This is the first part in our ongoing series: God vs. The Metaverse. We will explore how new technology like AI and Mixed Reality will fundamentally change who we are.
Step into a world of endless possibilities. While humans are shackled by time and paper, AI driven interactive fiction has no limitations. See how innovations in digital storytelling will take us to a brave new world and create Choose Your Own Adventure Books for Adults that are worth reading.
Why We Love Choose Your Own Adventure Books
I hated reading. I was that kid in class, heart pounding in my chest, giving a book report in front of everybody, for a book I’d only read the back cover of. However, a book my third grade teacher read us made a big impact on me. I revisited the story as an adult.
“You ran away because you’re afraid every day will be the same,” barked Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler from the film of the same name. “And keep on being the same. You were afraid of the monotony of everything. And did running away change anything?”
“I wanted to be different,” said Claudia Kincaid. She had run away and was hiding at the Metropolitan Museum of Art trying to unmask the identity of the sculptor of a newly unveiled angel statue.
“And did running away make you different?”
“It would have been if I had solved the secret of the angel. It would be like I would have been the one to pull Excalibur from under a rock.”
We all want to pull Excalibur From the Rock
“As populations urbanized and jobs required relocation, societies began to value self-reliance and independence,” is how I imagine a sociologist or large language model would explain our need to feel special. As a human, though I don’t speak on behalf of all of us, I want to feel special because I’ve been staring into a dark existential vacuum pretty much ever since I learned Santa was not getting my mail.
In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari suggests that we became the dominant humans because of our ability to create and share stories. Between the homo floresiensis, homo erectus, homo neanderthalensis and us, it was us truly that cleaned up at the Hollyrock Awards. (I didn’t know we all hung together until I read this!) Among the categories we won: Best God, Best Origin Story and Best reason to Attach Yourself to a Greater Good and Kill the Other People. And even though we keep recycling some of these stories with Charlton Heston and Mel Gibson, homo sapiens keep winning the lion's share of awards.
AI Will Turn Up the Existential Vacuum to Eleven
In Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning he argues that individuals can find meaning in their lives through work, love, and suffering. But aren’t we asking AI to help us end suffering? I know at least one kid who would have loved to get ChatGPT to write book reports. And work? OpenAI is all over universal basic income. And love? You don’t think AI has anything to do with love. I got three words for you. Alexa + porn + haptic suit.
We loved Choose Your Own Adventure Books Because We Thought They Gave Us Choices
Once I clued in and read the directions for the Choose Your Own Adventure book, The Cave of Time, I was hooked. I thought maybe, if I made the right decisions, I would get a better story than other readers. The stakes were raised because I was at least somewhat responsible.
They Didn’t Give Us Choices That Made a Difference
In The Cave of Time there is a choice between diving into Loch Ness to search for a cave that might return you to your timeline. Or you could stay in Medieval Scotland and spend the rest of your days fishing. There is a safe choice and a risky choice right? Clearly.
Not so clearly. Jumping into the lake returns you home. No lake monster, not even lake trout nipping at your toes. But choose to spend your days fishing and you become fish food yourself.
The Problem With Choose Your Own Adventure Books for Adults
Kids surrender to the suspension of disbelief much more easily than adults. And the lack of real choice kinda reflects their lives. The kids in the big boy pants aren’t so easily fooled by illusions of choice. Therefore, Choose Your Own Adventure books for adults have been restricted to parodies and nostalgic themes. The challenge is that for the choices to truly impact the story, there must be a significant number of options available.
Patterns of Choice in Games
The Spider is the classic branching narrative that resembles a tree. There are lots of choices and there’s a certain amount of re-playability because if you start over you won’t repeat any content. But readers complain that in one read they only cover a fraction of the entire content. It’s over quickly, leaving the reader with FOMO. Authors don’t like to write stuff people won’t read either. And if there were enough choices to make them meaningful you would have to cut a lot of trees.
The String of Pearls
In this model there are few branches. In Uncharted for example, Nathan Drake runs down a hallway and can turn left or right. If he goes left, there’s a coin and a dead end. If you go right, the game continues, with more, similar choices, creating a slight illusion of choice. Though every player travels along the same storyline there are different styles of play that might say something about the character of the player. Do you play fast, just for the story? Or do you try to rack up as many points as possible?
The Bottleneck is a clever adaptation that allows authors to write the most interesting content in the neck of the bottle. All players have to pass through a choke point so the authors can put their best stuff there and sort of restart. Readers cover more content this way but still feel they made meaningful choices.
