Armagideon Time

Fatal in decisions

June 22nd, 2012

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Much like the parents of ye olden times who wouldn’t name a child until it first ran a multi-year gauntlet of smallpox exposure, famine, and spear-related accidents, I tend to save the introduction/mission statements for any given new project until I can grasp a sense of its viability.

And believe you me, I’ve got plenty of stillborn corpses left rotting in my virtual back forty.

Before I bore you to death with excessively verbiose backmatter, I think a brief timeline is in order:

1981: A classmate at Linscott-Rumford Elementary brings in a copy of Space and Beyond, a sci-fi adventure novel that allows to the reader-protagonist to choose the course of the tales events. A nine year old me then proceeds to wheedle his parents into buying him his own copy of the book.

1983: My fugitive grandpa mails me twenty bucks as a Christmas present, which I used to buy a pound of peanut M&M’s and the Be an Interplanetary Spy book featured above.

1984: My semi-hippie junior high English teacher takes pity on my sad rat-tailed, geeky self and gives me some Dungeons and Dragons Endless Quest books he’d picked up somewhere.

1985: While scoping out Stephen King novels at the local Bradlees, I stumble across the Citadel of Chaos, the second installment of the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks. 

2008: My local comic book shop decides to liquidate its massive inventory of used books.  I decide I can let this month’s car payment slide for another two weeks and scoop up near-complete sets of old Choose Your Own Adventure and Lone Wolf books at a buck a pop.

2012: In a moment of boredom, I decide to mine my neglected assortment of  COYA-style books for easy Truncheon Thing content.

And thus You Chose Wrong was created to showcase some of the more  ignominious fates which awaited those lads and lassies who failed to navigate the not-so-hidden pitfalls of these flowcharts in YA fiction trade dress.

While COYA/Interplanetary Spy/Fighting Fantasy books have occupied a permanent and cherished place in my nostalgia cortex, I didn’t realize just how influential they’d been to my younger self until I began to prepare  material for this project.

Not only did I fill a series of spiral bound notebooks with (terrible) superhero sketches modeled after the various get-ups worn by Interplanetary Spy’s protagonist, but I learned the ins and outs of BASIC programming while crafting rudimentary COYA-style text adventures on my old Commodore 64. 

Fighting Fantasy ended up being a direct gateway into “real” role-playing games, but not before I’d stripped out its simple system of stats and dice rolls in order to create solo adventures to try out on my little brother and a couple of friends.

In short, COYA-style books were a major catalyst in my transition from a proto-geek to the fully stocked, self-loathing model before you today.  In addition, they also taught me a lesson that served me very well over the years — “Be sure to mark your place before committing to even the most remotely risky action.”

10 Responses to “Fatal in decisions”

  1. Josh F.

    It’s near-impossible for me to read any even remotely biographical look at the COYA series/gamebook genre and not want to ask the author (a) if they read Edward Packard’s Hyperspace (COYA #21) as a kid and (b) if so, did they find it as disorienting and fundamentally unsettling in a way that kids don’t generally have the intellectual and semantic tools to explain.

  2. Cary

    I laughed out loud at that last line. I learned that the hard way.

    Oh, and as for the opening sentence, I’m the one who still checks Dateline: Silver Age and ComicPunx
    every day.

  3. bitterandrew

    Dave Lartigue recently migrated Dateline: Silver Age to a tumblr account. Updates have been mentioned, but everyone’s kinda busy.

    I have a backlog of ComicPunk material, but I am a very lazy man.

  4. LurkerWithout

    Amazon has the first four Fighting Fantasy and first two Lone Wolf books available for the Kindle. I’ve only tried “Deathtrap Dungeon” again from the former so far. It has a save point function, but its not a very good one which led to a lot of restart from beginning situations and me getting frustrated with the book…

    The Lone Wolf books actually seem to have expanded content, though the carry over save from one book to the second doesn’t work the way its supposed to, so I haven’t redone the second book yet…

  5. Prankster

    Whoo, Fighting Fantasy! I feel like no one remembers those things these days–you hear about COYA and D&D, but not these, the oddball hybrid of the two. I think they were British, which is why I always assumed you didn’t hear Americans talk about them very much, but apparently that hypothesis has been proved wrong!

    And yes, any given attempt at reading through a FF book would inevitably result in three or four of my fingers jammed in various places throughout, leading to an inevitably awkward experience.

    Damn, I still have a big box of these somewhere. I should hit up Ebay.

    The art on these tended to be pretty great, too.

  6. Nathan

    The originator of Choose Your Own Adventure – Edward Packard – is actually giving a unique interactive reading from Return to The Cave of Time this Sunday, June 24th in New York. He’s now 81, but still spritely, so it should be a memorable event. I’m not sure where you are based, if you can’t make it but know any other fully fledged nerds or nerdesses would you mind helping to spread the word? It would help make an old man very happy! Full info on the event is here: Thank you!

  7. Tim O'Neil

    I’ll freely admit that I never quite got the point of COYA books. I think at the time I thought you could only read them once, and since I always made the wrong decisions I always ended up frustrated and defeated before putting the book back on the shelf. Someone should have told me I could go back and have do-overs.

  8. Cary

    Wow, thanks for picking up my day Andrew!

  9. Snark Shark

    “but I learned the ins and outs of BASIC programming while crafting rudimentary COYA-style text adventures on my old Commodore 64.”

    similarly, i changed the script/dialogue on an old text game on a TRS-8) model 4, changing it from a post-apocalypse adventure into a “Dan Quale Adventure”. much giggling followed.

    ” Choose Your Own Adventure ”

    read those, the D&D versions of the same idea, the first 4 of the SF/Be an Interplanetary Spy books, and the first 12 or so of the Fighting Fantasy series!

  10. Adam Ford

    There are a few Fighting Fantasy apps out there, including Warlock of Firetop Dungeon, which I’m currently lost in the maze of.

    You Chose Wrong is a beautiful tumblr, andrew. I just recently had a conversation with someone about how my memories of those books – all of the choose your own stuff, from grailquest to interplanetary spy to coya proper and beyond – are tainted with a sadness nee existentialism when I remember what it felt like to die every time. I was always worried what the protagonist’s family would think – would they ever know what really happened? would anyone ever find the body? I never thought it was ME, really, just me in someone else’s driver’s seat.

    but yeah, sadness. that’s the flavour I get when i think of those little children’s books so full of death.

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