According to Scott McCloud, one of the distinguishing features of comics as a medium is that it substitutes space for time. Past and future are always visibly available around the point that the reader is paying attention to, and sophisticated writers can take advantage of this. And yet, nearly all experiments in interactive comics -- including McCloud's own -- take it for granted that interactivity negates this, and that making a choice in the story means that the story past the choice point isn't available to the reader yet. Interactivity is, after all, something that takes place in actual time, not in the space of the comics page.

Alternately, you have things like Jason Shiga's "Meanwhile" that are interactive in the same way as Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books: they show a simultaneous branching of paths, but you can't actually change the state of the thing. In this case, interactivity, like narrative time, is a property of what's printed on the page.

Some years back, it occurred to me that both of these forms make an unwarranted assumption that the time in which the narrative takes place and the time in which the reader's choices take place have to be the same thing. So I wrote a little bit of Javascript to facilitate doing interactive comics a different way: an entire timeline is visibly present at once, but the reader can click on certain panels to make changes, which instantly cascade forward.

Unfortunately, I never came up with a story to take advantage of this, so all we have is this prototype, which illustrates that the system is capable of nesting branches.

At one point in the intervening years, I looked into Twine to see if it would make a better platform for this than raw HTML and Javascript. At the time, it seemed like it would not easily work for a few reasons that I won't go into here. Maybe this has changed. I'd be eager to discuss this with someone with more knowledge of Twine.

See also First Draft of the Revolution by Emily Short and Liza Daly for a vaguely similar experiment.

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Published128 days ago
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