Note: This is the entry for the entire genre, also known as "gamebooks". For the actual Choose Your Own Adventure series, click here.
Gamebooks are Interactive Fiction and a paper Adventure Game. The player advances the action by reading a short passage describing a scene and choosing one of several actions. To take that action, the player reads a numbered section in the book. The eponymous Choose Your Own Adventure series is a famous and highly successful example of the gamebook genre with 250 million copies in print. The peak of the gamebook craze came in the 1980s, but the form is far from dead.Example:
You enter the marble-clad forum to discover a GHOUL feasting on a corpse. Do you want to:
Nearly all of these books feature Second-Person Narration, which is justified in a meta sort of way: you're the one reading the book and making the decisions about what to do next, so you should take the role of the protagonist. Occasionally there is a limited role for chance and player attributes in fighting and feats of skill. Mapping and note taking is often needed in more complex works. There are typically more ways of failing and/or dying than succeeding. Death sometimes comes in horriblyinventiveways, yielding textual Ludicrous Gibs.
Success often depends on a combination of luck, possession of difficult to obtain items and sometimes manipulation of the entry number to reach an entry unavailable any other way. Lock and Key Puzzles abound. Sometimes these puzzles are so obscure and unintuitive they are Solve the Soup Cans puzzles.
The directed graph of entries for a book can contain alternate paths to the same destination, loops, and occasionally island entries unreachable from any legitimate point in the book. Sometimes these unreachable entries are used to humorously scold the reader for cheating. On rare occasions, these islands have included the best ending/only ending in which the PC survives, rendering the whole thing Unwinnable.
Gamebooks are a rich vein of fantasy, science-fiction and RPG tropes. Illustrations are a key element in setting the mood of a gamebook world. Second-Person Narration is nearly universal.
Several people have written scripts for Internet gamebooks allowing the players to add new pages. The results are... interesting.
See also Cruel Twist Ending, Have a Nice Death.
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Tutor-Text is the Ur Example. Unlike most later examples these were made as education material rather than fiction.
The Trope Maker is, depending on who you ask, the french Oulipo movement, the American author John Thomas Sladek or the English author Edmund Wallace Hildick. It's complicated.
Animorphs has a pair of CYOA spinoffs, which were not well-received. Perhaps it was the fact that the story did not actually branch at all, and making the wrong choice simply got you killed on the very next page.
Be an Interplanetary Spy is an interesting variation where you have to solve puzzles (analogues to your current situation) instead of simply making a choice. Essentially a multiple-choice visual logic test with a plot.
Blood Sword, a series of five books by Oliver Johnson and Dave Morris created for multiple players. Set in a world very much resembling Medieval Europe (in fact, the same as that of their RPG Dragon Warriors), the series deals with the reawakening of five evil entities, the True Magi, and the coming end of the Millennium.
Carmen Sandiego: A series of these type of books were also published in the franchise, which follow the premise of the computer games.
Steve Jackson Games licensed their popular Car Wars tactical combat game as a series of six books published by TSR (several being expanded adaptations of adventures previously published in their house organ Autoduel Quarterly), with some random die rolling to simulate combat.
Choose-omatic Books are a relatively new series spoofing both the CYOA-concept, as well as the genre covered by their book (Zombie Apocalypse and Superhero, so far). Also, like the early CYOA books that told you how many endings each book had, these ones do too. And tell you how the vast majority are some kind of comical death scene.
Choose Your Own Mind Fuck Fest, a parody successor to the beloved childhood series. All endings are losing situations.
Der Schatz im Ötscher (German for "The treasure in Mt. Oetscher") is an Austrian "Choose your adventure book". You're traveling through the caves of the Oetscher (one of Austria's highest and mythological most important mountains) and search for a treasure, while being hindered by traps and monsters from folklore and myths. One especially memorable ending had the protagonist being slowly and explicitlytransformed into a toad by an old witch.
Destiny Quest by Michael Ward is a modern take on the Choose Your Own Adventure genre inspired by games such as Diablo and World of Warcraft, featuring monsters to fight and loot to be had. The two books currently available also happen to be pretty damn huge.
Doctor Who Decide Your Destiny. These books aren't the first ones done for the show.
Steven Brust authorized one when starting the Dragaera series; it stands as a possible case of Old Shame.
Dreszcz ("Shiver"), an old Polish gamebook from the '90s; it emulates Fighting Fantasy, and is mostly memorable for being horribly error-ridden (and Unwinnable by Mistake many times over).
