As an 80s child I grew up on these fantastic stories that put YOU in charge, able to make a string of plot decisions that would either lead you to your ultimate goal, or more often than not to your ultimate and somewhat far-fetched death. To get through a Choose Your Own Adventure book successfully required wisdom, courage, foresight, but most importantly, the ability to hold two or three pages at once to compare the outcomes to a particularly tricky decision (yeah, I cheated, who didn’t?).
I loved everything about these books. From the simplistic uniform front covers, the illustrations, even down to the actual fonts used to tell the story (it’s Benguiat, if you’re interested, and yes, I grew up to be a graphic designer. No child should get that excited about a typeface).
Choose Your Own Adventure books have been a huge influence on me. I believe they got me into reading in the first place. As a kid I’d be put off by the length and rigidity of proper books. Choose Your Own Adventure offered something fun and immediate. The second person narrative was unusual and the book titles and stories were exciting. And hey, there were pictures in them too. They couldn’t fail.
I haven’t read them all yet, but as adult I’ve started to collect them (not seriously, just from boot-sales and charity-shops). So far I’ve got a good chunk of the first sixty titles or so, but as a kid these were all I ever checked out from my local library – I think I stopped reading them around book #138 Dinosaur Island (published in 1993, which if you’re a geek will know that’s the year Jurassic Park was released.) The reason I stopped was solely because the library seemed to stop getting new ones in. Not sure what books I moved onto next, but the lack of my ability to remember speaks volumes about the impression they made compared to this great series.
Looking back, the Choose Your Own Adventure series was always doomed, a case of ‘great idea, wrong time.’ When they were first published home computing didn’t really exist, by the time they ceased publication in 1998, Tomb Raider had been released. Those twenty years saw a huge shift in both technology and what audience expects from ‘games’ – whether they be board games, game-books, or computer games.
Given the back catalogue I’m surprised the Choose Your Own Adventure series hasn’t been picked up and marketed for smartphones. It wouldn’t be particularly complicated to convert them, they are essentially text adventures – something that has existed since the early days of the ZX Spectrum.
And that’s another thing about Choose Your Own Adventure – what debt do today’s computer games owe the series? The first text-adventures to appear on the Spectrum were the same model, with blocky graphics. When you pick up a Choose Your Own Adventure you’re looking at a computer program in physical form. It’s basic, crude, but it works…and it is and always will be a thing of beauty. And with so many endings, you could read it over and over and never read the same book. How’s that for value for money?
If you choose to learn more about RA Montgomery...click here
If you choose to learn more about the Choose Your Own Adventure books…click here