Interactive fiction in the classroom

Posted by on April 3rd, 2015

Scan of the cover to "The Cave of Time" by Edward Packard, published by Bantam Books in 1979. This is the first choose your own adventure game book.

“Scan of the cover to ‘The Cave of Time’ by Edward Packard, published by Bantam Books in 1979. This is the first choose your own adventure game book.” -Wikipedia

If you’re of a certain age, you’ve likely heard of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, or a similar type of book. If you haven’t, the concept is simple: as you read the book, the story can change based on decisions you make. For example, you might reach a point in the book where you’re asked to decide if the character fights the monster, or tries to escape. If you decide to fight, you’re sent to page 72, but if you choose to escape, you’re sent to page 61. When you turn to that page, the story continues based on the decision you made, and you learn the consequences of your choice, good or bad.

The generic name for this type of book is a gamebook, and is a cousin of another software-based style of game called interactive fiction, or IF for short. Like gamebooks, IF games receive choices from the reader/player, and give a response that continues the story based on the choice.

So what ideas or objectives can IF help teach in the classroom?

Learn the consequences of actions – We have an interactive fiction story called “Kyle’s Choice” that gives the reader an introduction to the youth justice system in Canada. In the story, Kyle’s story can change based on choices the reader makes, and each choice helps to illustrate another step in the progress of a young offender through the justice system.

Develop language skills – IF can help develop language skills like reading and writing, and can help students with critical and creative thinking. This page has a series of essays written by teacher Brendan Desilets that focus on some of these skills. Also, literacy skills are improved through silent reading, and IF may offer more motivation to read, according to this research paper.

Develop digital literacy – If students become involved in class projects aimed at writing IF, it may be a doorway into a deeper understanding of logic and act as an elementary introduction to programming. Teachers who are interested in exploring this with their students may want to seek out some of the many software programs and online sites devoted to IF authoring and development. Desilets offers guides for three software options: Adrift, Quest, and Inform 7. Our interactive story, “Kyle’s Choice“, was written using AXMA Story Maker, which may be challenging for some students to use, but offers more options for advanced students.

If you’d prefer not to install and run software, there are a few online options available that may also be more user friendly. Inklewriter allows writers to play the story as they write it, and to create a Kindle version of their finished story. If you and your students want to write a gamebook, something they can print out and read, there’s software available for that too, such as the GameBook Authoring Tool.

However you end up using IF in your classroom, hopefully you and your students will enjoy exploring it and learning from it. Be sure to check out “Kyle’s Choice” as an introduction, not only to IF, but to youth justice.

Categories: General