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A Look At The “Choose Your Own Adventure” books

This week, we look into the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books.

The most recent memories I had reading them were two books I had discovered in my brother’s room as a kid, one was science fiction and the other was a sword and sorcery story story about elves.

I read them like any other book…that is, until I realized they weren’t like any other books at all. Usually, normal books will go through a linear fashion left to right. Each story, chapter, page number, plot, etc is in an organized step by step order. Whereas, with the “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories, however, they have a mix and match system.

The major difference will always be the outcome of the story’s plot. A marketable technique in which the reader, in an interactive way, will decide the story’s outcome based on the decisions he or she has made along the way. Much similar to multi-chaptered endings in certain video games, you can either like the ending your character has faced. Or (reset) the story and start over. Maybe wanting to choose the other options as well.

Because the writers of these books, know that children when learning to read, are first taught to read the book beginning to end, on the front of every book will read a warning as follows:

WARNING

“Do not read this book from beginning to end. These pages contain many different adventures that you may have to face (insert who you are pretending to be based on the story’s plot here) From time to time as you read along, you will be asked to make a choice.Your choice may lead to success or disaster.”

“The adventures you have are the results of your choices. You are responsible because you choose! After you make a choice, follow the instructions to see what happens to you next”

“Thank carefully before you make a decision.”

“Good Luck!”

Basically, because you were going to need it. Even if you thought you can work your way out of a scenario or you believed that scenario was the logical choice-nope, it wasn’t sadly.

It still would have been a one-way death trap waiting for you and it was GAME OVER!

But then you could be lucky, and your decision was the right choice. And then rainbows and sunshines for everyone.

These books were a huge best-seller, due to the fact that it allowed the child to interact with the book-they just weren’t limited to imagining themselves in the body of a main character that was pre-made and already had it’s own backstory to fall on written in advance. It was (for the sake of the book’s intentions) a cookie cut-out protagonist following themselves through the hero’s journey. For the first time, they actually were at the driver’s seat, riding the story along making it THEIR adventure, their choice, they were as much as an important part of the plot than the characters major and minor they were reading about.

If there were any comparison to be made, the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books were the video game RPGs of the literary world. The old school RPGs where you chose a character: Race, Sex, Age, Profession, Class, etc. Your avatar would walk along interacting with NPCs (non-playable characters) and then, they would walk up to them sometimes with dialogue options where what they say could either screw you over, or you could get some experience points out of it. As well as maybe a quest, items, or a new traveling companion. However, with the books some of the minor characters are already established depending on your alignment and so what you have to do is watch what you say or do to get the desired outcome. Except instead of experience points, it was the satisfaction that your character lived long enough to survive the next page.

At the bottom of the book near the page corners were small little instructions in which you were asked to continue, go to a certain page number, or you came to your two decisions. Maybe a third one if the situation varies.

However, sometimes the book will lose its mystery and suspense if you read it over and over to the point of exhausting it. Despite that, these books are very highly re-readable, as it draws the child-reader in with what other possibilities the other books of the franchise presents itself with. So naturally, the book itself might lose its flavor, but will draw them into checking out other “Choose Your Own Adventure Books” and the best part is that a lot of those stories come in different ranges to fit every child’s taste and interest. From Fantasy, Mystery, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Horror, Real-life situations, Romance, Historical Fiction, Time Travel, Western; you will probably won’t find a subject that hasn’t been covered in these kind of books.

Well, maybe except erotica fiction, but I doubt it wouldn’t be anymore interesting than “If you think the condom broke panic and turn to page 14” or “To switch positions turn to page 78”. Though with the ongoing popularity of Erotic novels hitting our bookstores recently, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a adults-only choose your own adventure book with Fifty Shades of Grey. That would be a laugh.

Even Disney and R.L Stine got on the wagon with their own “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories. With the book adapted Disney movies and “Choose Your Own Nightmare.”

