In 1941 an Argentinian author named Jorge Luis Borges published Examen de la obra de Herbert Quain. Borges’ novel centred on a fictional author whose novel (a three-part story) contained two points where the narrative branched off in different directions, thus giving the fictional story a total of nine possible endings. Despite being merely conceptual, this was the first use of the ‘choose your own adventure’, or Gamebook format, a concept that would become actuality in the late 1950s and reach great popularity in the 1970s.
The basic premise of the Gamebook is that it offers the reader a greater amount of participation in the story by forcing them to make effective choices at certain points in the narrative, thereby allowing them to determine how the story plays out. Such books are popular amongst children, with authors like R.L. Stine writing several installations as a part of his Goosebumps series. However, some have been targeted towards more adult audiences, including several works of erotic fiction.
While these books are mainly literary based nowadays, they were initially developed as educational tools with students choosing from multiple-choice answers and then being prompted to proceed to another page of the book depending on their answer.
However, by the 1970s the format had evolved into a type of literary fiction with writers for many different genres, particularly Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror, buying into the demand. The popularity was so great that several books began to be published featuring famous fictional characters such as James Bond, Doctor Who and Indiana Jones in the central role.
The popularity of Gamebooks eventually reached its peak in the 1980s, and while they are still published to this day, they don’t quite have the same following as they once did. Nowadays, they are generally employed once again as educational tools with older titles from the Choose Your Own Adventure series being adapted as ‘graded readers’ encouraging young readers to develop their literary capabilities. However, that isn’t to say that the ‘choose your own adventure’ format is dying, in fact it has found new life in a completely different medium: Video Games.
As technology has developed, so too have video games, with many now offering players deep and enriched narratives for them to play out. These enriched narratives tend to offer player the ability to choose how the games unfold in a very similar way to the older Gamebook format. However, the choices presented in video games seem to address greater questions regarding morality than Gamebooks ever did in the past.
Does the player want to protect the last remnants of a hostile, but dying, alien race, or do they want to destroy them to protect the galaxy as a whole? Such moral decisions are entirely left in the hands of the player, thus giving them a greater sense of immersion and control, as well as eliciting a more emotional response from the audience as a result of the sense of free will that is granted by the combination of moral choice system and their own personal decisions.
The transference of the Gamebook format from a literary medium into the newly developing video game one is helping to establish the latter as an acceptable art form in wider culture. Games like Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, both of which have been adapted from hugely successful graphic novel series, are generally regarded as some of the best instances of video game narratives, primarily because of the utilisation of the old Gamebook format. While video games may never be considered High Art, their adaptation of popular literary forms, such as the Gamebook, is helping to improve video game narratives to the point where they may one day hold a greater level of esteem in popular culture.