In these strange times, when social interaction outside of our small social bubble is limited to virtual and socially-distanced spaces, creators of media are driven to experiment with more creative approaches. At the beginning of the pandemic, as we were sequestered inside our individual dwellings, a trend of interactive, choose-your-own-adventure media and storytelling technology skyrocketed. This new form of escapism opened a whole new world of possibilities during a time when many of us felt as though our worlds were rapidly becoming smaller and smaller.
This new emergence, or in some cases re-emergence, of interactive stories has been particularly beneficial for teenagers during the pandemic. Evidence has shown that teenagers’ mental health may be seriously affected by the emotional toll of the pandemic (Zeidler). This negative effect is also compounded by the fact that teenagehood is often packed with transitional periods. Transitioning from middle school to high school, and then high school to university is often accompanied by a great many milestones that are imperative to social emotional development. Despite the unusual circumstances that, in many ways, prevent young people from socializing and experiencing many common milestones, virtual games and interactive storytelling have prevailed as a method for teens to socialize in a safe and still enjoyable way.
One example of this beneficial social interaction has been through social events hosted by UBC during the program: Jump Start. This is a chance for students to meet each other, and glean wisdom from older students and professors. This year, due to the pandemic, it was required that Jump Start be held online, instead of in person as it had been in previous years. One of the features of this online event were optional social events hosted at different periods throughout each day of Jump Start. Some of these events included collaborative, online games such as Spyfall and Codenames. However, another option was collaborative online escape rooms. For this activity, students work together in small groups to solve clues as they’re guided through a series of puzzles within a wider fictional framework, all formatted within Google Forms. Although this experience is not the same as not being in a physical escape room it helps students to create and maintain friends from different physical locations, by sharing virtual spaces and working collaboratively to solve a mystery.
Many of these social games and activities existed in much the same format as before the pandemic, and choose-your-own-adventure storytelling has been around for generations. This is evident as many of the more modern iterations of this idea harken back to the nostalgic video games and role-playing games that defined previous eras. From the original children’s gamebook series of the name Secret Path Books, originally published in 1979, to Netflix’s Black Mirror spin-off Bandersnatch, interactive storytelling methods have endured as a timeless trend. The popularization of role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons even sparked similar controversies to some of those surrounding newer trends such as virtual reality games played through Oculus headsets. These sub-trends that fall under the umbrella of interactive storytelling all seem to repeat in a cyclical pattern, becoming most prominent when creative forms of escapism are in high demand, and this is one of those times.
A current surge in popularity of Jackbox games, skribbl.io, and many more define a whole new component of the current zeitgeist. Although it’s highly recommended that individuals attempt to limit their screen time during this pandemic (Mind: Screen Time), especially given that online meetings and other screen activity is at an all time high. There are many ways in which this storytelling technology can improve time spent at home.
Charlotte Taylor is an aspiring writer hoping to gain extra writing practice. She has written a number of short stories, one of which, Calm Before the Storm, won first prize in the 2019 Islands Short Fiction Contest. Her story, Tomorrow, was accepted for publication in the Ariadne Literary Journal run by the Independent Schools Association of BC. She has also written two plays, her first, Contrapasso, was performed at the North Island Regional Drama Festival and won an Award of Excellence for Playwriting and Directing. If you would like, you can read more of her work at: charlottetaylor.work.
Government of Canada. (2019, February 27). Mind: Screen Time. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from
Zeidler, M. (2020, April 05). How to talk to teens about the COVID-19 pandemic | CBC News. Retrieved
September 26, 2020, from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/teens-coronavirus-1.5522409