There were a few others for Star Wars and Star Trek franchise as well as The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

Now, the books have a lot going for them. Unique concept, interactive characterization, and a cornucopia of endings of different degrees that will make flipping the pages forwards, backwards, and forwards again seem like they’re worth it. But, there are a few flaws, although nothing serious that has held them back in popularity. Though, these have certainly not been overlooked and may come up eventually in conversations about these stories.

One, is the constant page flipping, depending on how long you intend to go at the story, if you want to take a break and go off to do something else, you might find it hard to know where you left off once you come back to the story. I had this happen on occasion, as I was learning to meander through this strange new concept, as your bookwormish mind is naturally taught to pick up where you left off with you relying on the continuity of the book to keep you focused.

Not necessarily with these kind of books. Because they are not written as straightforward, so its not uncommon at first that you may tend to screw up and get lost from time to time.

But, what seems to help is certain trial and error, as once you get familiar with all the story options, and how these kind of books work, you will find the one that you have previously selected and continue on without any trouble at all.

Another flaw is a small one, but nothing that really can be fixed. As two to three different story options will be back to back in the book, you might be clued in on an important decisions outcome or twist just by seeing it in the next page or while you are thumbing through it. So an ending or as I like to call it “a death trap” (where you get a bad outcome that traps or kills your character off) will be revealed and then you will no doubt avoid it. Therefore, it will ruin the suspense.

But, I think the writers were banking on the short-attention span of some their readers in the beginning to work around this first problem, now I think they may have gotten better about concealing the endings to keep children from accidentally finding them. Hence, spoiling the surprise.

One thing the writers did when it came to endings was add “trick endings”, or “endings that came on a loop” so you could go back if you didn’t like one ending and choose another one. Something you would never get with any run of the mill young adult book.

The books don’t really have any stated moral or lesson to be derived from, as like with their genres the story will vary from time to time so there wouldn’t be any way a moral would slip through unless it was done subtly. But, I think one of the lessons any child at any age reading them will probably pick up, is the importance of how their actions will not only affect them but those around them. As they are in charge of the story, any decisions they make have them responsible for how they will concede to the story’s plot. Will they fix the problem? Will they assist the bad guy or the good guy? Will they do the right thing or will they do the wrong thing-and if so what are the consequences.

It works because it is not TELLING the child-reader straight out in black and white, but they are actually performing this lesson, experiencing it first-hand, and which will carry on with them more in the long run, probably better than someone hitting the lesson over the head with a hammer and not knowing why it should be applied in their own life.

Another great thing about these books, is that it does more to heighten (or even create) the child’s imagination and sense of curiosity. Even if they skim through the pages once, they will still be engrossed in the story and eager to know what happens to their character next, whether that character will live or die. They want to know the outcome and determined to see it through. A positive trait for children to learn at a young age. As such, these books are recommended at a young age when children are their most imaginative and inquisitive.

If buying one of those books for your child, pick one that is more suited to THEIR interests and taste, as it will make it easier for them to get into the role-playing aspect of the story if it’s something they have an extreme fascination for. It will help with making it enjoyable for them in regards to re-readability

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2 Comments

  1. David says:

    These books were a big part of my preteen years. I fondly remember ‘The Cave of Time’, ‘Space Patrol’, and ‘Deadwood City’.

    Deadwood City, if I remember correctly, had the artwork within depict the character you were playing as a girl. A rarity in that day and age and a nice nod to note that girls like so called boys things as well.

    I credit Choose Your Own Adventure books for my love of RPG as well as opening the door to fantasy and sci-fi books when I reached my teen years. I am curious how many designers of open world games were influenced by these simple little books giving you choice and control of the narrative.

    Maybe the popularity of these books will return for this generation. These books were a great way to spend a long car ride or pass away a long, hot afternoon.

  2. Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed the article. As someone with a creative imagination myself, I loved the choose your own adventure books and reading them got me into a love of PC gaming RPGs as I got older. I remember being so inspired by them I tried to write my own “Choose Your Own Adventure” story myself, it was easier said than done. But I guess it was the thought that count.

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