Choose Your Own Adventure books began in 1979 and within a year I was one of the many kids who bought every title as it came out. I was almost as excited to get the latest book as I was to get a Star Wars figure. Apparently, at first the series of interactive “game books” did not sell especially well. And then someone had the idea to “seed” 100,000 books in libraries across the country. Not a bad idea. The books became popular not long after. Over the next 20 years, the series sold over 250 million copies worldwide and was translated into 38 languages.
The brainchild of R.A. Montgomery and Edward Packard, one of the coolest things about the CYOA series, is its roots in game theory and role-playing simulations. In 1976, R.A. Montgomery ran a small publisher, Vermont Crossroads Press, known for its innovative children’s list, when he was approached by Edward Packard with a manuscript called The Adventures of You on Sugarcane Island. Montgomery had been involved in the design of interactive role-playing games in the early 1970’s for both government and industry, and recognized an RPG in book form.
One signature feature of the series was the use of the second person, which inevitably meant an undefined protagonist. David Lebling, one of the fathers of computer gaming and one of the programmers behind the pioneering text-adventure series, Zork, says, “When you think about the way books work, for the most part the protagonist is a well-defined person and the book is about that well-defined person and it makes sense to say this is a man or a woman. The details are critical to the story. Second-person books, in my experience, have not been all that successful. Second-person games have been pretty successful.”
While the authors worked toward a “no-gender policy,” it proved difficult to maintain when Bantam hired artists to draw covers and illustrations for the series. “In the text I was always extremely rigorous never to have anyone refer to the reader as ‘he.’ ” Packard says. “But Bantam insisted it be a boy because they had market research that said girls would identify with boys but boys would never read a book where ‘you’ was a girl. That was a big problem because most of the covers were of boys and most of the illustrations were of boys.”
Over 250 million books were printed in 38 languages, making it the fourth best-selling children’s book series of all time.
Choose Your Own Adventure’s second person, 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 series is also credited with the heightened popularity of RPGs, including Dungeons & Dragons. Mass Effect 2 credits it 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. Educators have found the series has popular appeal for the reluctant reader due to its interactivity.