I don’t remember the first time I played a text adventure, but I do remember the first time loving branching fiction. I was six years old, sitting on my father’s lap. He read to me The Cave of Time by Edward Packard. It was the first book in the popular “Choose Your Own Adventure” series.
I love this memory for two reasons. First, it’s one of the few times I remember my dad reading to me. I know both my parents read me lots of books, but it’s this the one time I really remember. Second, I loved the idea that a story could change based on my own choices. It was incredibly exciting to control the events of a tale.
In time, I quickly found that choose Your Own Adventure books (CYOA) was no joke. Make a wrong choice and you were liable to be gutted by pirates or straggled by a python. Thankfully, when these events happened, all you had to do is thumb back a few pages and make a different choice.
My father got me hooked with the first five books. The collection held, The Cave of Time, Journey Under the Sea, By Balloon to the Sahara, Space and Beyond, and The Mystery of Chimney Rock.
I loved both The Cave of Time and By Balloon to thew Sahara for the amount of adventured these books inspired in my young mind. As for horror, The Mystery of Chimney Rock was the first book ever to make me scared while reading it. Each choice I made filled me with dread. Reflecting back on it, I can still feel those shimmers of terror.
Things took a turn when my mom bought me “Prisoner of the Ant People”. She told me that if I finished it, she would buy me another. I consumed the book in an hour. When I ran downstairs and I asked her to take me to the book store and buy my promised book, she was stunned. She assumed it would take me weeks to read through the book, not hours.
She told me she couldn’t buy me another book, but she did have another solution. She picked up the phone and started making calls.
You see, when I was a boy, I had a terrible library. The entire library was the size of a studio apartment. There were few books especially for the kids. My town had another library in the downtown area, but it was a hassle getting there due to all the traffic.
My mother instead called the neighboring town which was five minutes away. It also had an amazing library. After confirming that we could take out books, she put me in the car and off we went.
I remember her bringing me to the kid’s section and from wall to wall were Choose of Your Own Adventure books. In time, I read them all and loved them. In time, I’d play lots of different interactive fiction games but nothing really matched the simplicity of a Choose Your Adventure book.
Even now, when writing interactive fiction, I prefer CYOA systems because the story flows from passage to passage. There is nothing to prevent the reader from finishing a story. With fewer moving parts, writing these stories are easier.
One day, I hope to write a story that rivals what I read growing up. Time will tell indeed.