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What are Interactive Stories?

By J.M. Densing
Updated: May 23, 2024

Simply defined, interactive stories are tales in which the audience or reader participates actively in the experience, often directing the action. This type of storytelling has taken many forms over the years, from improvisational activities and "choose-your-own ending" books to today's sophisticated interactive computer games, learning materials, and other media. Various types of computer-based interactive stories can serve as powerful educational tools, particularly in the areas of reading and writing, and the Internet makes these materials easily accessible. Interactive media appears to enhance student interest in developing and applying language skills.

As long as they feature active reader or audience participation, interactive stories can take many forms. It can be a simple oral format, with each member of a group contributing part of the story. This can be a structured activity with specific guidelines or as basic as a group member telling a story until he or she is ready to stop and then allowing another to take over the story and continuing in this manner. It can also include improvisational types of activities where the participants act out the story as they go along. In a written format, interactive stories can include tales that allow the reader to select the action from prewritten scenarios, where different choices lead to distinct endings, as well as books that involve the audience through manipulation of the physical pages such as lifting flaps, turning wheels, etc.

Computer technology has proven to be well suited to the production and utilization of interactive stories. The use of animation and audio allow the creation of a more immersive multimedia experience. Advanced programming capabilities lead to countless possible paths the action can take, thus making each experience unique. Many modern computer games incorporate these components to produce remarkably complex virtual worlds where participants are able to direct the action while playing one of the characters, and in some cases interacting with other players in real time via the Internet.

There are many educational uses for interactive stories, where the technology is not limited to gaming. Computer-based interactive books and reading programs are valuable learning tools that engage emerging readers while providing personalized instruction and assistance. Interactive books often include features such as telling the story with audio while the student reads along, helping the reader sound out specific words when they are clicked on, and letting the student control the animation and select some of the action. Interactive reading programs can provide varying levels of assistance as the student progresses. Many students find the use of interactive multimedia to be particularly engaging, and these materials are available on a multitude of websites.

There are also useful applications of interactive stories for writing instruction. Students can work collaboratively to create stories with a process called interactive writing, where each participant contributes to the tale, thus helping to create a finished piece. There are numerous Internet websites where individuals can add to ongoing interactive stories that have participants from all over the world, typically adding a chapter to a piece after reading the existing portions. With younger students, secure websites, perhaps restricted to others in the same school, can be utilized as a way to avoid exposure to questionable content written by more mature participants.

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Discussion Comments
By lluviaporos — On Jan 10, 2015

@Ana1234 - I think it's difficult to draw a line between an interactive story and a game though. I've played several text-based games that didn't really feel like stories. And I've played platform games that did feel like very good stories. To the Moon is an example of that.

One thing I think that authors often get wrong is that they attempt to make an interactive story completely experimental without trying to make it really interesting for the reader. Just because you can put bells and whistles on it doesn't mean that you should. Those should only be added if they happen to advance the story.

By Ana1234 — On Jan 09, 2015

@croydon - What I found frustrating was that they didn't have enough scope. I remember being very fond of the old text-based games they used to have online before the World Wide Web was started. They were more like interactive stories, although I don't know if they'd keep that title these days. When people talk about interactive stories now they seem to mean written stories that happen to have a few links or pictures thrown in.

By croydon — On Jan 08, 2015

I have to admit, when I read those Choose Your Own Adventure stories as a child, I almost always ended up just skipping around the book to find out all the endings. I would read it through maybe once or twice properly, but then I would lose patience with re-reading the opening. And I'll admit that there was also a part of me that just didn't want to "choose" the obviously wrong option. Since I wanted to immerse myself in the character, it seemed wrong to choose for them to do something I wouldn't actually do just to get a different ending.

I much preferred the books that were briefly popular where you had to roll a dice so different things would happen. But then that was right on the cusp of when video games became ubiquitous so I guess they took over from the interactive story game market.

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