The Fabled Lands are a fantasy series of gamebooks written by Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson that have recently been republished in 2010. During its initial release in the 90s, only the first six were ever released. In addition, only the first two were ever published in the USA, under the name Quest. Despite all this, they are amazingly fun to play, mainly because of their open-ended style. While most other gamebooks had a definite objective, the Fabled Lands books just plonked you down in a random place and said, "have fun whatever you do." Other cool features were six unique character classes, the ability to buy ships and houses, and a huge number of quests you can do whenever you want, or not at all.
A trio of friends under the pseudonym Helena S Paige have written three woman-oriented choose-your-own-ending erotic novels, A Girls Walks Into A Bar/Wedding/Blind Date. They specifically opted for the CYOA format as a way of putting the woman in control.
Give Yourself Goosebumps, a spinoff of R.L. Stine's Goosebumps novels. The "game over" endings were often as gruesome as they were creative, giving many young readers their first direct encounters with horrific imagery. These also have the unusual structure of having the story branch off into two distinct storylines completely cut off from each other, with an earlyish choice in each book determining which one the reader followed. This pivotal choice wasn't exactly pointed out either, so in the early stages of each book, the reader was left in suspense as to which choice would suddenly set them down a distinct path for the rest of the adventure.
Lemmings was adapted into two, based loosely on the storyline introduced in Lemmings 2: The Tribes. In the first, you took control of eight Lemmings tribes in an attempt to regain eight pieces of the broken medallion. The second took on a more linear narrative where a small band of Lemmings has to go out to battle an unknown enemy, which is making the Lemmings act against their natures (eg, Shadow Lemmings setting up bright floodlights or Highland Lemmings turning English).
Life's Lottery by Kim Newman uses the CYOA format to take you through a fairly ordinary life (or extraordinary, it depends on you) from birth in the '70s till death, and the small choices you make may have great impact on your life — in the playground, do you like Illya Kuryakin or Napoleon Solo better?. The first choice you have to make is whether or not to draw breath after being born. If not, "go to 0". It can also be read straight through, to reveal a very different story. The main character later appears in the Diogenes Club stories, in which he has the power to shift between different Alternate Universe versions of himself.
Lone Wolf, featuring an epic swords-and-sorcery world and a continuing story line. You can read most of them all open-sourced and legal, complete with author approval, at www.projectaon.org.
Les Messagers du Temps (The Messengers of Time), a French gamebook series that was marketed as being written by some guy called "James Campbell" despite being a totally French production (including the illustrators) and "being translated from English". HA! Nevertheless, the gamebooks focus more on the storytelling and the universe than the actual gameplay (which is quite linear).
Pretty Little Mistakes and Million Little Mistakes by Heather McElhatton are meant to be "adult" variations on the format. Both have a realistic, present-day setting, but it doesn't preclude some very fanciful things from happening to the main character.
The Raging Tide or The Black Doll's Imbroglio: Not a game, exactly, but this Edward Gorey's non-linear story uses the Choose Your Own Adventure technique.
Sonic the Hedgehog had a series at the height of his phenomenal popularity in the UK, written by the authors of the novel series but not belonging to that continuity. One was an Adaptation Expansion of the second Mega Drive game, in which Robotnik has built Metal Sonic to rampage around and destroy the real Sonic's reputation (any similarity to the plot of the nineteenth Lone Wolf book Wolf's Bane, published the previous year, is entirely coincidental — the book, and sometimes Metal Sonic himself, still have the nickname "Hedgehog's Bane" in some circles) and Sonic has to hunt him down through the game's levels.
Sorcery! brought Fighting Fantasy to an older audience; its books feature very dark artwork influenced by Goya.
Stake Your Destiny: Gamebooks based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, each set in different spots in the series. They basically put you in Buffy's role, lucky you. It doesn't specifically say where, the first is presumably during Season 1 and two more in Season 2.
Star Challenge, a series of ten books taking place in a Sci-Fi setting whose unique gimmick was a score system depending of how successful was your mission... if you survived.
Time Machine Series: The reader has to search through a historical era to discover artifacts or lost knowledge. The books only have one ending, but also include inventories that affect your choices.
