The Counsel in The Cave

Hi there! My name is Josh Fratis and I’m excited to be a part of the 2022 Creative Arts Fellowship! 

As part of the fellowship, I’m hard at work creating The Counsel in The Cave, a piece of magical realist interactive fiction about storytelling, graduating, and being lost. Interactive fiction is a style of storytelling through digital text in which the reader is asked to make choices that direct the narrative. 

After four months of designing and programming, and one month dedicated to writing and illustrating, I’ve finished my first draft, which you can play here! I’m excited to begin playtesting and revising next week. If you’d like to help me by playing my game and offering your feedback, you can reach me at All questions and critiques are greatly appreciated. Thanks so much!

Clover Flooded Hills
Illustration from “Clover Flooded Hills,”
the first scene in The Counsel in The Cave

In The Counsel in The Cave, players follow Jason, a directionless student soon to graduate, as he delves into a magical labyrinth hidden beneath his high school in search of his missing guidance counselor. This labyrinth sits at the confluence of strange, imaginative worlds traveled by all manner of wanderers. In their impossible geometry, characters confront what it means to be lost.

How choice is designed to enrich narrative varies across pieces of interactive fiction. In one game, choices might allow the player to explore a storyworld through the eyes of a character. In another, a player might choose dialogue that shapes their character’s relationships with other characters. Often, the choices a player makes will decide how the story ends. 

While branching narrative exists within The Counsel in The Cave, its focus lies more in dialogue choices that allow the player to engage in imaginative character building. By removing the expectation of a branching narrative, The Counsel in The Cave is able to draw focus to the implications each choice holds for the internal lives of the characters themselves.

Players develop complex ideas about who their characters are, then take ownership of their characters and realize the stories they tell themselves. In deciding how to express their vision, players become creative actors and storytellers within the authored narrative. The game asks what interactive fiction looks like when players are given a license to interpret, imagine, and perform. 

Sea Cliffs
Illustration of a landscape from “The Layers,”
the magical labyrinth in The Counsel in The Cave

At the University of Pittsburgh, I’m pursuing a major in Digital Narrative and Interactive Design with minors in Computer Science and Creative Writing. 

It’s my goal to become a professional game designer. I hope to spend the next couple years building a portfolio of awesome games, then earn my place in the industry at a small studio. This project is my most professional project to date. I intend for it to showcase my creative writing in an interactive narrative and ability to complete a demanding, long term project. I look forward to presenting it both physically in Hillman Library at The University of Pittsburgh and digitally on a new portfolio website of my own design.

The Impossible Stair
Illustration of “The Impossible Stair,”
a gateway between the magical and mundane worlds
in The Counsel in The Cave.

When I’m not writing, I’ve found I love exploring my new neighborhood and enjoying the summer weather. I’m also obsessed with cooking up all sorts of culinary experiments. And of course I try to play as many games as I can! In the past couple weeks, I’ve played two fun pieces of interactive fiction: Birdland by Brendan Patrick Hennessy and Subsurface Circular by Mike Bithell Games. I recommend you check them out! 

I’d like to thank my project mentor, Dr. Steven LeMieux, for helping me learn how to take on such a demanding creative project, and for continuing to support my work this summer. I’d also like to thank Dr. Brett Say for leading the Creative Arts Fellowship and creating such fulfilling opportunities for creators at the University of Pittsburgh. I also intend to collaborate with Benjamin Small to create the game’s sound and music.

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