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Choose Your Own Adventure: Books vs RPGs

The Mystery of Chimney Rock (cover)Anyone else remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? I can remember spending hours in the school library repeatedly devouring the dozen or so CYOA books in the collection, trying every possible permutation of each story. It was so fascinating to my pre-adolescent mind that I was able to decide where the story went next. Sometimes my hero would win the day, sometimes he or she would die suddenly and sometimes (surprisingly) graphically (for a kid’s book). The outcome never mattered all that much, it was simply amazing that I (sort of) was allowed decide which way the hero would go next.

Where are these books for adults? How cool would it be if we were allowed to decide what Arlen Bales would do next? Okay, maybe not that cool for Peter Brett, who already has a clear (and awesome) path laid out for his troubled hero. Still, didn’t you wish you could have grabbed Kylar Stern by the ear (mild spoiler!) at the beginning of Shadow’s Edge and said to him “No! Bad Kylar! You go kill the God-King now!” Sure it would have undermined and completely changed Brent Weeks’ spectacular narrative, but dammit, so many people would not have had to die. Yes, I’m being facetious, but I’m sure we’ve all been frustrated at times with the choices our heroes (and authors) make.

Now this isn’t a call for more CYOA books, as I am aware there are still some out there for those determined to find them. They aren’t quite as ubiquitous as I remember them being when I was a child, but I wonder if that isn’t because they simply evolved into a more different form of entertainment: RPG Video Games.

Aha! He gets to the point! I know, I know, I apologize to those of you who may not be gamers, but with Skyrim dominating my every waking moment these last two weeks I haven’t really had a chance to think about much else.

Colossal CaveFrom the earliest text-based Colossal Cave adventures to the current visual glory of Skyrim, computer RPGs have been juiced-up CYOA stories. We make the choices; we, or rather our avatars, deal with the consequences. Certainly some games still have an invisible hand nudging (or violently shoving) you back on the story path, but most still allow a degree of freedom in how you walk the story path.

Compared to a more cinematic experience like Mass Effect or Dragon Age 2, Skyrim plays like the ultimate Choose Your Own Adventure. The invisible hand is completely absent in Skyrim. Would you like to progress the main storyline and save the world, would you like to decide the fate of the nation, would you like to live as a werewolf, or do you simply want to establish your own merchant empire and amass material wealth? The possibilities are as varied as the players who play.

My own character is a female warrior/assassin who can make her own armor, one shot kill a bandit at 100 yards with a bow, bring down dragon single-handed, and shriek in abject terror (her not me, I assure you) when one of Skyrim’s many repulsive giant spiders drops on my…er…her head. I’ve progressed the main story a fair amount, but there is no compulsion at all to do so.

The game takes immersion to a new level. Even during the scripted events you feel less like you are watching than you are actually participating. Upon discovery of an ancient temple your companions move deliberately, exploring every nook and cranny, making the experience feel like a genuine Indiana Jones-style discovery rather than the scripted event that it actually is. Certainly there are pitfalls to this type of storytelling. I’ve read more than a few blogs who wish Skyrim would be a little more forceful in getting them on the main story path. These comments are rarely negative though, as most admit it is simply the fact that there is so much to do that it is very easy to be distracted for days.

In any case, this article is not meant to be a Skyrim review, merely an observation on two different mediums. Games offer us more freedom of choice and a chance to drive our own narrative, while novels come gift-wrapped for us and provide a more passive form of entertainment.

Skyrim (banner)

What matters to you, Faction Readers? Do want more choice in your entertainment, do you prefer to be told a story, or do you happily move between the different options, as I do?



  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Hey Jesse!!!

    The best thing I could find in book format is a novel called DestinyQuest’ My M.J. Ward, apparently it is like an MMORPG in a book… gets very good reviews on both UK and USA Amazon 🙂

    Awesome to see that you are enjoying Skyrim… I’m trying not to buy it until after I’ve handed in my last university essay this year 😉

  2. Avatar Phoenix says:

    Hey, it’s not a book, but did you ever check out “Scourge of Worlds”? It’s an AD&D choose your own adventure on DVD. It’s CGI and fun to go through, especially with the kids. If you ever enjoyed playing D&D, you’ll likely get a kick out of it, assuming it’s still out there to be found. Good luck and good luck taking down the bad guy (or not–I beat it first time, having remembered a clue from RPG days, so that I short-circuited myself on adventure longevity).

  3. If you’re a power gamer and you want to read a video game in book form, then Destiny Quest is for you.

    However, there are other forms of interactive fiction out there for adults to enjoy. The more recent Fighting Fantasy adventures (Howl of the Werewolf, Stormslayer, Night of the Necromancer) have been written with the adult nostalgia audience very much in mind. Likewise, Tin Man Games’ Gamebook Adventures are intended for a more mature market.

    The latest of these is Temple of the Spider God, an app that can be downloaded onto you iPod/iPad/iPhone, and marries elements of video games with the traditional gamebook format.

    To find out more, follow this link:

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