When I was a child, reading was a very critical part of my development and a way that I could interact and create fantastic imagery using only my mind. Reading a book was, and still is, a very enjoyable way to pass the time. It puts you in the shoes of a protagonist with a purpose or a quest, and you live/act out that character’s purpose in the story. Traditional stories usually have a singular overall plot, with potential twist and turns that can keep the reader guessing until the end, allowing endings being up to the reader’s interpretation. In my education I have encountered many types of stories, those of action, adventure, romance, and historical basis, but I have also encountered another type of story, one that allows the reader to choose different avenues in order to fulfill an action of the protagonist. These stories are called “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories.
Choose your own adventure stories can range from a wide variety of genres, being and action/adventure story, a mystery, or whatever the genre may be, but the interesting aspect of these stories is that the reader has the ability to “choose” the path that they want to pursue in the story. Whether it is for example “if you wish to walk down the long, dark hall way, turn to page 120” or “if you want to wait till the group arrives for help, turn to page 35”, it is the readers decision on what the protagonist in the story acts out. Some avenues lead to success and fortune, while others lead to tragedy and death. The interesting, and potentially good part of these choose your own adventure stories are that if you finish the story or hit a potential roadblock, you can backtrack or start the story over and explore the different plots. These stories are very popular amongst older children because of the connection that they feel with the story, and the power they have to control the protagonist. This feeling that they get is called interactivity, and it is one of the main reasons readers feel so connected to the story.
According to Dictionary.com, interactivity means “allowing or relating to the continuous two-way transfer of information between a user and the central point of a communication system, such as a computer or television”. (“Interativity”)
Although in this definition is referring to technological means, this refers to choose your own adventure books quite nicely. In this post, I will be discussing the interactivity that a reader experiences from reading “Cup of Death” by Shannon Gilligan, and comparing it to the interactivity of modern day video games, such as “Zork”, “Fallout 3”, and “The Sims”.
When reading “Cup of Death”, we are thrown into a world of mystery in which only the reader can make the choices to solve the mystery. The central plot is that you are a Japanese-American visiting Japan for vacation. Your friend calls you up and tells you that an important tea-bowl was stolen from his brother’s school, and he needs your help to get it back. From then on, it is up to the reader to choose the path of the protagonist to retrieve this precious tea-bowl. Overall, there are 23 different outcomes of the story, some being very negative, some being very positive, and some leaving the plot up for interpretation.
Now I had a particular strategy when reading this book. Being that there were a multitude of endings, I would read one ending until I got to the end of the story and start back in the very beginning, this would allow me to explore as many endings as possible, while at the same time it allowed me to take as many avenues as possible to get to a particular ending, leaving no stone unturned.
Let’s explore some of these endings that we find in this story. The first ending that I encountered was the ending in which the bowl was taken to Akiko’s house and the bowl is returned to you and your friends safely. I found this ending to be interesting because it showed a very normal, uninteresting ending to the story, almost like how the story would have been told if it was a full-length book. There was no real mystery, no real action or suspense; it was a wholesome ending to the story that would leave the reader somewhat satisfied. The next ending I would like to talk about was a very unsatisfying ending. After chasing one of the potential thieves onto a cruise ship, you and your friend lose him in all the commotion. So, you figure out where his room is and hide in it, waiting for him to come back. Turns out that the potential villain jumped ship and you are caught and treated as stowaways. The story ends with you and your friend washing dishes in the kitchen for the ship’s crew. And that is it, no more clues to the villains whereabouts, you are just stuck washing dishes. Out of all of the endings in this story, I found this one to be the most unsatisfying and unjustified of them all.
There is one particular ending that I would like to discuss that brings up a very important element in a choose your own adventure story, death. In this ending, crooks kill Mrs. Oda and these crooks drive the car in which you are hiding into a lake, killing you. Now, we know that death is a concept not understood by children immediately, but to put into a choose your own adventure story which are primarily read by younger children seems a bit unorthodox. Now, the author does not directly tell us that you are killed, it merely says that “The car sinks to the bottom of the lake, and no one ever finds you”. (“Gilligan, 99”) I remember discussing in class this particular topic, and the argument was very sound. Children need to be eased into the concept of death, and know that the decisions they make can alter their future, or even cause personal harm. A choose your adventure story can engage a child into a stimulating reading experience, while showing that the incorrect decision can lead to harm or death, but that their experience can be done over and redone so that a more positive ending can be achieved.
Now to the meat of this post, the interactivity in this story. When reading a choose your own adventure book, the goal of the author is to be sure that she is engaging the readers with the tale, making sure that the interactivity between story and reader are at the optimal level. When reading “Cup of Death” although it is a book intended for children, and it does have some very unsatisfactory endings, it does in fact show the interactivity between reader and the plot(s).
