Tree-Branching Paths

Tree-branching is a classic structure with which many people are familiar. At each scene the audience is given several choices, these scenes in turn lead to further choices. Unless creators can find honest ways for certain paths to end, they are facing an exponential problem with infinitely finer choices being offered.

Traditionally this has been handled by having one "correct" story path and all others lead to death, thus pruning their potential early into the decision making process. I feel this solution to the size problem compromises the audience's experience and is a waste of the medium's potential. How often in life are we offered choices of roughly equal value, it is simply a matter of committing to one and then experiencing the outcome? A basic example would be walking into an ice cream shop and choosing one flavour over another. No one right choice exists, it is a matter of preference. This is a fascinating realm of exploration for the digital creator, for which the medium is eminently suited. Addventure [Fea94] provides the most thorough experience of equal choices and allows the audience to add to the story themselves.

Douglas Gayeton, writer for the game Johnny Mnemonic [Gay95], has spoken about how any film could be turned into an interactive and in the Interactive Writer's Handbook makes an example of The Piano [WS95].

If you're going to think with a Dragon's Lair mind set, you're not going to be able to figure out what The Piano is. If you think of a world as a volatile universe with a number of attractive nuisances to figure out in order to get to the end of the story, and if you look at it, given the structure I've showed you, then you can understand that any story can be taken and told interactively.
[p. 152]

Many single path narratives have important character decision points where the story could have gone one way or another depending upon the choices made. Nevertheless, storytellers carefully craft the series of events in their stories, deliberately making their characters' choices at each turn such that the entire narrative expresses a certain theme of concern to the teller. To enter into certain storytellers' works and change their choices is to subvert the theme and to damage the artistic integrity of a work. This is a shovelware problem: the repurposing of existing works for whatever commercial value can be extracted. A better strategy might be to create a story whose theme encompasses a few select endings and the story is carefully told such that the audience is satisfied with making a constrained set of choices which will lead to one of these endings. This is where the challenge and artistry of using the tree-branching paths narrative shape enters in.