Frankenstein Going Interactive, But Not Improving Story

The Cambridge-based company Inkle has with their app Frankenstein (see a video here) for iPhone and iPad positioned themselves in the wake of other attempts, such as the interactive Alice for the iPad, at merging the narrative of books with that the potential of digital media. The app works as an old-fashioned choose-your-own-adventure-novel where the reader chooses her way through a branching labyrinthine narrative structure.

I was pretty excited about this app, especially as I thought the plurality of voices in the novel, and the whole notion of scientific skepticism and optimism was a great theme for such an app and presented a great opportunity to really explore the potential of this hybrid format in a very metatextual way. Awww, yiss!

However, Inkle does in my opinion not manage to capitalize on the possibilities of the medium. The choices presented in the app interrupts the flow of the story, and are often semantically opaque when the description of the choices does not make any sense.

To me, this becomes a continuously presented mirror in the text, when I am expecting to look though a window. The choices needs to be intuitive and transparent, lest they distract the attention of the reader for too long, and ruin the immersion. The reader is presented with a choice for every few paragraphs, which to me, is just way to often. Sometimes theres is not even a choice to be made, but merely a button to be pressed. Also, the outcome of the choices remains obfuscated, which undermines any feeling of meaningfulness connected to making these choices. Only by rereading the story in different ways does the reader get a grasp of the underlying system, which is really too much to demand on part of the reader.

The app does not really strive to do anything that couldn’t have been done in a choose-your-own-adventure-book or in better hypertext novels, such as Stuart Moulthrop’s Victory Garden or Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl, which is a shame. However, the iPad does offer a brilliant platform for evolving interactive fiction and getting it out to the broad public, and I’ll be looking out for other Frankensteinian literary monsters of this sort.