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.
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.
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.
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.
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?.
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!
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.
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.