The Rise of AI Storytelling: When AI Writes Choose Your Adventure Books
You’ve won a computer programming contest. Now you’re the lucky new owner of a Genecomp AI 32 computer named Conrad. You read the operating instructions carefully and turn on the power. Suddenly Conrad begins to talk. He already knows everything about you! Your new supercomputer is a genius. You can do almost anything with him! -From Supercomputer, a Choose Your Own Adventure by Edward Packard
If you ask Conrad to help you make a million dollars, turn to the page titled, You Make a Huge Choose Your Own Adventure and Sell the Data.
If you ask him to help prevent war, turn to the page titled, Assassinate the World Leaders.
But be careful. There are dangerous people who will stop at nothing to get their hands on Conrad.
Whodathunk that this 80s kid’s book would be so prescient?
Why AI Will Be So Good When it Writes Choose Your Own Adventure Books for Adults
Endless choices - that’s why. A branching narrative tree that’s the mother of all trees, with branches winding so far as to touch our real lives. It’s the ultimate form of self-expression. It will be like having your very own personal biographer. But who will actually own your biography? How will it be used?
With the Power of Endless Choices Come Endless Responsibilities
A trolly car is hurling down a track and is about to kill five workers who are unable to move out of the way. You are in the control room and can flip a switch to send the car down a different track where only one worker is stationed.
If you flip the switch, turn to the page titled You Are a Murderer.
If you decide not to flip the switch, turn to the page titled You Let Five People Die.
AI Can Run Thought Experiments in Our Games
I’m not going to get into what’s morally right or wrong. But how you are either rewarded or punished for your choice will at least have a subtle effect on your decision the next time you encounter a similar dilemma.
For example, if you flip the switch, you are responsible for saving five people. The law will not reward you for that. You are also responsible for someone’s death. You might be legally liable for his death. If the game punishes you, you might become a more passive player. Maybe the game was programmed that way. Programmed to subtly alter your game decisions. Small subtle changes in your decisions lead to big changes down the line.
A Nightmare Future
Imagine the nightmare scenario once AI writes choose your own adventure books. You flip the switch and are rewarded by the game mechanics. You are put in the ‘flip the switch’ category. Now a little further along in the story the train is hurling toward five more people. There is no switch. But there is a rather large man standing on a bridge over the tracks. He’s large enough that if he fell on the tracks he would stop the train. But he’s not large enough that he would survive the impact of the train. Do you push him? Is it not the same moral dilemma that will lead to the same reward?
A little further down the game is the son of a terrorist. A large data model suggests there is a 96% chance he will kill a large amount of people. He is in a convoy on the way to a wedding within range of a Predator drone strike.
Who Gets the Data from Interactive Fiction Written by AI?
Send me a list of one hundred, draft age males who pushed the fat man off the bridge. In a game with endless choices, then there’s an endless amount of data. The more powerful the AI is, the more meaningful the choices, the more powerful the data. But hey, the game was free.
So, do choices matter in games? Sure. For some, especially kids, they engage young readers in the story world better than imagining someone else as the protagonist. We THINK our choices matter. At that age we seek to define ourselves and who are we but the sum of our actions?
What happens next in the story? It all depends on the choices you make. How does the story end? Only you can find out! -from the back cover of the Choose Your Own Adventure Books.
So, when AI is writing Choose Your Own Adventure Books for Adults Will Choices Matter More?
Damn straight. The endless choices we will have in games and how games will intersect with real life will have profound and perhaps dangerous implications.
Choices will not only be custom-tailored to your preferences based on your past choices there will be subtle, unseen nudges. How you react is valuable information. Can you be manipulated?
Edward Packard’s Supercomputer Choose Your Own Adventure came with the warning, “But be careful. There are dangerous people who will stop at nothing to get their hands on Conrad.”
Interactive fiction, games and Choose Your Own Adventure books for adults are about to get really interesting. But be careful. There are dangerous people who will stop at nothing to get their hands on YOU.
God vs. The Metaverse
When we fit an entire civilization into the Metaverse, when we decide how much we let the AI nudge and how much we let the player decide, we will be making decisions at a level with God. If space and time is error correcting code we may just be in a cycle of God, Metaverse, God… Will we rise up and try to control the narrative? We’ll smoke a joint, brainstorm in a hot tub and return to this series with a look at Cyber-Gnosticism and Cicada 3301. As well, we’ll return to dangerous thought experiments in the Metaverse with a return visit to the most dangerous thought experiment of them all, Roko’s Basilisk.
If you want to see how ARGs can be run with AI join our Beta Team and test it out.