On the morning that I had to collect my biopsy reports, I wanted to hold onto the feeling of not knowing what comes next. I wanted to pause that moment in time where I was alive, where I didn’t yet know if everything was going to change. But I was not a character in one of my Choices books. This was not a chapter, and I could not abandon halfway.My earliest memory of playing Choices: Stories You Play was in journalism school, a few months into the game’s launch in August 2016. When The Freshman, one of the first books released on the app, prompted me to pick a name for my character, I typed mine in full: Somdyuti Datta Ray.
In Choices, players can pick interactive stories or “books” across genres like adventure, romantic drama, horror, fantasy, and mystery. New “chapters” are released every week. You customize your protagonist down to their face, skin tone, hairstyle, clothes—even gender in select books. It's a world where your choices impact the narrative and those around you.
Book after book, chapter after chapter, I was in my characters’ heads. Do I want to be kinder? Do I want to spare a life? Should I betray my friends? I’d find myself carefully choosing my responses (“Would I say this in real life?”) and my actions (“Do I really want to?”). I was treading a fine line between my real self and a version of myself that breathed within the chapters of the books. My characters lived in a fictional world molded by my decisions. It became my safe place: I could feel things and do things that I wouldn’t say aloud.
But, as months rolled into years, these choices—my choices—settled heavier on me. I would open the app and ask, am I lying to myself? I knew that none of my choices were wrong. If selfhood was a spectrum, then the sum of my intentions in the game would make me.I wanted to be desired, wanted, loved. How does it feel to be ached for wholly and unconditionally, like my counterpart in #LoveHacks?I wanted to feel empowered. How does it feel to wield my beauty to deceive others, like my counterparts in A Courtesan of Rome and Blades of Light and Shadow?
I wanted to be a hero. How does it feel to lay down my life for the greater good?
I could be more, more, more. So then, if I was living my true self as my characters, who am I?
There was an intimacy in admitting to myself that my characters onscreen were an extension of myself. It was no different than putting myself in the shoes of the hundreds of characters in books and films. And if I was the choices that I make in the game, I was also my other “selves.”