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Interactive Stories for the Masses

In this article, game writer Sande Chen delves into the history of interactive movies and how kids today might benefit from interactive stories.

Sande Chen

October 5, 2017

3 Min Read

[This article originally appeared on Game Design Aspect of the Month under the topic of Branching Narrative.]


In the 1990's, DVDs and laserdiscs made full motion video (FMV) interactive movies possible, but they never really caught on as mainstream entertainment.  In Tender Loving Care and other titles, a character would stop and ask the audience a question, which would help determine the course of the story.  Such scripts were much longer than regular scripts and no doubt, most of the footage was never seen.  Flash forward to today.  NetFlix has announced interactive adventures for kids.  Based on existing animated kid shows, the new episodes will allow kids to dictate the direction of the story, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.  As seen in the video, the protagonist directly addresses the audience and asks for input.


Mobile titles like Choices and visual novels also champion choice in stories but usually without FMV or even 3D.  There are interactive Twine stories that are more text-driven.  I think these interactive adventures will more closely resemble the short interactive films from eko or YouTube interactive stories made possible through creative use of the annotation function and video linking.  They are not necessarily games, though some people would call interactive movies games.  I know when I plotted out my YouTube interactive, "The Wish," I simply thought of the video sections as narrative fragments.  There were choices, but it wasn't a game. 

For instance, the first video in "The Wish" was an introduction whereby the protagonist met a genie and was urged to make a wish.  This led to many possibilities.  However, whatever wish was chosen would backfire spectacularly so that all of these videos always included a choice for a do-over.  This would lead to a third video, which would lead to the list of possibilities again.  Obviously, there could be a great deal of looping until the viewer chose to stop asking for wishes.  In that case, the viewer would get the outro video to end the story.

I don't think of these new interactive adventures as games, and they don't have to be games.  I'm interested in seeing how kids take to it and I applaud NetFlix for starting this venture.  I think since these interactive episodes are shorter and using licensed properties, they probably have a better chance than the interactive movies of yore.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

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About the Author(s)

Sande Chen


A co-founder of Writers Cabal, Sande Chen works as a game writer and designer. In 2008, she was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing. While still at film school at USC, she was nominated for a Grammy in music video direction. She can be reached at: [email protected]

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