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 idea to "seed" 100,000 books in libraries across the country (thank you, whoever you are!). Overnight, the books became hugely popular. Between 1979-1999, the series sold over 250 million copies worldwide and was translated into 38 languages. The original “classic” CYOA series contained 184 titles authored by 30 different writers. The books were set in locations around 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. 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.
How did Choose Your Own Adventure 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 the 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 the press, but retained rights to The Adventures of You. He brought the series to Bantam Books, who was starting a new 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 new venture. Bantam renamed the series Choose Your Own Adventure.
Between 1979-1999, Bantam published 184 original Choose Your Own Adventure titles 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 fourth best-selling children's book series of all time.
The series went out of print between 1999-2004, when Montgomery formed Chooseco to restore the series to print and expand into new media. Several of the original series authors returned to contribute.
Impact on Gaming
Choose Your Own Adventure’s “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.” Choose Your Own Adventure is credited with the heightened popularity of Role Playing Games, including Dungeons and Dragons. Mass Effect II also credits Choose Your Own Adventure 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.
Impact on Education
In addition to its mainstream popularity, Choose Your Own Adventure has been cited by numerous educators as a uniquely effective method for helping students learn to read. The series has documented popular appeal for the reluctant reader due to its interactivity. Choose Your Own Adventure has also been used specifically in technology lesson plans in elementary, high school and college curricula, as well as in professional development tools.
Interesting Things About Choose Your Own Adventure
- At least one, but often several, endings depicting a highly desired resolution, often involving the discovery of a handsome monetary reward. For beautiful visualizations of Choose Your Own Adventure story structures, please visit: http://samizdat.cc/cyoa/
- 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 becoming 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.
- 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.
- 260 million books in print, 10 million since the relaunch in 2005
- Published in more than 40 languages
- The 4th best-selling children's series of all time (Wikipedia, "List of best-selling book series")
- 40 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, 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.
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