In the spirit of taking an alternative view as to what interaction can be, Nico and I came up with this idea for a romance game. The idea behind it is that the appeal of romance and romantic comedies is the fulfillment of a relationship fantasy. The parts of romantic stories that we enjoy have nothing to do with adventure or action, but entirely to do with social interaction. Therefore, that's what a game of this type should do.
The game would allow the player to choose from one of, lets say, a dozen people from different walks of life, who each start the game in some preset place in a small town environment. You walk around and find one of the other players, and try to start a relationship with them.
Interaction would take the form of making decisions about where to go with the person and what to say to them. Each recipient of the player's interaction has something of a plotline attached to them that the player discovers as they play, hopefully ending with some sort of romantic fulfillment.
Sounds sort of boring. Also sounds like every dating sim ever. But, I think if you give the interaction enough variation, it could end up being something really exciting and really different.
I imagine dialogue working this way: Each character has a number, lets say 1000, of established sentences that they can say at any point in any conversation. A player enters text via a keyboard, and gets a list of sentences that contain those words. Sort of like predicted text in a cell phone.
"i like you" yields
[ I think I like you! ]
I like it when you do that.
I can't believe I liked you!
Do you like the place I took you to?
The player selects a sentence, selects one of three or so tones that the sentence should be said in, and the computer recipient reacts differently depending on what's said, what tone it's said in, and what mood they're in.
The plotline for each computer character could also differ depending on what the player says and how they play the game. Either there would be certain elements of the plot that only get revealed when conversations go a certain way, or there could be multiple avenues for each plot to go (the first seems more feasible to me).
The game ends when you piss the person off so much, or when the conversations don't go anywhere, and the person leaves to their home, or wherever they go, and they won't take your calls or talk to you. There would be no "Game Over" screen, just the inability to continue the relationship with that person. If that happens, the player has to go find someone else.
I see this sort of game having lots of opportunities for expression. For example, not every character would have the same things that are available to them to say. You could have characters with different dialects, different vocabularies, different levels of education, different interests, and all are reflected in what is available to the player to say. Certain people might not work well with others, making the game more challenging if you pick two mismatched people to try and make the relationship work.
Plotlines could also contain commentary on social behavior. I had the idea that one character could be older and have an Auschwitz tattoo on his/her arm. If the player mentions something about this, you get added insight into the tattoo bearer's story, even an addition to their story. However, not all playable characters would have dialogue relating to such a thing, so depending on who you pick, you won't be able to access that part of the other person's story, and maybe not have as good a chance of having a relationship with them.
What I like best about this idea is that it takes control of a different aspect of a story and gives a good deal of free control over it. Rather than assuming that control over a character means telling them where to go, this idea shows the potential to control a person by telling them what to say and how to think.