Virtual Reality, a series of six books from the early nineties. Notable for having much more exotic plots than the average gamebook and for using a unique, non-random rule system. The four books by Dave Morris, the Panurgic Adventures series (of which the best known is Heart of Ice), are some of the most interesting and intricate gamebooks written. Heart of Ice is a slightly different take on After the End; inspired in part by Jack Vance's Dying Earth, it's a quest set in a world where an insane AI has triggered global weather changes and turned the Sahara into a desert.
Twist A Plot was a series of pick-a-path adventure books published by Scholastic in competition to Choose Your Own Adventure, published by Bantam. Contributors to the series included R.L. Stine, who would go on to write the wildly successful Goosebumps! series.
Way of the Tiger, written and illustrated by FF alumni Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson, is an especially well-written series featuring a ninja. Unlike many similar books, this series spends pages describing its world while telling an exciting and atmospheric story with a lot of variety that involves the player not only fighting but also have to deal diplomacy, politics and command strategy.
Which Way Books have a pair of Star Trek books and a spinoff mini-series based on DC Comics heroes.
What If... is a series of "choose your own adventure" books when the reader makes choices for the teenage protagonist as to which boys she flirts with, which group she talks to, etc. There are two different types of endings. The "bad" endings (for example, letting the protagonist exploit her popularity too much or letting her team haze the freshman girls) tell the reader to start over. However, some of the endings that don't tell you to start over have bad outcomes, such as getting a hangover or being left alone in motel room after prom night. But most "good" endings have fairly good outcomes, while bad endings almost always chastise the reader for choosing the bad choice (eg: "Your foolish choices have brought on dire consequences", "What were you thinking?", "Way to kill her social life".)
Examples in other media
She Loves The Moon is a strange cross between gamebooks, ARGs, and graffiti, as it was drawn on the sidewalks of San Francisco.
The 3rd Ren & Stimpy comic book special, Masters of Time and Space, is a comic book version of this. Notable for its time travel plot, which makes some of the storylines several pages longer than the comic itself. Also notable for having two endings that couldn't be accessed at all unless you skip to them.
Mike Carey's comic book The Unwritten features an issue told as a "Pick-A-Story" book, which tells the backstory of one of the characters. The choices are mostly used to create Alternative Character Interpretation, but there's also a Temporal Paradox ending where the protagonist ends up drugged up to her eyeballs in a mental institution.
The 2012 2000 AD holiday special has a Judge Dredd story, "Choose Your Own Xmas" that plays with this trope; you have to make choices for an everyman, Jason Packard, who is out doing Christmas shopping until he has to suddenly deal with Dredd; the reader is sent bouncing from panel to panel according to their choices. Packard is concerned about the strange voice talking about page numbers and choices. Meanwhile, Dredd is growing concerned about the way Packard seems to be reappearing throughout the story, despite being run over, arrested, blown up, or just running out of a room a second ago.
2000 AD also experimented with the format in the shortlived Dice Man comic.
Issue 10 of the Adventure Time comic, as well as the KaBOOM! Summer Blast Free Comic Book Day Edition reprint, had Ice King miscasting a mind-control spell that ends up giving the reader control over Finn and Jake.
One issue of Marvel's What If? allowed the reader to choose from three different outcomes of a situation involving Iron Man and the Living Laser.
Parodied in the first volume of Empowered when ThugBoy is given three choices how to respond to Emp's question.
Makaka, a French editor, has started a franchise called The comic book in which you are the hero, or also Diary of a Hero which is a series of CYOA in comic book form. The books exploit heavily this nature by hiding items or instructions for better paths in the drawings, involving the player in a deeper way than a prose book.
Superlópez: The adventure Los Petisos Carambanales is this in comic book form.
There is an X-Wing Seriesfanfiction called Flight School which fills this trope. It's pretty short, but also quite decent. Note that while some endings are better or worse than others, impressing or not impressing the famous pilots, none result in death. Or maiming. Or worse, expulsion.
Films — Animation
Scourge of Worlds, a made-for-DVD CGI-animated film based on Dungeons & Dragons, featured several decision points where the viewer could impact the direction of the story.
CYOA had one of those itself based on one of its early books about looking for the Abominable Snowman (and staring the voice of Frankie Muniz). There had been talk of others but apparently there wasn't enough of a reaction to the one they did make.
The 2001 film Point of View was one of the first produced specifically for DVD in order to make use of its technology. At certain points in the film, viewers could make decisions that impacted the direction of the story.
The Thrill Ride Edition of Final Destination 3 on DVD features "Choose Their Fate", in which the viewer gets to determine the fates of some characters. Subverted in that each person would be killed in a different fashion immediately after they were saved by your choice. This is sort of in keeping with the predestination ideas of the movie.
