Choose Your Own Adventure® gamebooks began life in 1979 as the first publishing effort of a new division at Bantam Books focused on younger readers. The series of interactive gamebooks initially had only so-so sales, until some genius in marketing had the idea to “seed” 100,000 books in libraries across the country (thank you, whoever you are!). Overnight, the books became hugely popular. Between 1979–1999, the series sold over 250 million copies worldwide and was translated into 38 languages.
The original “classic” Choose Your Own Adventure series contained 184 gamebooks authored by 30 different writers. The books were set in locations around the globe, in outer space, under the sea, and in several distinctly imagined fantasy worlds. Over the course of its publication, CYOA featured every known literary genre. The last new title in the original series was released by Bantam (which had by then become a division of Random House) in 1998. The series of gamebooks is currently published by the independent publishing company, Chooseco LLC, of Waitsfield, Vermont, founded in 2003 by author and series founder R. A. Montgomery and CYOA author and game designer Shannon Gilligan.
CYOA CO-FOUNDER R. A. MONTGOMERY
Montgomery, known to friends as Ray, attended Hopkins Grammar School, Williston Academy, and graduated from Williams College in 1958. After getting kicked out of Yale Divinity School the following year for spending too much time skiing and mountain climbing, Ray focused next on what became a lifelong passion–innovative methods of teaching young students. He first worked at the Wall Street Journal, going into classrooms to encourage teachers to use the Journal in their curriculum. Subsequently he became Assistant Dean of Faculty under Professor Jacques Barzun, Dean of Faculty, at Columbia University, from 1963 to 1965. He founded the Waitsfield Summer School in Waitsfield, Vermont, in 1966. At the time, it was a revolutionary program aimed at children with learning challenges, in which the English curriculum was experientially based and gaming was used exclusively to teach basic math.
HOW DID CYOA ORIGINATE?
CYOA has its roots in game theory and role-playing simulations. In 1976, R. A. Montgomery was running Vermont Crossroads Press, a small publisher known for its innovative children’s list, when he was approached by Ed Packard with a manuscript entitled Sugarcane Island. Montgomery, who had been involved in the design of interactive role-playing games in the early 1970s for both government and industry, recognized an RPG in book form and quickly agreed to publish it. He christened the gamebook series “The Adventures of You.” When Packard opted to publish his next book with Lippincott, hoping for wider distribution, Montgomery wrote the second book in the series himself. Journey Under the Sea was published in 1977 under the penname Robert Mountain. Publishers Weekly wrote at the time that the series was “an original idea, well carried out.” In 1978, Montgomery sold his interest in the press, but retained rights to The Adventures of You. He brought the gamebook series to Bantam Books, which was starting a new children’s book division. Montgomery signed a contract for six books in 1978, and invited Ed Packard and another former VCP writer, Doug Terman, to contribute books to the new venture. Bantam renamed the series Choose Your Own Adventure. Between 1979–1999, Bantam published 184 original CYOA titles and nearly 100 additional titles in various spin-off series. Over 250 million books were printed in more than 40 languages, making Choose Your Own Adventure the fourth bestselling children’s book series of all time. The series went out of print between 1999–2004, at which time Montgomery and Gilligan formed Chooseco to restore the gamebook series to print and expand into new media. Several of the original series authors returned to contribute.
IMPACT ON GAMING
Choose Your Own Adventure’s “you”-centered choices have been cited as an influence in numerous games and media that followed the series. Japan’s popular Bishoujo video games, which combine narratives with gameplay, mark the beginning of “the trend in modern gaming toward using technology to allow players control over their stories… taking on characteristics of highly detailed Choose Your Own Adventure novels.” The Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks are credited with the heightened popularity of role-playing games, including Dungeons and Dragons. Mass Effect II also credits the Choose Your Own Adventure series as an inspiration in its narrative-based adaptive difficulty settings. FormSoft’s Adventure Player, a portable memory stick for PlayStation, allows players to build narrative-based games. The interactive fiction community has also credited Choose Your Own Adventure as being a major influence of their existence.
IMPACT ON EDUCATION
In addition to its mainstream popularity, Choose Your Own Adventure has been cited by numerous educators as a uniquely effective method for helping students learn to read. The series has documented popular appeal for the reluctant reader due to its interactivity. Choose Your Own Adventure has also been used specifically in technology lesson plans in elementary, high school, and college curricula, as well as in professional development tools.
- At least one, but often several, endings in each book depict a highly desired resolution, often involving the discovery of a handsome monetary reward. For beautiful visualizations of Choose Your Own Adventure story structures, please visit: http://samizdat.cc/cyoa/
- Occasionally, endings result in the death of “you,” your companions, or both. Many times, these sorts of negative endings include the transformation of the “you” into a non-human form, where “you” become permanently stuck in the transformed state.
- Other endings may be either satisfactory (but not the most desired ending) or unsatisfactory (but not totally bad).
- Occasionally a particular set of choices will throw the reader into a loop where they repeatedly reach the same page (often with a reference to a familiar situation). At this point, the reader’s only option is to restart the adventure.
- As the series progressed, the length of the plot threads increased. Consequently, the number of endings decreased. The earliest books often contained nearly forty possible endings, while later titles contained as few as eight.