When I was reading “Cup of Death”, I did feel that I was in fact in charge of my own destiny, that my actions did have a purpose. Whether I made the right or wrong decision, I felt that my choices did have a purpose. Regardless of my opinion of the story or how it makes me feel, it did in fact engage me as a reader in choosing my adventure and actions. I believe that the interactivity in this story is more than just to read a story; I believe that there are morals to be learned when reading “Cup of Death”. One particular instance that I can think of is on page 7when you are first given the task of retrieving the bowl, you are given two options: “If you tell Takashi that it’s always important to deal with the police on a case like this, turn to page 9” and “If you want more information about the four guests and the tea ceremony Takashi planned to perform, turn to page 11”. (“Gilligan, 7”)
When we are looking at these two options, we have two routes, the “moral” route, or the investigative/interesting route. Now of course when I read this section I obviously chose to read the investigative route, knowing that would lead to a more interesting outcome, but coming from a young child, maybe they would juggle the ideals of right and wrong, and potentially choose the police route, knowing that they are doing the “right thing”. This is just one factor that the interactivity creates when dealing with a novel of this manner.
Another conundrum that is created by the interactivity is the use of weaponry. On page 24 you are presented with a situation in which you need to sneak past a guard. You are presented with two options: “If you try to grab the gun and run off up the hall, turn to page 40” and “If you think it is too risky to steal the gun, and decide to take off before the guard awakes, turn to page 48” (“Gilligan, 24”). Along with the undertone of stealing, we can see that there is the presentation of weapons, which can be an interesting take for a younger child. In this situation I chose to grab the gun, which ironically enough lead to me being stuck in an airplane on a long flight. When a child is presented with weapons, a lot must go through their heads, because the dangers of weapons are a lot higher than the benefits. So it would be interesting to see the choice for a younger child, whether the dangers are known or unaware.
To compare the interactivity of a novel of this sort, I would like to discuss a few video games that also have a great amount of interactivity involved in them. The first video game that I would like to talk about is “Zork”. In “Zork”, you are given a black screen on a computer, and your brain is the controller. Simply type out a command and the computer follows the action designated. The commands in the first version of “Zork” are quite simple, such as “open door” or “walk east”, but with the user being able to deal commands like this, we can see that the interactivity is much higher than that of a choose your own adventure book. In “Zork” you are given a very simple plot, with a variety of options at your fingertips. The options are not given to you, you must figure out what to do given the room describe to you. Unlike the choose your own adventure story, you cannot go back and simply start from the beginning, the choices you make in “Zork” effect the entire game you play, from start to finish. Overall, the interactivity of “Zork” is much higher than that of a choose your own adventure book, simply for the reason that you are given a multitude of options with a fair amount of results, not just being able to choose from one or the other, such as in “Cup of Death”.
The next video game I would like to discuss is “Fallout 3”. Set in post apocalyptic earth, you are a 20-year-old man (or woman if you choose), set out to find your father who abandons you around the age of 10. When exploring the world, you are on your own and the choices to do with your life are up to you. The most interesting part of this game is the interactions that you have with other humans. When you approach another human, the character will say hello, and you have a multitude of responses to say back to the character, each which will insinuate a different coordinated response from the character. Another interesting feature about this game is that any decision that you make will affect the future of your game. So say for example, (this being a violent game) you kill someone. If you kill a certain character, this could ultimately affect your quest in the future. So any decision that you make will make you quest harder or easier, depending on the choices that you make. The interactivity of this game is far superior to that of a choose your own adventure book, even though the premise is similar.
The last game that would like to discuss is “The Sims”. In “The Sims”, you start out as a single individual that has a life to shape. You have almost limitless amounts of options, starting from what gender you are, what type of house you live in, the job you have, as well as the person that you marry (whether you choose to marry, the choice is yours). This to me is the best example that I have ever come across in gaming that allows for the optimal level of interactivity between the player and the game, due to the customization that you can create. The customization can range from what color the side paneling on your house is to the shape of the cups on your dinner table. This is the ultimate level of interactivity, and it really puts the player in control.
Now one interesting fact about the interactivity of videogames is that this form of entertainment is always growing, and it is growing in ways that no one could imagine. I read an interesting article online entitled “Intelligent Multimedia Interactivity” by a panel of scientists, in which these scientists talk about the advances in multimedia and the relation to interactivity, including sources (articles) written to back the support of the overall paper. One passage in this article that hit me was this dealing with the future of interactivity in technology: “Recently, many research efforts are dedicated to developing new technologies, pipelines, tools, or even games to leverage user interactions for multimedia analysis. This trend of exploring human knowledge for computing is anticipated to spread across a still wider range of research communities.” (del Bimbo, Shao, Tian, and Xu) I thought that summed it up quite nicely.
Overall, we can see that in both print and non-print, interactivity between the user and the media is important for the engagement and the entertainment factor. As we have seen in “Cup of Death”, we are engaged in the story, and the interactivity is there, just not at the optimal level one might desire. We also see the interactivity producing a type of moral conundrum for younger children. Exploring video games also produces a type of interactivity, allowing for the player to create their own path, and visually seeing the work of their choices. And finally, we can assume that future efforts will be made to make technological strides in the interactivity of technological devices. Interactivity is important in literature as well as technology, and although sometimes one might be preferred over another, we can sum up that the entertainment factor is escalated when partaking in these activities.
. Interactivity. dictionary.com, 2012. Web. 24 Mar 2012.
Gilligan, Shannon. Cup of Death. Warren: Chooseco, 1985. 7,24,40. Print.
del Bimbo, Alberto , Ling Shao, Qi Tian, and Changsheng Xu. "Intelligent Multimedia Interactivity." ScienceDirect. SciVerse, March 2012. Web. 24 Mar 2012.