When beginning this project of doing research on gamebooks in the Katz Collection I became entranced with how the reader can choose in “choose your own adventure” style books. In a medium where forwards progression is typically linear and forced, here there is a genre where the power lies in the hands of the reader. This is fitting, as quite literally the book is in our hands. Already mystified, I then encountered examples of randomness and chance being inserted into these interactive stories and found myself unsure of how to deal with such. What can a “Choose Your Own Adventure” (CYOA) or any similar gamebook be when it becomes a “Random-chance-dictates-what-happens-to Your Own Adventure” (RYOA)? What happens when the defining essence of a genre is intentionally broken or disobeyed?
My first instinct was to look at how the variable of chance is introduced into the usual formula of:
- go to the page
- choose again
- …etc. etc.
Often the induction of chance is determined by statistically backed influences, such a 6-sided die being rolled (therefore a 1/6 equal chance of each side being rolled, though not necessarily 6 different outcomes) would determine what course would occur, such as “Roll the die. If the number is less than 2, go to X. If higher, go to Y”. Considering this I had hoped to look at a specific topic, sports, as a venue into this situation. Fantasy football and the sort relies on statistics to result in a hypothetical, self-made, gestalt of players that win the season. I wanted to see what this looked like in book/narrative form.
While going through box 42 there were 2 books, both “Sports Illustrated” licensed, that dealt with baseball and football respectively. Unfortunately they did not deal with the intricate picking of players to find a cohesive, dominant team but rather gave a situation, managing a single game, that players would go left or right in a sense. While certainly not the only books about sports in this genre, I found myself to be at a loss in this respect.
Next there was a book from the Sci-fi series “Warhammer 40K”, with this text acting like a small one-shot table top game experience filled with dice rolls for damage, combat, and changing stats like health, heresy, armor, ammo and so on. In this text you as the adventurer would go on in each story line until the end, which in nearly every single instance was death, and in only one case was surviving to live another day. But it was not exactly the chance I expected to encounter, as dice rolls determined hitting the target or taking damage, and while this is somewhat in line with what I was looking for it was just short of my focus. I aimed to find instances of rolling a die or flipping to a random page, some sort of randomness. This book, being in the 40K universe, relied on being excessively difficult and punishing, so that chance element was more of a deterrent or challenge to overcome rather than a method to push the reader to wildly different places or possibilities.
Perhaps the strangest counter to Warhammer then was a classic CYOA book called Dream Trips. After taking a few choices down the path the book offers a startling proposal: turn to any page, whether it makes sense or not. This could be the beginning, creating an infinite loop, or right to an ending of waking up from the dream. When graphed out this ended up being one of the wildest chrats I encountered. It had a weird locus on the page the said to go anywhere, a nexus of choice, a black hole that lead to anywhere you could go, even back to itself to create an immediate self-loop. The contrast between these two gamebooks inspired the specific plan of my small part of research, leading me on to find other daring and wild worlds.
When looking at these two texts, as well as a cross roads of others such as a French game magazine called Je Bouquine, I found other avenues into chance – although not quite what one would expect. It seems that incorporating chance into gamebooks is difficult, as every path that evolves from independent choice must be planned for, anticipated, and written about, either wise the end result is an inconclusive or disappointing sort of conclusion, a cop-out of sorts akin to “it was all a dream” – much like Dream Trips was, in a way.
Chance in narrative is a battle, a mesmerizing game of chess where some concessions can be made to advance, but the game doesn’t feel fair or very balanced. Perhaps to make it seem fair is to manipulate the player into desired action, but this creates a hostile environment for the player, at least in a genre focused on giving them agency. Yet to give them total freedom, unlimited access to all fronts and choices is to create chaos and an infinitely greater project for the author. This balancing act seems to be a nestled egg of problems, one that goes way down the rabbit hole, far deeper than one can easily see.
- 05-22 Dream Trips. Author: Edward Packard. Publisher: Bantam, 1983. ISBN: 0553155067. Publisher series no: 74. Book ID: 577. 53 pages.
- 42-02 Warkhammer 40K - Hive of the Dead. Author: C.Z. Dunn. Publisher: Games Workshop, 2011. ISBN: 1849701636. Publisher series no: 1435. Book ID: 9476. 288 pages.
- 42-33 Je bouquine 50 (Avril 1988). 1988. Publisher series no: 1400. Book ID: 9255. 114 pages
- 42-31 Baseball: You Are the Manager, You Call the Shots. Author: Michael Teitelbaum. Publisher: Sports Illustrated for Kids, 1990. Publisher series no: 402. Book ID: 2335
- 42-32 Football: You Are the Quarterback, You Call the Shots. Author: Michael Teitelbaum. Publisher: Sports Illustrated for Kids, 1990. Publisher series no: 402. Book ID: 2336.