The interactive short story

Since my post about Realms of Fantasy, I've been thinking about how one might create a transmedia "short story." It's one thing to make a transmedia experience that can take place over a short amount of time, but what interests me especially is the potential for "replayability" -- or more to the point, the ability to experience the story whenever you want. Most transmedia experiences as many understand them take place over a specific period of time. This is necessitated by the fact that if the experience is to be truly interactive for the audience, the design team needs to be able to respond in real-time to the audience, create character interactions, and even potentially change the progress or outcome of the story depending on the audience's actions. It's just not practical to be able to do that beyond a limited scope of time.

So what I wonder is, might it be possible to create a story, with interactive elements, that doesn't require a constant steward?

Character interaction could be simulated with auto-responders on email, or automatic phone messages. But the story would have to be constructed in such a way that this makes sense, so that the responses don't seem awkward or out of place.

I can also imagine a story constructed with multiple endings, such that the outcome depends partially on the actions of the "reader". But does that just devolve the experience to one of those bad choose-your-own-adventure books?

And how do you construct those options for your audience? If it comes to a "click here to do A, click here to do B" then it's just a bad RPG dialogue tree, restricts the actions of the audience, and loses its appearance of reality and true interactivity.

Ultimately, you'd have to find a way to make those choices organic to the story.

No Mimes Media has accomplished something like this with their 10-minute ARG example of what they do (playable here -- it's quite amusing). Here, the interactivity takes the form of typical ARG interactivity -- the actions of the audience are to go to different websites, solve puzzles, figure out the story, and send an email. While this is certainly cool, is that interactive enough? There's only one path to take, only one outcome of the story. It's pretty standard "railroading." (I'm not on board with the idea that all railroading is bad (that's a whole different blog post, I think) but it's not as interactive as some people prefer.)

What are your thoughts? How interactive does a transmedia story need to be? How much can you get away with making people think a story is interactive without it being truly so? How much can you get away with using game-like mechanics to achieve it?