By Michael Washburn
Nobody would claim that the “Choose Your Adventure” books popular in the 1980s were great art, but these books were a great idea. Before you can become a book lover – so before you can condescend to people who “read for plot” - you get jazzed about reading because of sheer engagement with the narrative. And these books, usually mysteries pitched to the 10-14 year old age range, are nothing but juicy plot.
“Choose Your Own Adventures” are interactive tales told in the second person. Every few pages the protagonist (i.e. you) faced a decision. “You hear someone trying to pry open your window. If you choose to investigate flip to page 18. If not, turn to page 20,” or something like that. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only person whose first flaunting of authority was ignoring a stern librarian’s injunction to not bend or write on book’s pages as I marked each difficult decision in “my” adventure. One must be thorough about possible worlds.
The original “Choose Your Own Adventure” series soldiers on [http://www.cyoa.com/], but, Coliloquy[ http://www.coliloquy.com/ ], a California-based startup, has transformed the idea, this time for the Kindle e-reader. They are also looking to expand to other platforms.
So far, so what, right? People have been doing similar things for some time, right? Yes, and no. Similar things have been tried before, probably most notably back in 2010 when Edward Packer, one of the authors of the original books, launched a series called “U-Ventures.” The company that publishes the original series also has some new media offerings. But the growth of e-reader sales over the past two years has been staggering, and Coliloquy’s launch seems to be the first major effort since the craze. There are a few other differences, some cosmetic and some both creepy and cool.
For instance, the company sells their “active fiction” alongside the other titles listed a Kindle shelf. More importantly, many of Coliloquy’s titles are serialized, and written based on data about readers’ previous decisions and preferences. According to the Huffington Post, “Coliloquy currently uses the data in one of two ways; they either commission authors to write serial narratives, and the writer agrees to follow the narratives that the majority of readers have chosen to follow, or the author writes multiple versions of a narrative, with readers receiving different tales depending on their decisions.”
Coliloquy currently boasts several series, including “Great Escapes,” “a personalized erotica series set in a quiet B & B,” and several stand alone “novels.” “Dead Letter Office,” billed as a southern gothic tale where a teenager stumbles across a bunch of old letters that predict contemporary troubles, seem a bit more in keeping the original adventure books.
Now, don’t get me wrong. As an adult, I like my books the old fashioned way, but the original “Choose Your Own Adventure” series didn’t detract too much from engagement with better, more substantive books. It helped lead me there, in fact. I think that the Coliloquy idea is good, as far as ideas go;it’s the type of thing one would expect on an e-reader. But I doubt that 21stcentury,“active fiction” will have as a salutary effect as the late 20th century version. When it comes down to it, it seems that both sets of books are aimed the same group of people, now aged into a different demographic.I hope that the promise of promiscuous reading at that B & B doesn’t seduce people from reading more traditional books.
Editor’s note: In an earlier version this post incorrectly implied that the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series is out of print. This is not the case. The “Choose Your Own Adventure” series is currently published by Chooseco LLC, founded by R. A. Montgomery, one of the series’ original authors. Chooseco has no relationship to Coliloquoy or to their interactive books.
Michael Washburn can be contacted at www.michaelwashburn.org or on Twitter as @whalelines.