Immersive #8: Fallen London

When writing a story, all too often creators develop a linear course of events, from which worldbuilding information is slowly introduced to the readers through the characters’ exploration of the narrative plot. What isn’t essential to the story ends up being relegated to obscure references or supplementary material elsewhere. While this form of worldbuilding can still impact the reader emotionally with its intentional design, there is still a disconnect present between the reader and the main character, primarily due to the fact that the reader is prevented from fully experiencing the world on their own terms in following the perspectives of the character themselves.

As such, some stories have fallen on a model of interactive fiction where the reader is able to gain agency within the story and discover the world through their own perspective by actively making choices to move the narration along. Recognizing the power that this narrative style had, Failbetter Games developed the text-based open-world RPG Fallen London to explore the concept of a lore-rich exploratory world that provides the player with the gift of choice.

In Fallen London, choices are immediately given to the player from the start as they craft their own identity and explore a Victorian-Gothic underworld full of many diverse and intriguing storylines that are revealed incrementally and at random. A sense of depth and space is carefully cultivated within the player through the vivid descriptions and visualizations of the city and its residents. Additionally, gameplay decisions are limited by action points, which causes the player to consider their actions carefully and to experience the story in real time. 

Map-Outlines
Outlined map of all the locations players can explore

But, what makes the game most interesting is the fact that it can’t be completed in the traditional sense where there is a clear path to victory. Rather, fulfillment is created on the player’s own accord based on their own ambition. Within the Fallen London universe, the Seeking Mr. Eaten’s Name (SMEN) storyline has become widely regarded as the storyline that challenges the extent to which a player’s ambition lasts through the sacrifice that they must go through to reach the ending, which holds no equivalent reward. Pursuing SMEN is a brutal endeavor that slowly drains the player of their in-game belongings as they’re all given up in hopes of gaining a slim glimpse of progress, simulating a downward spiral of desperation and struggle. To make matters even more unconventional, if the storyline is completed in its entirety, the game ends. The account is no longer playable: a shocking realization that permanent consequences are not avoidable even within a game.

r/fallenlondon - There will be an end. (All shall be well.)
SMEN ending prompt

In the end, with this mixture of endless world exploration and permanence, Fallen London truly resembles an in-depth world where the player has the power to shape the narrative to their own desires and one in which the text-based visual format can thrive as seen through Failbetter Games’ dedication to the game even years after its initial release in 2009. While sometimes the nature of Fallen London being all-encompassing from character attributes to storyline depth causes the beginning player to feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice, the slow evolution of becoming comfortable in navigating the visual space is a compelling enough motive to continue the exploration of the world for those who find themselves motivated by knowledge.

Explore Fallen London: HERE

Liana Lau

Liana Lau is a student at the University of Michigan, who enjoys learning about interesting marketing campaigns and storytelling techniques. Her section, Immersive, is dedicated to captivating storytelling experiences across many different platforms that engage the viewer with its content through its art form.

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