A New Way to Choose Your Own Adventure

Choose Your Own Adventure Stories let you pick your own plot; a new methodology will allow the same plot but presented most efficiently for you.

Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

My brother-in-law loves the Choose your Own Adventure stories. Instead of reading these books linearly, reading page 42 after page 41, you jump around in the book. The book is written in second person, and after reading the part of the story on page 41 you make a decision, e.g., “Stay with the group (turn to page 48) / Explore the room where you heard the noise (turn to page 76).” Since each decision moves the plot forward (although there can be loops) each reading can be a totally different story, with a different outcome. Netflix brought this idea to video with Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and Tinder did it with Swipe Night.

Black Mirror and Tinder are simply different versions of the same theme, the plot itself changes, based on your choices. There’s a new aspect to this, in which people are choosing customized versions of the same content. The BBC is working on Adaptive Podcasting in which the same podcast can be related in different ways to different users. It might be compressed for time if you only have 20 minutes instead of the full 30 the story takes. Perhaps you prefer to hear the dialog in German instead of English, they could offer that as an option.

They’re not the first to do something like this, though. When I was on the advisory board of the Museum of Math, founder Glen Whitney had the idea to create interactive displays. Instead of a printed description of the exhibit, which would be too sophisticated for some visitors and too simple for others, we created three levels of descriptions targeted at 4th graders, 8th graders, and then advanced mathematical understanding. Museum visitors could choose their level of math knowledge and then, as they walked up to the display console, it would show them the exhibit description set to their level of knowledge. The same concept but presented with different levels of sophistication. (The dynamic display was based on the ID cards visitors got and that never quite worked, but the user could manually tap the right level on the screen.)

Now you’d be right saying even this idea isn’t entirely new. Many museums would have guides in multiple languages. The old HoJo’s kid’s menu was a subset of the adult menu but with names like “Miss Muffet Lunch” and “Simple Simon Special” that sounded more fun. What’s different is that now the selections can begin to be implicit, instead of explicit. If your system is set to Spanish, some applications will display in Spanish automatically without you needing to flip a switch on the application. Imagine if an IoT ring (the type that could see how sleepy you were) noticed you were getting tired and so selected the fifteen minutes of the eleven o'clock news you care about most instead of the full thirty minutes of it. It’s coming.

I’m excited for all the choose your own adventure content we get in the digital world, customization of content. I’m perhaps even more excited about the customization of the delivery of content to our specific needs. When it comes to content, selecting the when, where, and how, can be as important as the what.