Choose Your Own Adventure

25/04/2014 10:36 | Updated 20 May 2015

Choose Your Own Adventure

I'll be surprised if you don't - the books are the fourth bestselling children's series of all time and remain a classic marker of growing up in the 1980s.

They were wildly successful right from their launch in 1979. Young readers loved the idea that you didn't read these books from start to finish - instead, you got to make decisions page by page which led you to a multiplicity of parallel consequences and, ultimately, dozens of differing story endings.

It was engaging and empowering, a new way of enjoying stories which sucked in the most reluctant of readers.

The all-American author of much of the series, Ray Montgomery, had studied game theory and helped design role-playing simulations before having the Choose Your Own Adventure [CYOA] lightbulb moment.

Other writers had played with interactive fiction before, but CYOA was the first to become a craze.

So how delightful to discover that although the original series wound down in the late 1990s, it's been revived in the last ten years, specifically to meet the 'second wave' as grown fans of the originals seek to introduce their own children to the idea.

There are now reissues of many of the classics as well as new titles and spin-off series, and last year the series started publishing for Kindle, where the books become like old-fashioned text-based computer games.

I just reread Space And Beyond, the third book in the original series, now republished. And actually the process reminded me that you don't really read these books, in a funny way.

By page two of this futuristic intergalactic adventure, you're already deciding which of two remote planets to visit (here's a clue - one's a dead end). And from that point on, your decisions on each page lead on to a staggering 42 different endings to the story.

Lost in space; captured by aliens; time-travel; working for peace - if you follow any one chain of decisions, your story is bound to be super-dramatic, but it doesn't last very long. And at that point, you have to go back and start again with a different decision.

In adulthood I found this intriguing if frustrating, but to a child, it opens up the idea of possibility; of making a difference. Some of the books have secret endings, or loops which take you back to different points in the story. Others have story maps which act as a blueprint to guide the reader.

The CYOA books are also surprisingly educational - Space And Beyond touches playfully on physics, astronomy, peace politics, and quite a bit of philosophy. The messages are endearingly positive, about working towards peace, not war.

And the classic sci-fi adventure theme is perfectly complemented by the choice-based plot structure - this is the perfect read for a young explorer.


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