I once saw Marjane Satrapi speak at a literary festival. That’s one of the perks of living in Paris – world-famous celebrity-type folk will come to your neighbourhood, and you can just wander down the road to see what they’re up to. Anyway, Marjana Satrapi is the author of ‘Persepolis’, and various other semi-autobiographical comic books. Persepolis was made into a movie, to enormous success – in France at least, it was for a while ‘the’ intelligent movie to go see at the cinema.
Satrapi is a fantastically entertaining public speaker. Which is handy, really – it’s hard to do a reading from a comic book. She mentioned, among other things, that she’s a huge fan of Batman. Who’d've thought it? She also said that she hates the term ‘graphic novel’. It’s a marketing term, she feels – it’s a way of selling comic books to people who won’t buy ‘comic books’.
So, let’s switch to ‘interactive novels’. Is this a marketing term, a way of selling to people who won’t buy ‘gamebooks’? Certainly, I think the gamebook / interactive novel genre has outgrown its Tolkien-esque, RPG roots. That’s in part thanks to the advent of hand-held electronic devices of various formats, which make the necessary page-flipping and record-keeping (and, if you want to be retro about it, even the dice-rolling) rather less of a chore than might previously have been the case. It’s perhaps even in part due to the quality of the writing going into these stories – no longer is an interactive story, ‘Fight Monster A in order to get Item B so you can kill Evil Wizard C’.
Frankenstein, by Dave Morris, was billed as an interactive novel. Certainly, it fulfils the ‘interactive’ requirement – and yet I can think of few other works that also satisfy the ‘novel’ side of things as satisfactorily. The prose is just lovely. There are no damn dice to roll. The game mechanics – ‘Trust’ scores, and so forth (however they’re labelled) – are kept under the hood, away from the reader’s eyes. Because why would the reader need to see them, if he or she isn’t required to keep track of them?
Choice of Games uses the term ‘interactive novel’ to describe its publications. And certainly, storytelling – ethical choices, personal investment in that second-person protagonist – is at the heart of their games. The game mechanics are right there on display, but that’s just personal preference – it’s possible to play through these games without ever touching the ‘Show Stats’ button (and I have done this).
So I want to say that ‘interactive novel’ is more than a marketing term… and yet I can’t get that ‘gamebook’ label out of my head. In truth, I don’t really want to – I’m an ‘out’ fan of gamebooks; I just love those little buggers (I love comic books too, by the by). If squares and fuddie-duddies can’t help but associate ‘gamebooks’ with goblins / wizards / dungeons / dragons… well, maybe it’s the audience who needs to change their ideas, rather than the marketing strategists.
Sigh. If only the real world were so simple.
Is there any difference between an ‘interactive novel’ and a ‘gamebook’? Is an ‘interactive novel’ just a gamebook that has a (mostly implied) sex scene or two, and that occasionally uses the word ‘shit’? Does anybody at all have any idea?
By the way, I just know this blog post is going to come back and bite me in the arse one day when I’m trying to flog an ‘interactive novel’ of my very own. So… you know… I’m anticipating that irony.