This week, I read a “choose your own adventure” book, a task which I have not done since I was young. Nevertheless, the first choice I had to make was which sort of adventure I wanted to undergo: A journey into space, exploring under the sea, figuring out the secret of the ninja, or attempting to unravel the mystery of the Maya. Being a person who has always been fascinated with the sea and what lurks below, my choice was an easy one. Walking to Amherst Books, I became reminiscent of the last choose your own adventure book I played, and during that adventure I was a knight who had found a castle. The first decision in that story was whether to enter the castle or not. I entered the castle and around three choices later, I was killed when an angry man cut off my head. Not quite the adventure I was looking for. This time, I was determined. I was going to last more than three choices. I was going to explore the deep.
I purchased the book and went back to my room to read. I quickly became immersed in the book, as my character dove fathoms under the sea looking for the lost city of Atlantis. Honestly, I was not expecting was the anticipation and the nervousness that came along with every choice I made while reading this book; every time I reached the bottom of the page and had to choose which page to turn to, I worried that this turn would be my last as flashbacks of my former adventure with the knight flew through my mind. Well, around five minutes into reading the book a shark attacked and made a nice dinner from my adventurer. I continued on, however, as I turned back the pages and began again, trying to make it further than last time. I will say that I would rather be the knight than this new adventurer; whereas the knight only died once, this explorer was eaten by a shark, put in a zoo, got the bends, was crushed by water pressure, was thrown in a dungeon, became partially blind, and, my favorite, was vaporized by three guards wearing shark helmets (page 108). Nothing is more embarrassing than being vaporized by a guard wearing a shark on his head.
Despite dying several times, I found this experience to be quite enjoyable, as it is similar to my favorite type of video games, which are role-playing games (RPGs). I find it quite easy to equate a chose your own adventure book to an RPG, as both types of narrative require the participant to become actively engaged with the work, as they choose which narrative path they want to progress through the choices they make by either turning to a certain page or choosing a dialogue option or by killing/saving a character in a game. Also, both types of narrative have a finality about the endings, as when you die in an RPG (through narrative choices not gameplay) and a choose your own adventure book, the story is over and the only way to play again and make new choices is to reload a save / create a new game (RPG) or flip back the pages. Besides the platform that each is used on and how you engage each work (reading vs. playing), the main difference a between an RPG and a choose your own adventure book is that the narrative in an RPG is much longer. This length could very well be accomplished in a choose your own adventure book, however these books are usually written for younger readers, and if these books were written with full narratives like RPGs then they would be hundreds of pages long instead of the usual short length, which would change the target audience; one way to possibly fix this problem is to make a genre of choose your own adventure books that target older readers with longer narratives, more descriptive scenes, and that contain more mature topics and subject matter.
Beginning this blog, I was thinking that a choose your own adventure book could never compare to an RPG, at least based on the amount of time spent playing an RPG, which can amount to hundreds of hours (not easy to condense into a book), compared to the relatively short length it takes to read one of these books. However, in most RPG games, the majority of the time spent playing these games is typically not spent expanding the narrative, it is spent leveling your character, finding new locations, and just having fun playing the game. I originally felt that a choose your own adventure book could not possibly contain those elements without being thousands of thousands of pages long, but, when you narrow down an RPG to its narrative and story, it is very reasonable to assume that it could be condensed into a book. The book could not, however, allow you to just wander around like you can in an RPG, but that does not need that part of the story as this wandering does not usually contribute to the overarching narrative and therefore can be cut out without loosing the core elements of the RPG. In a way, a choose your own adventure book could very well be the first step, the story board, to creating a role playing game.