Apr 28, 2012
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Choose Your Own Adventure Books – 30 years of interactive fiction that’s influenced the world.

First published in 1979, Choose Your Own Adventure books propelled the new genre known as interactive fiction into the popular culture stratosphere. The key to their success was that it placed you, the reader, at the centre of the story and you decided how the book progressed. It was kind of like a video game, but without the console, game cartridges, joystick and TV… ok, they were nothing like video games, but they were interactive and that was central to their entire success.

 

The Cave of Time was the first Choose Your Own Adventure printed. The book on the far left is a later edition that featured different art. I always preferred the original covers.

 

There wasn’t a school library anywhere that didn’t have at least a few dog eared, contact covered CYOA titles available. They were easy to read and I loved them for the same reason a zillion other kids around the world did. They were cleverly crafted stories that could trick any kid into reading, even the ones that never usually read a thing. Millions around the world became adept at using their fingers as bookmarks so you could weave back and forth between the stories mostly fatal decisions and any number of better endings to make sure every conclusion was reached – it was important to be able to easily backtrack when you struck a dead end or untimely demise.

Choose Your Own Adventure Books - the back cover for the first title, The Cave of Time.

Another awesome thing about them was that there were so many different genres covered. Time travel, Sci-Fi, Horror, Spy thrillers and Ancient Mysteries were all utilised for stories and each one could take you on a completely different adventure.

They were a publishers dream; with dozens of reprints right up until the last book was published in 1998. At that time there was over 250 million copies sold around the world. You can imagine the publisher’s that originally knocked the idea back were well and truly kicking themselves, kind of like the publishers that rejected J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter.

There were often other authors hired to make sure Packard could meet his contractual obligations with the publisher

Choose Your Own Adventure books had humble beginnings, and they couldn’t have known the impact they would have on the world for decades to come.

Edward Packard pioneered the interactive fiction genre back in 1969 when he wrote the first of his Adventures of You series, Sugarcane Island, which wasn’t published until 1976 by Vermont Crossroads Press. Bantam Books became interested in the idea and purchased the rights. With his story The Cave of Time they launched the Choose Your Own Adventure series in 1979. He went on to write over 60 of the stories right up to 1998.

Over 250 million Choose Your Own Adventures books were sold over the years.

Raymond Almiran Montgomery was the owner (along with his then wife Constance Cappel) of Vermont Crossroads Press, and they originally published Packard’s original few stories called Adventrures of You. Once the rights were sold to Bantam Books, he continued working on stories and he also contributed about 50 stories to the Choose Your Own Adventure series.

The Future of Choose Your Own Adventure?

Since the final CYOA books were published by Bantam Books in 1998, both Packard and Montgomery have gone on different paths to keep the Choose Your Own Adventures spirit alive.

Packard created a new company called U-Ventures in which he publishes new interactive stories as both books and app versions which can be downloaded for iPhone and iPad. These are new stories and one is even based around his original Cave of Time CYOA storyline. Enhanced by the new digital medium the app versions offer a brand new way to enjoy the format. Find them easily via iTunes and check out the Lite version if you are interested. Here’s a recent interview with Packard where talks about his books, past and present.

Montgomery created a new publishing company called Chooseco  and also bought the rights to the Choose Your Own Adventure trademarks. Under this banner he has begun republishing some of his original stories and also other authors. For the serious collectors there are even hardcover versions which are available in limited quantities.

Their lasting legacy

It’s easy to see how much of an influence a steady diet of Choose Your Own Adventure books had on kids during the 80’s and 90’s by just how much they have found their way into grown up popular culture.

There are heaps of examples on the net with ways the theme has been used and these are some recent fun ways that it’s come through:

Mad Men: The Game

8-bit graphics and sound meets the Advertising Agency drama set in 1960’s New York in this fun addition to the show.

 

New Girl (TV show starring Zooey Deschanel)

Decide what Jess and the gang do in this music video for the TV show’s theme song, Who’s That Girl?.

Decide how the party unfolds in this interactive music video for New Girl.

Make your own Choose Your Own Adventure

People have even written their own CYOA style stories:

The first is a self-published book titled, You are a Cat!

You are a cat! A Pick-a-Plot adventure, created in the same vein as Choose Your Own Adventure books.

It had a launch event on Facebook, and from there you can then click through to images used throughout the book.

This is an online Choose Your Own Adventure style story called “Oh Fuck, Zombies!!!”, where you read and click your way through a Zombie invasion in your town.

Further reading and exploration

Rereading some of these books for this blog post was a fun reminder of how they work and how they are constructed. People have explored breakdowns of the books and here are some links to some of this work:

A graphical breakdown of CYOA book the Mystery of Chimney Rock.

At this site, there’s a great analysis of some of the books and it even has some very cool animations showing the outcomes of each by colour-coding the books different endings.

Finally, if you are interested in interactive fiction and the expansive gamebook genre that it helped create (think Fighting Fantasy or Interplanetary Spy) through the 80’s and beyond you need to check out www.gamebooks.org

It’s a massive repository of information for just about any books from this field you can imagine including scans, publishers, reviews and checklists so if you want to start a collection it’s a really great place to start.

Choose Your Own Adventure Books - my collection.

 

8 Comments

  • Hi! Do you know if these books are OK for kids (8yo)?

    Thank you!

    • hi! Although they are considered more suitable for 9-10 year olds, they would be perfectly fine for an 8 year old. The type is large and language range is great for someone that age.

      There is a range of early reader Choose Your Own Adventure Books, but i think 8 is too old for those.

      Thanks for stopping by :)

  • I’ve loved this series since I started reading it in the 5th Grade back in early 80′s. This was the poor man’s video game along with Basic Dungeon and Dragons red box set. I think I learned more reading through the cyoa books and d&d than I did in school some days. In the late 90′s when I started reading my children bedtime story’s my interest in cyoa got renewed and think back too Edward Packard’s story how he would let his children make the decisions. I’ve managed to collect 2 Adventure of You books from 1976 and treasure each of the 400+ cyoa books I now own. My kids love them and there desire to read has resulted in spending alot of time in local Library’s and Bookstores. I’m happy to say one day I even got a call from my son’s Principal. Alex was in trouble for Reading too much in class. What a terrible blessing to have. Thank you Edward Packard for your cyoa books.

    • Hi Butch, what a great story! Sounds like you have an amazing collection! I’m hoping to find some Adventures of You books somewhere in my travels one day, but love revisiting the old stories.

  • Loved the article! I read CYOAs as a kid, shared them with my own children while they were growing up and now I am looking forward to reading them with my grandchildren (I have 4 and we are expecting the 5th any day now). Interactive fiction did indeed influence my own life back then and continues to influence it today. My own CYOA science fiction novel, The Vortex was published a few months ago as an ePub and has been very well received. Today’s eReader and Tablets with their ability to automatically jump to the appropriate page with a simple tap has made interactive fiction accessible to a whole new generation of readers. This is a genre that continues to teach people of all ages to “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure”!

    • Thank you so much Randy, glad you enjoyed the post! Will check out your novel and let you know what i thought of it :)

  • I loved those ‘choose your own adventure’ books, I just received an old box that had been kept in storage since I was a kid. Appears I liked MAD books and Snoopy books as well. Nice read, thanks

    • Ahh, they are fun to read even today. I love all those collections, especially the MAD stuff. Thanks for stopping by, glad you liked the post mate :)

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