Saturday, November 15, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure

The publisher and author of many of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, Raymond Montgomery, died a few days ago.

For those who don't remember, the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) line was a series of books printed largely in the 1980s and 1990s. The books--focused on fantasy, mystery, and science fiction (but also other "exciting" genres like spies or explorers)--were a kid-friendly romp through an adventure. At certain points in the narrative, pretty much on every page, the reader got to make a decision. It might be something simple, like either going right or left, or something more engaging, like pulling a lever or opening a box. As such, each novel actually had multiple endings--some good, some bad, but always fun and engaging. (As a bit of trivia, it's also one of the few modern works written in the second person.)

It may seem a little tame now, but it's sometimes hard to remember that this was all before the internet and sophisticated video games. It would be a decade or two before home computers could create compelling video games that let the user make meaningful choices that impacted the storyline; likewise, the internet wasn't even close to a household utility. If one wanted to, quite literally, "choose" their own adventure, these books were pretty much it. (Notably, they were aimed at 10 to 14-year-olds, and often served as a stopgap until the kids who were interested in the genre could progress to proper pen-and-paper role playing games.)

Of course, there were plenty of imitators. I specifically remember one that had an inventory system, so you could write down objects as you collected them, and if you had them in a later chapter you would get additional options. It also had a (in retrospect, kind of stupid) random number generator, where you'd close your eyes, circle your pencil around, and where it landed is the number you "rolled." Of course, after about a dozen times it was chewed up and littered with little dots, but it got the job done. (I actually enjoyed this book quite a bit, but could never find any other books in the same series.)

Anyway, after video games because sophisticated enough and the internet opened everything up, the needs for CYOA diminished. They're still around, in different formats, but it's not quite the same. Still, it's an unique idea that filled a need when it was needed.

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