There was a televised example on UK children's TV in the '80s hosted by Sylvester McCoy called What's Your Story?, where viewers phoned in after each episode to suggest what happened next.
Scrubs has the "code blue" game on their website, in which your choices of lines of speech can dramatically alter your first day at the hospital.
The Canadian rapper Classified did this with his "Self Explanatory" CD. The tracks were, aptly named, CYOA 1 - 6.
Another music-related example is the electronic music collective Gescom's Minidisc, which has 88 tracks ranging from mere seconds to few minutes. The record is supposed to be played on shuffle, with a different hour-long consistent piece being played each time. (At the time of its release, only the obscure Minidisc format allowed gapless playback between tracks.)
Many RPGs rulebooks include a short (under 100 scenes) example of this trope, where the reader uses the game system (and a pre-generated character) as the randomizing element, as a way of teaching the rules and RPG concepts. For example Ghostbusters, Champions, Teenagers from Outer Space...
The Tabletop RPGTunnels And Trolls has a line of "Solo Adventures", which were essentially gamebooks with the game's rules and dice added as a randomizing element.
Such things also existed for other systems, such as early editions of Dungeons & Dragons or The Dark Eye. The concept really only worked for fairly rules-light games with reasonably abstract combat. And even then, only for a restricted range of characters as anticipated by the writers (which generally meant "no magic-users" and might plausibly limit the player to a single class — commercial solo adventures were most popular during the heyday of class-and-level systems, which helped).
There was once a two-player example called 1 On 1, where the players were opposing factions and would role-play the monsters the other fought as well; naturally, there was a combat system and stats so the players could interact. The Combat Heroes series by Joe Dever (of Lone Wolf fame) is another example of this concept. Also, the Lost Worlds gamebooks; each character in the system had his/her own book, and any two players could battle by exchanging books. The series was franchised to Marvel Comics and Star Wars; right now, arguably the most famous version is the Queen's Blade series, which is basically Lost Worlds WITH HOT ACTION GIRLS IN TINY OUTFITS!
In the play Shear Madness, a murder occurs off-stage. In the second act, audience members are allowed to question all of the characters in the play and try to figure out who the murderer is. The ending of the play changes based on what the audience decides.
Saints Row: The Third has a short parody text adventure during the mission where you confront Matt Miller, leader of the Deckers, called "Dragons and Tears: Part 1 of The Spiraling Darkness Trilogy." How do you win? Kill the unicorn.
In Saints Row IV, the mission to rescue Matt Miller from the Zin involves a text-adventure segment calling back to the previous game.
Fable III has a book like this called "Choose Your Own Endeavor", but since like all books in the game the contents are limited to a short audio clip, you can't actually play it.
The Henry Stickmin Series is all about this trope. The player has to make multiple choices throughout the game.
Adventures in WildStar play like this, having branching paths that affect the storyline and the environment. Do you quell the rioting prisoners, save the Warden, or get stronger munitions for the guards?
The Yawhg gives you six weeks to decide how your characters will live their lives — and raise their stats — before the YAWHG arrives.
Cheese Festival is an interactive game based on the cartoon "Hey Arnold" with teenage versions of the characters. The player chooses Helga's moves throughout the three days before the Cheese Festival, however the outcome of the story remains the same.
The 2005 Halloween cartoon is the interactive animation Halloween Potion-ma-jig. It actually features a bit of bait-and-switch, presenting the viewer with one adventure in the intro (helping Homestar find his costume and escape a haunted mansion) and then giving them another (helping Homestar find ingredients for Marzipan's Halloween potion... after he had doodled all over her recipe).
The Strong Bad e-mail "one step ahead" took the form of a gamebook after the e-mail was read to determine whether to glue Strong Sad's hands to his face. The choices left for the user is "Yes", "Maybe" and "Take it in a bit of a different direction", with a different scene playing for each choice.
The sprite comic Metroid: Third Derivative once used a 12-panel example◊ as filler.
Ctrl+Alt+Del did an Alternate Universe Choose Your Own Adventure story-arc in April of 2008, a second arc in December 2008, and a third in mid-2010. At particular points in the story line, readers were given a choice between different actions that the main character Ethan could take and were encouraged to send an email to a special account to indicate their selection. The choice with the most votes was illustrated for the next installment of the comic. Counts as a CYOA because Tim Buckley had already scripted out where each choice would lead ahead of time, and did not change "bad endings" even if they won the popular vote. The first story ended halfway through with the main character dying horribly due to a failed Air-Vent Passageway escape. Following this, the structure was modified so the narrative would have fewer "dying horribly" options and more "Ethan gets screwed but the story can continue" choices. Though ◊ is still pretty bloodthirsty, the voters managed to get through it alive.
