Mobile gaming has exploded in recent years, climbing from $17.5 billion in revenue in 2013 to $36.9 billion in 2016. This represents almost 40 percent of the gaming industry’s entire market and reveals that games designed specifically for smart phones and tablets are rapidly outperforming PC and console games.
A Novel Concept
Entering this infinitely expanding galaxy of mobile gaming apps is one that involves a novel concept: gamified fiction. Chapters – Interactive Stories—created by San Francisco-based Crazy Maple Studios, an iOS/Adroid app developer owned by ChineseAll USA Corporation and known for their game Tap Knights – Idle RPG—is “transform[ing] fiction stories into sustainable mobile games.” Launched in September 2017, Chapters was downloaded 250,000 times worldwide within the first month, and double that amount is projected to occur by mid-2018 as its catalog of game-adapted literature grows. Because the app is exclusively in English, 50 percent of the initial quarter-million downloads have been USA-based, while the remainder have been divided between the UK, India, Australia, Canada, and Brazil.
Available in GooglePlay and iStore, Chapters can be download for free. Once open, the homepage offers an array of genre fiction, with romance, horror, fantasy, and young adult selections principal among them. Supplementary chapters to existing titles become available each week. Currently, the app’s catalog of works includes titles by popular self-published authors, like Yuriko Hime, Gabriela Cabezut, and Jerilee Kaye, each of whom already has a significant following online and has previously released novels in either Kindle format or via the online storytelling community Wattpad. In the Chapters app, new gamified stories from other authors are now in production, a process that takes approximately three months, and these will be added throughout the end of the year. The application’s developers are also looking to significantly expand the scope of their catalog to include not only genre fiction, but literary fiction as well.
Chapters’ interface is very user-friendly, offering tap-and-load artistic adaptations of each book’s original cover art and organizing these titles first by genre and then by most recent release. As with other free games, an advertisement does appear upon first loading a chapter, with each ad inviting (but not requiring) tap interaction and lasting approximately one minute. However, tickets and diamonds, which serve as gaming currency, can either be earned slowly by watching these ads or can be purchased in bulk for various monetary amounts, from 99-cents to 10 dollars. Such purchases can cause the ads to stop appearing for a period of time. Additionally, diamonds can also unlock various elements of the story once the reader is inside it.
Each title begins with an author introduction, their gamified portrait-avatar, and an invitation to comment on their work following the title’s conclusion. In order to promote a sense of story ownership, users can employ their own name or other self-selected moniker to be used throughout the story. And upon presentation of the central character’s avatar, a selection of four appearances is offered, usually involving differences in hairstyle, wardrobe, or skin tone. Other story characters then directly engage the user, who is placed in the role of protagonist. If the reader closes the app, his or her place in the story is held and can be easily returned to by again tapping on the digital book cover.
Part of what makes the story a ‘gamified experience,’ beyond the avatars, graphics-generated settings, and music, is the user’s capacity to impact the course of the narrative. For example, a choice of character responses or actions is often offered to users, some of which are free and others of which involve the purchase of gaming currency, or the aforementioned diamonds. These plot selections are reminiscent of Bantam’s 1980s-era Choose Your Own Adventure books, which allowed readers to select between two actions that took them to different parts of the book and, consequently, onto a different path through the plot. In the app’s current format, such choices are in their infancy and do not lead to a bypass of plot points or facilitate any alternate routes through the story, but the potential is present and the possibility for such narrative experiments is exciting.
Fidelity to the Original Text
As it relates to choice-driven plot twists, overall fidelity to the original book concept—and, in most cases, text—is relatively high. On comparing a Chapters’ adaptation like Gabriela Cabezut’s Prince with Benefits to its original text, it is evident that a transformation has taken place. For example, Cabezut’s story has been converted from first-person narration to greater dialogue-reliance, since character-avatars speak to each other in text bubbles, moving readers through the story much like a comic. Tapping the screen once brings the next dialogue element or narrative explanation, and the story therefore progresses. Ultimately though, regardless of user choices, Chapters remains faithful to the author’s idea and overall narrative implementation.
Just as many mobile games allow users to face off or interact with one another, a few features in Chapters presents the opportunity for more public activity. For example, within each story chapter, at the lower left-hand corner of the app is the word “Danmaku,” which literally means “barrage of bullets” but, when tapped, actually begins an on-screen movement of comments from right to left above the story’s central action. Anonymous, apparently made by other users reading at the same time, the comments are sometimes nonsensical; occasionally lewd; and, less frequently, direct commentary on the on-screen action. To turn off the feature, the Danmaku button can be tapped again.
Another more promising community-based facet is the bite-sized “One-Tap Stories,” which are directly contributed by users, screened by the app developers, and posted as a series that readers can tap once to move through. Usually a few words long and accompanied by stock photos, these contributions, which often contain a byline, can be poignant and are somewhat similar to Hemingway’s six-word “Baby Shoes” story.
One of the app’s newest features is the Open Story Playground, which encourages users to submit microfiction, novels, and screenplays for consideration. Once reviewed by the app developers, selected stories will be presented to users for a people’s-choice vote, and the winning pieces will be adapted into gamified fiction. Such democratic treatment of the app’s content promotes a greater sense of proprietary engagement from its users.
While some of the racier romance story scenes—and there are some—may give parents pause, Chapters’ innovative approach to reading is certain to engage younger users. It packages literature in a context that is fresh; accessible; and, particularly for younger users, comfortably familiar, with its gamer’s approach and aesthetics. Moreover, it is mobile and can be enjoyed anywhere there is a Wi-Fi connection or a cell signal. As the app’s catalog of available literature grows, it will prove a valuable resource for parents seeking to pull their children away from mindless gaming and into more edifying electronics time and will similarly please adults seeking literary escape in a quasi-cinematic environment.
Kharpal, Arjun. “Mobile Game Revenue to Pass Console PC for First Time.” Tech Transformers: A CNBC Special Report. CNBC LLC, 22 Apr. 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2017. <https://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/22/mobile-game-revenue-to-pass-console-pc-for-first-time.html>.
Waldron, Valerie Lynn. “The Rise of Mobile Games: Factors Contributing to Their Success.” Eaten by a Grue: A Blog about Video Games and Libraries. University of Michigan Library, 25 Aug. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2017. <https://www.lib.umich.edu/blogs/eaten-grue/rise-mobile-games-factors-contributing-their-success>.
Savannah Schroll Guz is a freelance writer, copyeditor, book reviewer, and mixed-media artist. Formerly with the Smithsonian Institution Libraries in Washington, DC, Guz was a longtime book reviewer for Library Journal and was one of the magazine’s “Short Takes” columnists. Her articles and reviews have appeared in a number of publications, including American Craft, Modernism/Modernity, The Forward, Popmatters, and Pittsburgh City Paper, among others.