The Choose Your Own Adventure Fallacy


    A celebrated genre in videogames where every decision you make matters, the Choose Your Own Adventure genre is outwardly a remarkably flexible, replayable and exciting type of videogame, where consequences are at a premium, and branching paths encourage you to replay scenarios multiple times to see every way the story will pan out.

    There are numerous exemplars of this genre, including The Walking Dead, Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls, Detroit: Become Human, Life is Strange, The Stanley Parable, Until Dawn, The Dark Pictures Anthology Games and The Quarry among many others.

    Many of these games flaunt the apparent innovation of branching narratives in their trailers, but the reality is these "choose your own adventures" keep you on a tight leash, so you don't stray too far outside of the game's storyline confines.

    Take for example The Quarry. You can choose to defy the orders of Chris Hackett to stay inside the refuge, but even if you do choose to obey and do as he says, you will still be lead down a road of defiance. This is not choosing your own adventure, this is basically dousing flames on instructions and setting them alight, without the option to be a brown-nosing dullard.

    The Quarry is insistent on following you down a predictable horror route, where the only significant weight of your choices coming from the survival or demise of individual characters. There's no surprise in The Quarry, only the wish to get these annoying youngsters maimed-which might be enough of an incentive if you possess psychopathic videogame tendencies.

    A true Choose Your Own Adventure would give us an array of branching paths unshackled by genre or thematic constraints. What if in Detroit: Become Human we could take an android out on a jet-ski ride or take it to the cinema or convince it to ride a Pelaton bike in a tenement apartment? The ambition to think outside the box is always there, but no, Detroit: Become Human has to be serious about emotions, so serious that it becomes silly and a mockery of its own intentions.

    What The Walking Dead does that many of these Choose Your Own Adventures don't do, is actually make you care about what's going on all the while throwing surprises at you constantly. No, The Walking Dead isn't a proper display of a Choose Your Own Adventure, but it at least hooks you at the eyeballs and drags you into its storytelling, refusing to stop tugging until your eye pops out.

    With all this said, the "Choose Your Own Adventure" is a heralded genre in videogames, but the genre's namesake is hamstrung by its inability to show you the extent you can really choose what adventure you want to undertake. Perhaps a more fitting name for the genre is a Branching Narrative Adventure-at least that doesn't reek of marketing spiel.

  • The "choose your own adventure" label to me, is more associated with the books where you "choose your own adventure" within the possible written paths. I used to play/read those during the 80 and early 90s. The term derives exactly from there.

    The Idea of a sandbox world with deep branching narratives while not completely impossible is something of an unimaginable complexity and enormous budget.

    Imagine the cost of something that would make GTA look like an indie and way more complex in branching writing than a Bethesda game, with all the technical hurdles associated with them. It will probably happen, and much of the work won't be done by humans, but it's a big ask

  • I feel like with games in particular it's harder to get more branching paths because you actually have to put a lot of work to realizing them, and these story focused games in particular never seems to have super big budgets. These games also focus a lot on presenting their story in a cinematic fashion, which also takes a lot of the budget away.

    In a way big RPGs like Fallout New Vegas do a better job with the premise of these story focused games, because not only they have a bigger budget, but they usually don't put all their effort in making the presentation look good all the time. Sometimes you only get to see a character do or say something in a shoddily animated way (or only described by text) as a result of your choice, but the effort instead goes to making more possible results of your choices. I'm also thinking of classic western RPGs like the old Fallout games where the script is where the heart of the game lies, although they might not have big budgets which result a more crude-looking game.