City of Reality ran an arc which essentially functioned as this, run by a snarky time-reversal device.
Dinosaur Comics once had a "CYOA" that amusingly features a But Thou Must. A later guest strip by Andrew Hussie features T-Rex attempting to do an animated strip version of a CYOA, with Dromiceiominus and Utahraptor discussing with him about the problems with handling a CYOA in said format. It falls apart in the fifth panel, where T-Rex and Utahraptor end up carrying their conversation through the panel shifts. In case you want to read the whole thing at your own pace, here you go. Click the image (actually the .swf) after clicking the link and then use the left and right arrow keys (on your keyboard) to navigate.
The second MS Paint Adventure, BardQuest, was in this format, but it was abandoned pretty quickly for being too complicated to do as a serial.
Lore F. Sjoberg's "Choose Your Own Damn Adventure" on the website Brunching Shuttlecocks. In stark contrast to the usual escapist fare, a sardonic take on Real Life is played out in the form. It was later followed up with four sequels, "Choose Your Own Damn Serial Murder", "Choose Your Own Damn Sex Act", "Choose Your Own Damn Pokémon Adventure", and "Choose Your Own Damn Harry Potter Adventure".
Brad: the Game is just one big Mind Screw. One gross, perverted, strangely attractive mindscrew (it's also written by a Reverend).
The Addventure series and spin-offs took the concept, put it online, and did the obvious thing of allowing readers to write their own chapters to add to them... How well this worked varied considerably, although those moderated for spelling and sanity (or at least consistency) tends towards being decent.
The Web Original known as Ruby Quest was a Choose Your Own Adventure operated via Wild Mass Guessing, played out over the course of two months by an author/artist known only as Weaver. It has spawned various other so-called "collective games", varying in quality. Most were trolled to death, while Dorf Quest (based off Dwarf Fortress, which is very popular on the /tg/ board of 4chan) and Joan's Quest are still running.
However, the "Quest Threads" have not stopped appearing, and have now become a main staple of /tg/, with multiple different settings and gameplay rules to choose from. Just look up the "Quest Threads" or "Collective Games" tags in the /tg/ archives.
Neo-Adventures allow players of the website Neopets to create their own Choose Your Own Adventure stories. They can then be shown to other players, who go through them by clicking a series of links in a pop-up window. There's even an option to add 'Turn to page __' at the end of each link!
Writing.Com has an entire section devoted to these, simply calling them "Interactives" and allowing the readers to not only choose their adventure, but add to it as well.
Create Your Own Adventure is a wiki based site specifically for user submitted choice based stories where the reader assumes the role of the main character. Readers can add in different paths or start new stories of their own. The content is divided up into separate featured, family friendly and mature categories.
Choose Your Story is a website allowing all members to join and take part in writing their own interactive stories, otherwise known as story-games. (However, due to the versatility of the site's editor, CYOS (or CYOA) are not the only option. Quizzes, games of chance, regular stories, and role-playing games are also possible.)
An episode of Family Guy has Peter reading one in bed.
Peter: Hmm, to follow the ghost into the cave, turn to page 32. Okay, we'll just go on over to— AH! AH! AH!!! Wait! It doesn't count because I kept my finger on the page! You seen it, Lois! You seen my finger on the page! Lois: (sighs) Yeah, Peter, I seen it.
SpongeBob SquarePants had an episode that let the audience call in their choice as to how the episode ended. The two choices that didn't win were shown before the one that was. Since then, only the chosen ending has been shown in syndication.
Choose Your Own Adventure has branched out into real life, as a cult of "dice living" has developed. People make real-life decisions, ranging from where to go on Saturday night to what career to choose, based on rolls of the dice. Dice living was inspired by the novel The Dice Man and other works by Luke Rhinehart. (Though it might be argued that this is an inversion of the trope. Choosing Your Own Adventure in fiction gives the reader control over events that they would normally only be able to observe and not influence. Letting the roll of a die make a decision for you in real life takes away a decision that otherwise would have been yours to make. However, you ARE choosing to leave that decision to chance...)