Publisher and author R.A. Montgomery passed away this week. His name isn’t familiar to millions of young readers since the late 1970’s (despite being the J.K. Rowling of his generation with 250 million copies sold in 20 years), but his “Choose Your Own Adventure” books are well-remembered. You read the first few pages, make a decision at the end, go to a different page number, read a few more pages, and make another decision. Some decisions cause the story to end sooner than expected.
As a preteen, finding patterns fascinated me.
My parents got me the Coleco Quiz Wiz electronic trivia game for my 10th birthday in 1979. The booklet had 1,001 trivia questions and an electronic device that told you if your answer was right or wrong. The electronic device plugged into other booklets sold separately. I went through a half-dozen booklets before I discovered the pattern with the electronic device: the correct answer for a given question number was the same for every booklet.
Having written down the correct sequence for 1,001 questions, I could answer any booklet correctly on the first pass without reading any questions or answers in 15 minutes. Once I discovered the pattern, the magic of learning new trivia with Quiz Wiz was forever lost. I’ll see the question number and look at the correct number on the booklet page, as I have memorized the correct sequence.
A few years later, I would get an Atari 2600 video game console and the “Adventure” cartridge, a graphical version of the text adventure game known as “Colossal Cave Adventure” that was popular in university computer labs. It took a long time to discover the pattern to defeat the red, yellow and green dragons, as resolving the various quests required going back and forth in the game world. Once memorized I could replay the game in significantly less time than before, a useful skill 20 years later when I worked as a video game tester for six years.
After the home video game revolution in the early 1980’s went kablooey from the Atari E.T. cartridge scandal, I got serious about reading books. My parents had no problem with me spending my weekly allowance on video games, but became distressed when I bought paperback books (they didn’t read for enjoyment). On the bright side, I wasn’t doing drugs like everyone else. Reading was my drug. As my mother crawled into the bottle of alcohol abuse, I needed to escape from reality.
I came across the CYOA books at a game store. Most bookstores kept the books hidden away in the children department. With a college-level reading comprehension in the eighth grade, I wasn’t looking for books in the children department. After reading a dozen CYOA books, I used a pencil to mark the pages read and decisions made. Later I tried to map out the decision tree from each book, a useful skill for computer programming many years later. With the older books in series having 40 possible endings, I never did find a pattern among the different stories.