The way I try to handle situations like that is: once someone has the item or has fully interacted with something in a way that they don't need access to it anymore, I'll use the STOP variable to prevent them from clicking it, to save them some clicks if there's already plenty of other things to do or explore. However I may also check the "Visible When Inactive" option, which will show the action link (such as "Open the trunk") but have it grayed out and non-clickable.
If you're feeling ambitious and it makes sense for the flow of the storygame, you could even connect some on-page text that says something like "You already got X item from the trunk", in addition to graying out the link or making it disappear.
That method mainly reminds the reader of what they've already accessed and obtained. Let's say you had a room with a dresser, a desk, a nightstand, a closet, and such with over a dozen different things to open. This combined with other rooms in a house, with their own objects to interact with. The reader can easily get disoriented if you have them randomly exploring too wide of an area for that one pesky thing they accidentally missed to progress forward. That could leave them backtracking and going in circles until they find it, which probably isn't enjoyable for some people. Using that house example, if you gray out any object they accessed (that was empty), and any drawer they got the item out of (but only after they grab the item), it'll help them navigate things better and easily know if they missed checking a spot or not. It does drop the difficulty though, so that's more of a design choice that could go either way. You can also combine the methods, and keep some things accessible, while removing access to others.
Personally speaking, if you have a lot of different locations to explore and the reader may have to backtrack in case they missed something, then either removing the trunk link or graying it out (as described above) would improve the quality-of-life. Just make sure to not accidentally remove access to something they may need to go back to. In general I wouldn't mind you doing what you described.
The way I'd probably approach something like that is to be descriptive of the contents of the drawers or other objects outside of what the reader would be looking for. Use it as a bit of optional world building, that would give them more insight into whoever was using that room. If it was a bedroom, a drawer could have some yarn and a few crochet hooks next to their socks for example, which would imply an interest crocheting. Doesn't need to be anything too fancy.
Or if it was a mystery story, you could even use it as a way to scatter some subtle clues that'll make solving the mystery easier. If it was a murder mystery, mix those subtle clues with some world building elements. Then even once the murderer is figured out, it'll help paint a broader picture of what type of person the killer is past their raw motivation and their act of killing. Maybe they have unique hobbies, or their true love died many years ago (you could find an old letter in a drawer), or they might not be such a bad person in general, but felt pressured to the point of thinking murder was the only solution.
Still wouldn't go past 3-4 lines for each description if possible though, to make the text easier to digest and to not break up the pace of exploration too much. But to still make it more engaging than simply opening up random drawers and getting generic descriptions.
In regards to your last few comments, I agree with that for the most part. I'll just add, the project I'm working on for the contest does have a lot of exploration-driven mechanics, since I was really intent on making that work out. It's not perfect by any means, but I think it'll offer a different look at how exploring combined with freedom can be handled in a CYOA type setting. When it's published I'll send you a link if you want, since you might be interested in the approach of it.
One solution to that design limitation in CYoAs is to dynamically limit which options (hyperlinks) are available based on previous information / random rolls / both. Combined with masking outcomes (e.g. have three different 'outcome' pages ready, but which one is shown to the user is contingent on a rule), the otherwise simple looking decision making can become far more nuanced and replayable / unpredictable. However, it will require properly communicating with the player which factors can affect outcomes (game developers rarely ever use pure randomness in design, and for good reason).
I'm not a fan of IF because it creates a ton of other problems while trying to solve one (trading off simplicity in understanding affordances in favor of a questionable sense of discovery that can become extremely laborious or clumsy to walk through). There have been a few hybrid models, e.g. otherwise Visual Novel gameplay interspersed with interacting with clues in 3D space to find specific hidden information points (best example for this is how Ace Attorney's later versions have a visual novel format to get to cases, but an investigative detective style to examine evidence once found)
Hmm. In that case could you recommend a few good modern IFs? I'm curious to see how they'd be able to move the medium forward, and through what interventions.
Thank you for the extensive list! Will go through them and check out IFComp submissions as well
My only experiences with CYOA has been those Club Penguin pick your path books, and Steve Jackson's Fighting Fantasy books. Steve Jackson's books had a lot of exploration and rpg elements, and many paths would? take you back to a place where you were before. Especially in ones like Forest of Doom and Sorcery. So my experience with CYOA is pretty different from yours. ?But the Club Penguin books I used to read would only be one way, just like you said, except they were like 80 pages long and with 15 or so endings so backtracking wasn't too hard.
So to answer: I don't think it's too important to have a link to go back on a fairly short Storygame like a 4/8 length. But on a really long one, like with a length of 6 or higher, it wouldn't be a bad idea to implement one where logical. Then again, there's always the Go Back button.
I guess CYS makes it easier to explore some really complex environments with many smaller things to look at or examine because it's all digital. Imagine having to flip to a certain page in a book just to see three sentences describing said thing, not to mention the waste of paper, making the book dozens of extra pages longer than it needs to be. So, in my opinion, those kinds of explorable environments should remain digital.