The Player and Their Context
Before you start writing your story, you should think about who your player actually is. This not only includes demographic aspects like age or gender, but also the preferences of your players and the situation they find themselves in while playing.
Simple language and simple Player Choices with immediate consequences are best suited for children. Adults may be expecting a much deeper plot and more challenging events.
Also think about what kind of emotions you wish to evoke in your players. Do you wish to entertain them, make them laugh, astonish them, arouse their curiosity, or give them the creeps?
Your Target Audience
You can try to write for everyone, but you will not be able to reach everyone. Opinions on whether it is useful to consider for whom you are writing, differ widely. From “needless” to “vital”, every sentiment can be found.
We at EarReality prefer to keep things simple and goal-oriented, trying to develop an awareness of the core factors of success when writing interactive fiction without making everything too scientific.
Therefore our tip is, try to define your target audience in a single sentence. This will give you a clear focus but will also free you from unnecessary complexity.
Examples of Defining One’s Target Audience
“For female players of age 15 to 55 who like passionate love stories with a good share of cheekiness and humor!”
“For players who love fantasy stories like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ or ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’!”
“For children that enjoy pleasant and adventurous stories that always end well!”
“For players who wish to solve tricky puzzles or gather clues and combine them!”
“For young adults who are interested in themes like friendship, first love, and identification!”
“For players who not only want to hear a compelling period piece, but also wish to learn more about the historical events, figures, and places of that time!”
“For players who prefer longer stories with a slower narrative pace and simple choices!”
Types of Players
Besides gender, age, and preferences there is another interesting factor. It does not deal so much with who your player is but the way they are playing your story. We primarily distinguish between three different types of players, though there are certainly hybrids and other categories.
The Kind Player
This player type will always try to do the “right thing” in your story. They want to save the world and become a shining, morally indisputable hero. Though their reward is the act itself, they still need an audience!
Take care to acknowledge and reward their actions on their way through the game. To do this, you can give them game advantages, special information, new storylines, or you can have the other characters give them direct feedback. If the king’s sword master praises them with the words that only they could have accomplished this task, your player will be happy.
The Evil Player
This player type will try to solve your story without adhering to traditional moral principles. They will not help the merchant to upright his toppled wagon nor will they give a coin to the beggar at the roadside. They might even want to give both of them a kick in the butt to get them out of their way.
Make sure you still find a way to convey any information necessary for the progress of the story to this type of player. And reward them for their choices, for example by having other characters tell them how powerful and awe-inspiring they are. But do not overstep the bounds of good taste when doing so. Explicit violence and brutality will usually be censored by Voice providers. That being said, a good writer will shun the use of the battle axe anyway, preferring the use of the subtle blade.
The Independent Player
This player type is wary and reserved. They want to be the hero of the story, but not at all costs. Their reactions will vary and show no apparent pattern. They might help one character, but cold-shoulder the other, failing to find any sympathy for them. They might even let the villain get away because they no longer see them as a threat. For this type of player, the feeling of freedom is very important.
Make sure to always offer them newPlayer Choices and to provide them with a meaningful motivation. Saving the world might not be an intrinsic motivation for them, but if you give them the prospect of receiving a powerful sword or marrying the prince if they accomplish a task, they might just be willing to take on the risks involved.
Other Player Types
They want to win the game. Obtaining victory or reaching the best possible ending of the story should be hard to achieve for this type since they draw satisfaction from their own accomplishments in carefully weighing up the chances and risks of these choices, finding hidden clues, and combining them to come to the correct conclusions.
They want to experience a gripping and emotional story. Whether the story has a happy or bad ending is only a side issue for them as long as the ending allows them to feel along with it and even hold on to it afterward, and as long as the ending follows naturally from the events that transpired before. Plot twists and tragic stories are a perfect fit for dramatists.
They want to discover and uncover everything that is hidden in the story. Explorers are driven by curiosity and want to find every possible ending of an interactive story. Whenever you give them the opportunity to learn some secondary information about the world and its characters, or to turn over that oddly shaped stone in the middle of a chase scene, explorers will embrace this chance with a blissful smile on their face.
You can choose whether you want to tailor your story to a certain type of player. Although it is possible to reach different player types by using many-faceted Player Choices and Player Utterances, if you try to please everyone you might end up pleasing no one. For your first interactive stories focus on the fundamental expectations and motivations of almost all players.
Your player wants to:
- Hear an interesting story (curiosity),
- Experience their own individual story (satisfaction),
- Be able to identify with the acting characters (satisfaction),
- Maybe play the story again (curiosity),
- Experience powerful emotions (satisfaction), and
- Be part of something extraordinary (escapism).
If you meet these expectations, your story should be successful regardless of the different player types.
Active player or partially passive listener? Alone or accompanied? At home or on the road? As a distraction or fully focused? Trigger moments are the situations which players encounter when they are playing your story. Recognizing them is important for your story to work. In contrast to traditional gamebooks, the playing of interactive Voice stories offers new possibilities, not only for writers, but also for players.
While reading a book is a focused and mostly solitary activity, someone may only want to listen to your story on the side while ironing, tidying up, or driving. And there could also be several other people in the room who want to participate in the decision-making because they are fascinated by the story and its interactivity. Decide whether you want to address your story to focused players or to distracted players and design it accordingly.
A crime story with many clues and information that have to be remembered and combined would probably work just as poorly for a distracted player as would the dark atmosphere of a horror story which they only half listens to. Such a player will likely prefer longer text passages that can certainly make use of more elaborate wording.
A focused player will prefer shorter texts and more choices with serious consequences that present them with conflicts and emotional dilemmas. Do not bore them with endless descriptions of landscape, but lead them quickly and directly to the core of your story.
Trigger Moment: the situation a player finds themself in when playing an interactive story, for example lying on the couch, driving in their car, or cleaning their home.