May's "rescue" of Johnny, all happen, even though only Sol Badguy canonically fought and defeated Justice.

Sometimes in video games, such as the Sonic the Hedgehog, the player must beat more than one or all of the possible endings to reveal the "true", or canonical ending. Deus Ex: Invisible War dealt with all three of the endings of the original game by positing they all happened.

The video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, the sequel of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, allows the player to choose which ending to the first game actually occurred, however, the Light-sided ending is considered canon in the larger 'Star Wars universe'. In Mass Effect 2, the player can transfer their save file from the previous game Mass Effect, allowing decisions made in the first game to affect the second. Mass Effect 3 features the same system which transfers the decisions from the first and second games, although one ending is not transferable.

This sort of issue also arises when games have similar but different plot-wise campaigns that can be played. Warcraft: Orcs & Humans featured a human and an orc campaign and winning either would have one race dominate the other. In Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, it is was decided that the orc scenario is canon and the human one is not. Alternatively, all endings may be made Canon, like in The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. All of them happened due to a time rift created by the main character.


  1. ^ "Interactive narrative". igi-global. Retrieved 30 January 2016. 
  2. ^ Oliver, Jack Edward (25 June 1983). Buster. Fleetway. 
  3. ^ "Sorcery!". Inkle. Inkle Ltd. Retrieved 30 July 2015. 
  4. ^ Coliloquy Lets Readers Interact with Kindle Books
  5. ^ "AMN and Anime Advanced Announce Anime Game Demo Downloads". Hirameki International Group Inc. 2006-02-08. Retrieved 2006-12-01. 
  6. ^ Crawford, Chris (2004) Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling. New Riders.
  7. ^ "good ending". Retrieved 30 January 2016. 
  8. ^ Branden, Barbara (1986). The Passion of Ayn Rand. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company. pp. 122–124. ISBN 0-385-19171-5. OCLC 12614728.