I’ve seen the idea that every choice in a branching narrative must be meaningful or ‘do something’ floating around, and it doesn’t sit well with me. I really like choices that don’t functionally do anything, but allow me to express myself as a player and get to know/create the character that I’m roleplaying.
The video below has a lot of great points about interactive fiction, but what interested me most was the idea of ambiguity in the text as it reinforces my thoughts on this topic. Ambiguity lets the player shape the story by filling in parts by themselves, while serving the writer because it allows the same text to take on differing meaning without the need for additional content or code.
Heather explains why it’s a good thing to have choices that don’t affect the gameplay on a mechanical level nor show the player entirely new pieces of text. Small bits of flavor or backstory, especially where it relates to the character and their life, can entirely re-contextualize scenes for the player, leading them to make different choices. As in the example in the video, while the player will always have to fight the enemy captain, whether that person is a true enemy, a friendly rival or a lover-turned-enemy completely changes the emotions surrounding the fight and thus leads the player to a different experience. I’d certainly be playing three times over to experience the plot from those perspectives!