Crowded Fiction Review
This interactive story is crowdsourcing character development in a modern take on the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ novel
One of the unsung heroes of childhood was the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book series that placed readers in the shoes of a story’s central character and asked them to make the key decisions. It was immersive and wonderfully engaging, bringing an extra dimension to good old-fashioned reading and inspiring entirely new ways to tell stories. Crowded Fiction feels like it could be a similar watershed moment.
The end product of a Kickstarter project, the app is an eBook reader where the stories come to life unlike any other eBook currently on the market. Before starting out, users have to choose a reading speed that’s comfortable as the text appears live on screen, and with timing a key aspect of the experience, setting this up correctly is crucial. The text then spills across the screen as though being typed by someone else, bringing with it a sense of drama and theatre that usually requires some active imagination from the reader. Not any more, Crowded Fiction drops the user right into the heart of the story, where the decisions taken by on-screen gestures and the timing of those actions has a direct impact on the story.
As the text plays, there are trigger moments and prompts within the narrative that require an action from the user. However, this is unlike the stop-start type of interactive books that are a staple on the App Store, where the user waits until a pause in the story to tap and swipe. Jackson’s Choice, the debut book in Crowded Fiction sees the interactions take place ‘live’ as it were – as the events unfold and the words appear. The book tells the story of an art journalist who gets caught up in a murder case; as a result the user has to throw punches in fights by swiping the screen and navigate car chases by steering and tilting the device. Every action has a consequence, so mistiming moves can land journalist Jackson in more trouble. To add to the tension most interactions involve alternating text where readers must try and tap the right option before it vanishes.
It all feels very much like a video game, and indeed developers Vidya Gamer seem to have been heavily influenced by the gaming world, and have tried to bring elements of that level of immersion to reading.
It’s not just the action sequences where the reader is fully engaged; there are conversations that require the reading of body language and speech in order to decide on a route to take to get the information needed. To make all this interaction worthwhile, Crowded Fiction is full of video game-like achievements that pop up throughout the story. Whether it’s awards for how a situation is approached, or for taking the time to search a corpse properly, on-screen messages let users know when one has been unlocked. These achievements can be shared on Facebook, and readers can compare their own path with that of their friends, with every choice made by every reader being logged in Crowded Fiction’s servers. The majority results on each choice will then be analysed and shape the next book in the series – essentially crowdsourcing Jackson’s traits for future stories depending on how ‘the crowd’ have acted in this first instalment.
In order to get access to the full book an in-app purchase is required, but Crowded Fiction does allow users to sample the first seven chapters for free, and this is more than enough time to have anyone hooked to the story, so parting with some money for the full version doesn’t feel remotely grating.
Crowded Fiction is a very unique experience from top to bottom, yet keeps the interface and functionality very simple. The gesture box that appears at the bottom of the screen is the simple prompt for interaction, and certain words appear highlighted to hint at interactive features. Beyond that it’s black text on white pages, and yet because of everything else going on it feels anything but two-dimensional. This is a book that’s both a game and a story that you play – and it’s also something completely different to have on your device. For the commute or reading in bed, the experience gained from downloading Crowded Fiction is one that is likely to leave a mark.
Looks at interactive fiction in an entirely new way and has created a format that could change the genre on the digital platform.
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