Choose Your Own Adventure books: How The Cave of Time taught us to love interactive entertainment.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Feb. 18 2011 7:08 AM

Choose Your Own Adventure

How The Cave of Time taught us to love interactive entertainment.

(Continued from Page 2)

At least in America.

"Researching interactive books," Demian Katz, gamebooks archivist, says, "There's pretty much the same pattern in every country. A few come out, they become explosively popular, a flood of knock-offs are released, they reach critical mass and then drop off into nothing. When I first started cataloguing them, around 1998, it was happening in the Czech Republic. That was one of the last booms."

Coincidentally, Choose Your Own Adventure books ceased publication in 1998. Packard and Montgomery had a falling out and no are no longer on speaking terms, but each continues to fly the interactive-fiction flag. In 2000, they regained the copyright for their respective titles. Packard took his to Simon & Schuster where he's developing them into full-blown apps under the name U-Ventures, while Montgomery picked up the rights to use the Choose Your Own Adventure name, and he and several of his authors have started ChooseCo, a company that's reprinting the old books and publishing new ones.

Advertisement

For Montgomery, the choice is to keep publishing the books, aiming at young readers who will still be enticed by the novelty of interactive fiction. "I think that the later books with fewer endings actually helped kids make the transition from Choose Your Own Adventure books to regular, full-length books with third person narratives and no choices," he says. Packard's U-Ventures are e-books with features that make them more like games, with codes that need to be entered and timed challenges. "We want to take advantage of the format and do things you couldn't do in the printed books," he says.

But the books will never again achieve the massive impact they once had. "These books were the gateway drugs of interactive entertainment," says Swinehart. "The Infocom people and the Choose Your Own Adventure people are hybrid folks. You don't often see people combining the hacker perspective with the literary perspective. You don't see typing and programming mix together that much." David Lebling agrees, "Computers push graphics, books push reading, but there was a brief shining moment when computers pushed reading." And, inversely, during that same time, the Choose Your Own Adventure books pushed programming.

"The most important thing is to get people reading," Montgomery says. "It's not the format. It's not even the writing. It's the reading. And the reading happened because kids were put in the driver's seat. They were the mountain climber, they were the doctor, they were the deep sea explorer. They made choices, and so they read." The Choose Your Own Adventure books were part of a cultural shift that saw entertainment become more interactive. It was a moment when entertainment became, in a way, more like real life. As the introduction to each of the books states:       

"Remember—you cannot go back! Think carefully before you make a move! One mistake can be your last … or it may lead to fame and fortune.

"Good luck!"

Click here to view a slide show on Choose Your Own Adventure books. Correction, Feb. 18, 2011: This article originally misspelled Christian Swinehart's last name.

Like  Slate  on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

Grady Hendrix is one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival and he writes about pop culture on his blog.