'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 10 March 2023

Guest Post: Marc Fink on The Value of Interactive Fiction

‘Tell me a story about me and Poe Poe going for a walk and seeing a trash truck and then a wolf gets eaten by a shark!’

Every night, I get requests like this (future blog post coming about the value of oral story-telling), and I always hesitate ... my mind panicking as I try to think of any possible way to tie all of these elements together. 

‘Oooooooonce upon a time, Mikayla, Poe Poe, and Daddy went for a walk. It was a beautiful day ...’ I begin slowly, but even as I tell the story, I am trying to plan ahead to make it as fun as possible. And at some point, I will say, 'Do you run into the water to escape the wolf, or do you try to climb a tree...?' 

And then ... I wait. And I see my children thinking about what would be the best choice. Sometimes, Mikayla gives an uncertain laugh and says, ‘I don’t know what is best. You choose.’ And I’ll say, ‘Okay. We run into the water and get eaten by a shark! The end. Time to sleep.’

‘Noooo! I can pick.’ And for the rest of the story, she’ll make the choices because she doesn’t want a quick ending. We can also go back to previous choices (if we remember them) and explore other possibilities.   

And this is what our family (and my students) love about interactive fiction - it requires active listening and active reading from the participants as opposed to just passively listening/reading. It forces them to think critically about what’s happening in the story, what the goal is, and what the character in the story is experiencing at that moment.  

For those who may not be familiar with the genre, interactive fiction, also known as ‘choose your own adventure’ stories, allows the reader to make decisions that shape the outcome of the story. My students were immediately hooked the first time I introduced them to the app, Story Eggs, and I couldn't help but notice the level of engagement and excitement they had while reading. They were actively thinking about the story and making choices, rather than simply passively receiving the information. 

These experiences got me thinking about the potential benefits of interactive fiction for children, and I was not disappointed to find a wealth of research to support my observations.

First and foremost, interactive fiction has been shown to improve reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. In a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, researchers found that children who read interactive fiction scored higher on measures of reading comprehension and critical thinking than those who read traditional texts. The authors of the study suggest that the interactive nature of the stories encouraged children to think more actively and critically about the text. 

Which is the best choice? It depends on what you had just read on the previous 3-4 pages. 

Interactive fiction can also be a valuable tool for helping children develop their creativity and imagination. In an article for EdTech Magazine, educator and author Andrew Miller argues that interactive fiction encourages children to think beyond the boundaries of the story and create their own unique paths. By allowing children to make decisions and shape the story, interactive fiction encourages them to use their imagination and think outside the box. 

Another benefit of interactive fiction is that it can be a great way to get reluctant readers interested in reading. As children are able to make decisions that affect the outcome of the story, they become more invested in the plot and characters, which can make reading more enjoyable for them. In a study published in the Journal of Educational Technology Development and Exchange, researchers found that students who read interactive fiction were more likely to report that they enjoyed reading and were more motivated to read than students who read traditional texts.

Two paths...two choices...But only one is actually a ‘safe’ choice. 

Interactive fiction can also be a great way to encourage children to read more. The ability to make choices and shape the story can make reading feel more like a game, which can be a powerful motivator for children. In an article for EdTech Magazine, educator and author Andrew Miller notes that interactive fiction can be used to motivate children to read more, as they can see the direct results of their choices. 

Finally, interactive fiction can be a valuable tool for promoting diversity and inclusivity. Interactive fiction allows children to see themselves and their experiences represented in the stories they read, which can be especially important for children from underrepresented groups. In an article for EdSurge, educator and author Antero Garcia notes that interactive fiction allows for representation and agency in a way that traditional texts do not. By allowing children to make decisions and shape the story, interactive fiction can help promote a sense of belonging and empowerment.

In conclusion, interactive fiction is a valuable tool for parents looking to promote reading and critical thinking skills, creativity and imagination, and diversity and inclusivity in their children. As a parent, I can attest to the level of engagement and excitement it can inspire in even the most reluctant of readers. So next time you're looking for a way to get your child excited about reading, consider picking up an interactive fiction book, or trying an app filled with interactive stories, and watch as they dive into a world of endless possibilities. 

Marc Finks is a third-grade teacher, father of three very young children, and now single-handedly running a publishing company, Constellation Publishing, so he could develop and publish Story Eggs, an illustrated storybook app where children decide how the story progresses. He has a Master’s Degree in Education, with an emphasis on Literacy, which now influences almost every aspect of his life.

Marc’s first published novel, Boys for Sale, is a realistic fictional account of the human trafficking of children. Since then, he has moved on to lighter fare, including a fantasy novel for teens, before settling on his favorite type of storytelling - interactive stories for kids. Story Eggs will hopefully introduce readers to a new kind of reading, one where the reader is actively engaged in the story, as opposed to passively having it be told to them.

Discover more about the App, Story Eggs, at Marc's website, and all of the stories that have been included upon its initial release.