Choose Your Own Adventure began life in 1979 as the first publishing effort of a new division at Bantam Books focused on younger readers. The series of interactive “game books” initially had only so-so sales, until some genius in marketing had the smart idea to distribute 100,000 free books to libraries across the country (thank you, whoever you are!). Overnight, the books became was a hugely popular series of interactive children’s gamebooks originally published in the 1980’s. In the ensuing 20 years, The series CYOA sold over 250 million copies worldwide and was translated into 38 languages. The original “classic” CYOA series ultimately included 184 titles authored by 30 different writers. The books were set in locations throughout the globe, in outer space, under the sea and in a number of distinctly imagined fantasy worlds. Over the course of its publication, CYOA featured every known literary genre except romance. 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 is currently published by author and series founder R. A. Montgomery through his independent publishing company, Chooseco LLC of Waitsfield, Vermont. In 2002, the last of the rights in the series reverted to founder R.A. Montgomery, who founded Chooseco a few years later, a small publisher focused exclusively on republishing the bestselling series
1. 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 1970’s for both government and industry, recognized an RPG in book form and quickly agreed to publish it. He christened the 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 a series himself. Journey Under the Sea was published in 1977 under the pen name Robert Mountain. Publisher’s Weekly wrote at the time that the series was “an original idea, well carried out.”
In 1978, Montgomery sold his interest in VCP but retained rights to The Adventures of You. He brought the series to Bantam Books, who was starting a 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 series. Bantam also renamed the series Choose Your Own Adventure.
Between 1979-1999, Bantam published 184 Choose Your Own Adventure titles in the original series and nearly 100 additional titles in various spin-off series. Over 250 million books were printed in 38 languages, making Choose Your Own Adventure the fifth best-selling book series of all time. Only Harry Potter, Enid Blyton, and Goosebumps have sold more books.
The series went out of print between 1999-2004, until Montgomery formed Chooseco to restore the series to print as well as to expand its reach into new media. Several of the original series authors returned to contribute.
An iPod download of The Abominable Snowman was released in 2006 utilizing the “Notes” feature that enabled hyperlinked choices. In 2008 and 2009, over 30 Kindle editions were released. Journey Under the Sea and Return to Atlantis have also been adapted specifically for the iPhone.
In August 2010, Ed Packard released one of his former CYOA titles, Return to the Cave of Time as an iPhone app under the series name U-Ventures. A second title based on Through the Black Hole is reported to be in the works.
2. Impact in Gaming
Choose Your Own Adventure’s “you” centered decision making, and exciting pace, has been cited as an influence in numerous games and media that followed the series. Examples of Choose Your Own Adventure’s reference in the gaming world includes Japan’s popular Bishoujo video games, which combine narratives with gameplay and 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,” Choose Your Own Adventure is credited with partial responsibility for the heightened popularity of Role Playing Games, including Dungeons and Dragons. Other games which have been referenced as inspired by Choose Your Own Adventure include Mass Effect II which has a narrative-based adaptive difficulty setting where potential gameplay is altered by a player’s decision-making early in the game and FormSoft’s Adventure Player, a portable memory stick for PlayStation that 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 works.
3. Impact in Education
In addition to its mainstream popularity, Choose Your Own Adventure has been cited by multiple educators as a uniquely effective method for helping students learn to read. The series has documented popular appeal for kids as well as specific appeal for the reluctant reader population due to the interactivity. Choose Your Own Adventure has also been used specifically in technology lesson plans in elementary, high school and college curriculum, as well as in professional development tools.
After an introduction to the story setting and background, “you” the reader are asked to determine your next course of action. For instance, in Mystery of the Maya the very first choice poses the following:
If you decide to visit the leading expert on Mayan sacrifice, Dr. Lopez, turn to page 7.
If you decide to go right to Chichen Itza, the last place your friend Tom was seen alive, turn to page 38.
After the reader makes a choice, the plot branches out and unfolds, leading to more decisions and eventually multiple possible endings.
The types of endings that the books featured include:
- At least one, but often several, endings depicting a highly desired resolution, often involving the discovery of a handsome monetary reward.
- Endings that result in the death of “you”, your companions or both. Many times these sorts of negative endings include transformation of the “you” into a non-human form and being 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 the situation being familiar). At this point the reader's only option is to restart the adventure.
- One book, Edward Packard’s Inside UFO 54-40, revolved around the search for a paradise that no one can actively reach; one of the pages in the book describes the player finding the paradise and living happily ever after, although none of the choices in the book led to that page. The ending can be found by disregarding the rules and going through the book at random, sequentially, or by accident. Upon finding the ending, the reader is congratulated for realizing how to find paradise.
Early books occasionally allowed the reader to decide things about the universe, such as whether the unknown person knocking at the door would be funny or scary, but later books only allowed the player to choose his or her own actions.
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. Also, some of the books did play around with historical fiction from a second-person perspective, such as Spy for George Washington, or of issues of political importance at the time of publishing, such as Fight for Freedom, in which the reader assumes the role of an American student who visits apartheid South Africa.
- 250 million books in print
- Published in 38 languages
- The 4th best-selling children's series of all time (Wikipedia, "List of best-selling book series")
- 37 titles in the re-launched classic series (ages 7-14) including Journey Under the Sea, Space and Beyond, The Abominable Snowman, and Mystery of the Maya.
- 17 titles in the Dragonlarks series for younger readers (ages 5-9) including Your Very Own Robot, The Haunted House, Indian Trail, and Ghost Island.
- YOU are the hero of the story and make choices leading to multiple endings in every book...
- Themes include swashbuckling adventure, travel, mystery, fantasy, world culture, ancient civilizations, scary creatures, and space.
- Numerous recurring characters.
- An "evercool" brand.