Wednesday, March 14, 2012

They're Called "Visual Novels"

In recent days I've noticed that around the interwebs writing communities conversations are starting about the ways in which e-books will totally change how people read. They talk about interactivity, or books reading with pictures, music, sound effects, and drawings. Books that are more like video games than books. Or maybe movies. Well, I've tried telling these people, and then I end up telling more people, so let me just go ahead and tell all the people: These things exist and they are called "Visual Novels."

See? Not talkin' outta my ass, here.
The visual novel, or elements of it, have been around since at least the mid 80's, but it's likely that VN's or prototype formats existed prior to this. It seems likely that a number of people involved in the writing industry would be unaware of the visual novel primarily because the format has been incorrectly labeled as a "video game" and released primarily on the PC, and in some cases, video game consoles. However, visual novels, even the more interactive of them, are not video games by any means. While they often feature pretty graphics and sound effects, the emphasis is on the prose and the plot. Just like a novel.

The visual novel pictured above is none other than Katawa Shoujo, a free novel that can be downloaded here. Like a number of other visual novels, Katawa Shoujo is not just a novel spiced up with some pretty drawings and cute girls. The VN unfolds as a choose-your-path story, allowing the reader (note: not the player. There is no "player." Except for Hisao, but I digress.) to impact the characters and environments in a number of ways depending on what options they pick. This format is seen in print novels as well, and those familiar with the Goosebumps franchise have no excuse to not know what I'm talking about.

However, choose-your-own, more appropriately known as "Branching Novels," are not the only visual novels around, and even if they were that doesn't mean they would have to be. Visual novels can read as straight forward, or as branching, and be as short or as long as the author decides or has the resources to produce. 

Now, not everyone is discussing e-books becoming an amalgamated monstrosity with video games. Some people are talking about how e-books can contain links to other sources for further reading, or live videos, or any of a number of in-text options. Kind of like what the format has been doing for well over a decade now, even if exclude web books.

E-books are not a new format, people. They are simply an old format that is being rediscovered through new devices. Everybody needs to get with the program.

Quick warning: Katawa Shoujo contains some material intended exclusively for adults. Some people might find it pornographic, but it's more like a story that happens to have sex in it. You know, basically like the entire Young Adult genre. But whatever. Thought I'd let you all know.

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