Who hasn’t read a story where they wished they could actually be inside it? See the landscape for yourself, see how the light falls, the air smells, the noise overwhelms you and see exactly how tall that building was that King Kong just scaled. No, the fancy 4D movie theatre at Movie World is not the same; I want to actually be there. It’s not that we don’t trust the author and their powers of description, it’s just we want to be there not just read about it, and ultimately we want to tell our own stories of what it was like.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m over the moon about this leap into e-books and the many ways you can make them unique (The E-book Revolution), but it’s still just the same format, written words. As a generation y-er, I want more, and I’m smart enough to know we have the ability to do it. I’ve been obsessing over the idea for a while, how to create an interactive story that still uses words but is real. Just how could you do it? Sure there are apps that have made a really good attempt such as Wunderlust, where you have to be in a specific type of location, like a park or a train station to unlock the next part of the story. But to me it seems like a half-hearted attempt, because you don’t have to be at a specific train station like Flinders Street, you can be at any train station. As long as there’s a Thomas the Tank Engine near you, you can merrily read away. Being so generic, you cannot note the specific oddities or attractions of a place and as such the reader is not as grounded in the story. They aren’t discovering new things about a place they normally pass-by and I believe a good story should open your eyes to the world.
Besides, I didn’t have a million dollars to spend developing an app. In fact, if I had a million I’d be writing in a villa in Greece right now. So my next question was, how could a normal person do this? Not just moving from place to place following the story of another character, but calling the shots, weighing the options, choosing their own adventure. Hmmmm…
I remember choose your own adventures from when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure I still have a Star Wars one tucked away in a closet somewhere. It was a little too serious for my taste and I always died within the hour. How much fun can you have when you are dead? Last year I came across a choose your own adventure called Down to the Scum Quarter. It is hilarious, and if you die, you die with tears of laughter. That was my kind of story. At about the same time I came across QR codes. A QR code is a 2D barcode, generally square in shape that can be read by barcode apps on smart phones. You may have seen them on various promotional posters, on the side of Pepsi cans or on ads in the subway. When someone scans the barcode with their phone it takes them to a website. They are mainly used by marketers to promote a company. But as a writer, I could see they had so much more creative potential.
That’s when it hit me, while the digital era is allowing us to do so many things with the written word, creating new forms and genres; it also has the capacity to bring an old art form back from the literary dead. This was how Adelaide: Choose Your Own Adventure was born, the world’s first (yes, I Googled it) Choose Your Own Adventure event. Rather than reading the CYOA in printed book form, we placed QR codes around Adelaide city that you could scan with your smart phone. The code links you to the next part of the adventure where you could choose from several options to continue the story. Three separate stories were written by three authors: A comic alien invasion of Victoria Square (Emily Craven), a Sherlock Holmes style mystery in the East End (Henry Nicholls), and a dark thriller where the city facades came to life around you (Ben Mylius). Each new part of the story took place in the location of the QR code. In this way the city was folded into the story, and introduced people to little features of Adelaide that they missed time and again. Suddenly the little door nestled under Naked’s shopfront window, the three story high car-park wall covered in toy cars, and the unicorn in the Post Office façade were being noticed and appreciated.
The first QR code poster of the adventure is below (To scan it download a QR app for free from your Apple or Android app stores):
I suppose in a way I have e-books to thank, if I hadn’t been researching them I would never have looked deeper into the concept of interactive storytelling. It seems the more you learn about other creative processes, the more ammunition you have to throw off your own shackles of impossibility and create something really interesting. The thing that fascinated me most during this project was discovering a whole new set of writing skills. Creating the multiple endings needed for a Choose Your Own Adventure is exceptionally difficult, for as writers we rarely contemplate two or three endings let alone the sixteen endings I wrote in my Victoria Square Invasion. Now, I can apply this skill to my normal novel writing. So rather than ending with the easiest and obvious path, I can contemplate endings that are vastly different and, in many ways, more satisfying.