I’ve been looking a lot recently at some choose your own story apps available on Android. This methodological restriction is primarily to the fact that an Android phone is what I have, and I was interested to see the sorts of stories that were available for it. I’ve never really looked at choose your own adventure story apps before, because I’ve always preferred a more self-led narrative. The sort that puts the onus upon the reader, rather than the reader reacting to a preset list of choices. This is something that I seek for across all sorts of literature, and not just those that you find on your phone. Reading is – should be – an active experience. I want to be needed as a reader. I want to be wanted.
It’s important to realise that this is also an area of literature, and indeed relevant to a blog that discussess children’s literature. Many of these apps are directed squarely at children, building on principles of gamification in order to create an addictive and engrossing experience. A lot of them involve romantic plots, often set in familiar settings such as High School, or the ‘higher’ fantasy of living life as a royal. The more appealing apps that I found (such as CHOICES) managed to give all of this alongside some meaty stories around living life as a superhero or a fantasy epic involving dragons, stolen lands and complex social relationships.
As any brief glance of Youtube or Tumblr might show, these are stories with some reach and they are connecting with readers. It’s important to understand as well, as it always is with children’s literature, that I am an adult researching from the perspective of adulthood. Thus my childhood didn’t involve story based apps on the phone, and I am oldie oldie oldperson, and so I’m always going to be looking at this sort of thing from a level of remove. Having expressed that caveat, it’s important to experience this from a readerly perspective and attempt to understand the appeal that this stories might have for young – and indeed old – readers. Not everyone can connect to a book, nor should everyone have to. Reading is reading, whether it’s in a book, on a parchment, or on a banana skin.
The screenshots that illustrate this piece are from RED CARPET DIARIES. It’s a story based in the CHOICES app and I was really impressed with it. Some of the chapters offer a lot less interaction than others, but it’s a useful introduction into the system. In the post #metoo climate, I was interested to see how it treated Hollywood dynamics from the perspective of an ingenue. I named her Alice (in Wonderland, badumtish) and gave her the red short bob. Further customisation options are available and some can be unlocked by purchases. Some elements of the plot are a little uncomfortable; she’s challenged on her sexual ethics, to put it mildly, but the text does give you the option to challenge this and call it out. (A brief sidebar: I look forward to the sexually liberated heroine, I really do).
I’ve played (read?) all the chapters that are available, and honestly I’m quite impressed. There are a lot of opportunities to purchase limited content, such as dates with the neighbourhood hotties, and there is a level of disappointment felt when you’re not able to – or can’t afford to – take up these options. However you are able to keep playing without that, and another choices story: THE CROWN AND THE FLAME (potential spoilers in that link!). allows you to play all the way through and win (though not, I suspect, in as glamorous a fashion if you’d have unlocked all the premium content). The Crown And The Flame is a really good story though, and well handled. I’d be happy to recommend it to anybody and indeed it was the first I played all the way through (all three volumes of it).
One key problem of these apps was, however, the adverts. I am comfortable with the tradeoff between ‘game’ and ‘advert’ and acknowledge that this is a necessary thing with mobile gaming. However some adverts made me pretty uncomfortable and, the case of the app shown in the screenshot: MY SHELF, MY CHOICES, MY EPISODE, pretty determined to never download that app. (I mean, sexist imagery aside, “Boobs are about to pop out 😦 ” isn’t really great English is it?).
So would I recommend these apps? Yes, but with some very firm caveats: there’s the need to experience it yourself and understand what the reader is repeatedly asked to do. You are pressured into story decisions that cost money and though you are allowed to not do that, you have to handle the fact that the story has emotionally built you to the position where you want to give them money.
If you do share these with your children, either be comfortable with the fact that they are going to spend money, or disable the money info from your phone (so they literally can’t download extra content), or keep a very strict eye on what’s going out of your account. The adverts are problematic, though I didn’t get the one I screenshotted every time I logged on, it was often enough to prove troublesome. It’s also kind of gross.
I suspect, ultimately, that this all boils down to three clear points. Some apps are better than others. Some stories are better than others. This is an area we should be taking more note of.