Narrative, the Illusion of Choice and a Talk from Jim Brown

Frequently in narrative design we discuss the “illusion of choice.” There are only so many branches a writer can write, only so many words. Each additional branch adds a new series of text, a new series of choices. This is why so often, decisions are merely short forks in a single linear path. If this is done well, however, the reader may not even realize that their choices were not their own — that these decisions were pre-written for them.

80 Days, a narrative game from Inkle, has as much text as the Lord of the Rings series plus the Silmarillion. Each new choice adds more text to an already dense piece of work, so it’s little surprise that the long history of narrative games is about giving readers an illusion of choice rather than actual decisions. At a GDC talk this past week, Jim Brown of Epic Games discussed this concept as it related to level design.

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