Author Interview: Stephen Granade

2020-03-31 · by Natalia Theodoridou
tagged Interviews

Stephen Granade is a physicist and writer living in Huntsville, Alabama, the city with its own Saturn V rocket. He talks about interactive fiction as @Sargent on Twitter. Stephen is the author of our April game, “Binary.” 

This interview was conducted over email in January 2020.

sub-Q Magazine: What prompted you to create “Binary”?

Stephen Granade: I wondered if you could create an interesting interactive story where, for most of it, you only choose between two options. The narrative designer Jon Ingold has talked about three being the right number of choices and how two choices is boring, so of course I wanted to try just having two.

I like interactive stories where the choice structure is reflected in the story and theme, and I’ve long wrestled with our tendency to boil decisions down to two options. That led me to a story where the character you interact with, Alma, was faced with a terrible situation and only considered two options. Everything else flowed from there.

sub-Q Magazine: Why did you choose to tell this story interactively?

Stephen: I wanted you to consider what you’d have done in Alma’s shoes, and how you respond to Alma’s choices. Because “Binary” is interactive, you don’t engage with these questions abstractly. You have to make concrete choices.

It also let me leave more to the imagination. The story’s a dialog between you and Alma, but you never hear your own words. You have to figure them out from how Alma responds.

sub-Q Magazine: You often blend entertainment and education. Do you see interactive fiction as a good educational tool? What else can interactive fiction be a tool for?

Stephen: I haven’t explored using interactive fiction as an educational tool, mainly because that’s not where my interest in fiction lies. I don’t think of any fiction, including interactive fiction, as a tool to produce a result, but as a way of using made-up stories to offer a new perspective on ourselves and the world around us. A good work of fiction can show me something familiar and then make me consider it in a completely different way.
What I like so much about interactive fiction is how it can give you a very visceral experience. Interacting with a story can make us feel more responsible for the story’s events. I’ve made choices, so therefore what happens is partially my fault. I can use that reaction to give readers an experience that’s like but different than reading a novel or watching a movie or seeing a play.

sub-Q Magazine: Any recent works of interactive fiction you particularly enjoyed? 

Stephen: I’m bad about getting to interactive fiction long after it’s released, so these are only recent to me.
Brendan Patrick Hennessy’s Birdland is fun and funny and poignant and everything I want in YA fiction in any medium.
Katherine Moriyati’s Human Errors is a great marrying of form and content, and horrific in the quotidian way that real-life horror often is.
Finally, Fire Emblem: Three Houses. A turn-based tactical game may seem like an odd choice, but for me the heart of the game was the relationships and NPC interactions, and the stories I could help create through those relationships. I loved my poor battle kids so much.

sub-Q Magazine: What would you like to see more of in interactive fiction?
Stephen: I’m not really sure! What I love is being surprised by interactive fiction. It’s great to dive into a piece and discover that it’s doing something bonkers amazing with its presentation, or has a new kind of story I’ve not seen in interactive fiction before. Works like Heaven’s Vault that challenge me to piece together meaning from fragments of an unknown language, or SPY INTRIGUE that crack my head open and pour in light.

sub-Q Magazine: What’s next for you?
Stephen: I’m starting work on a game for Choice of Games. It’s a completely new-to-me way of telling interactive stories, and I’m loving the challenge.
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