OK, this is a little bit of a cheap post, but I can’t resist — bona fide big time online magazine Slate has an article up on the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books! This opening paragraph pretty much nails why I liked them growing up:
Unlike Dungeons & Dragons, which required friends; or computer games, which required your parents to spend a lot of money; or arcade games, which required your sister to drive you to the mall, Choose Your Own Adventure books cost $1.75, and you could read them on your own.
The best part was the cheating. Oh Lord, how I cheated. Holding my place, flipping forward to see what would happen, then flipping back and taking the alternate if I didn’t like it. Randomly opening the book and going from wherever I landed. Starting from the ending and working my way backwards. It didn’t matter that the only person I was “cheating” was me; that was part of the fun. Little did I know I was actually already accounted for:
From the start, the books were full of innovative page hacks. Readers would be trapped in the occasional time loop, forced to flip back and forth between two pages. Most memorable was Inside UFO 54-40, a book in which the most desired outcome, discovering the Planet Ultima, could only be achieved by readers who cheated and flipped through the book until they reached the page on their own. At that point, the book congratulated the reader for breaking the rules.
My biggest problem was finding the darn things. Mega-bookstores weren’t around back then — at least, not beyond the Waldenbooks in the mall, and that was 45 minutes away — so I had to make do with the two or three adventures I’d scrounged up.
I do recall getting frustrated because there were so many other things I would’ve done, but they wouldn’t give me the choice. Like in our latest adventure — how about jumping onto the spider claws, climbing into the robot cleanup droid, and commandeering it? This is why I had to move on to RPGs ultimately — not enough scope for my deviant mind.
The problem with RPGs, of course, was that you had to have other people to play them, and all too often other people who like RPGs were in short supply. I think that’s what makes computer RPGs so popular — they offer a much wider scope of action than the “Choose Your Own Adventure” types of books (though always less than face-to-face pen and paper RPGs), and you can play them alone if you need to.
I have to say, though, I might’ve changed my mind had I been reading Montgomery instead of Packard:
While Packard was writing the standard sword-and-sorcery story The Forbidden Castle about dragons, knights, and princesses, Montgomery unleashed the berserk House of Danger which involved super-intelligent monkeys plotting to destabilize the world economy via counterfeiting, psychic detectives, Civil War ghosts, alien abduction, holograms, age regression, cannibalism, secret environmental conspiracies, and one ending that has the reader turned into Genghis Khan.
Clearly, I backed the wrong horse!