Gamebooks, politics, and truth

Is it me, or does the world seem to be collapsing around us?

Things are going wrong, the world’s shrinking, and the response of most of us seems to be to get a bit angry about it.

The acronym VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) has been used for several years now to describe the modern world. And the other day, someone said that’s now been replaced by BANI:

  • Brittle
  • Anxious
  • Non-linear
  • Incomprehensible

That feels about right. And it all feels quite personal, doesn’t it? Even if I agree with something in principle, I’d rather it didn’t apply to me.

I don’t think I need to go into microscopic detail on this, but this has been evidenced in my social media feed recently, in which three different people, talking about three different subjects, have shared with the world something along the lines of:

Here’s my opinion. And if you disagree with it, I don’t want to be your friend any more.

The ultimate playground insult if ever there was one, with a delicious dose of irony. All three framed their opinion as being an expression of free speech, and their frustration that they feel that they’re being censored.

While demanding that the only people they interact with are those that think exactly the same as them.

Oh, it tastes so sweet.

It’s a real problem, though. We all – you, me, your family, everyone you know – have a view on how things ought to be done, and some of that will be quite consciously biased and some of it will be biased unconsciously. But it will all feel remarkably justified.

And that’s true regardless of what you believe.

And that reveals something wonderful about reality: almost everything is perfectly ambiguous.

A group of scientists have conducted a study that shows that a species that perceives reality most accurately will die out more quickly than a species that perceives it in an efficient, yet inaccurate way. Here’s the research paper. Worth a read.

To quote the most famous human ever: What is truth?

And to quote myself as I reach this point in this article: What has this got to do with gamebooks?

Well, if gamebooks are to play a role as anything more than simply a waste of a reader’s spare time – and I’d like to aim for that in my own writing – they ought to serve a purpose along the lines of helping the reader get on with people better.

And the best way to do that is surely to develop a deep, grounded understanding that the world does not operate in neatly defined boxes in which we can be RIGHT and everyone else can be WRONG.

Stick with me here.

Should it not be true that gamebooks can meet that need really well? They’re interactive, and so the story YOU read will be different from the story anyone else reads, and that’s not only fun, it’s a revelation of truth – no reading is any more or less valid than any other.

But that would be quite a weak gamebook, wouldn’t it?

There wouldn’t be any pressure to find an alternative path – the fact that every choice is equally valid makes them all equally pointless. And so the gamebook’s ability to offer genuine agency and creativity to the reader, rewarding choices with meaningful consequences and enriching an unfolding story along the way makes it uniquely brilliant as a lens on reality.

Or that’s one way it could be enacted, anyway. As I’ve had this thought, I’ve revealed the truth to myself that my books tend a bit too much towards the right/wrong end of the spectrum. Even in Escape from Portsrood Forest and The Bradfell Conspiracy, open-world books in which you can pretty much explore anywhere you want in any order, there is only one series of actions that will allow you to “complete” the book. Discovering that is where the fun lies.

So I’m still experimenting – I wonder what my next book might look like.

What are your thoughts?