Visual analysis of gamebooks

Gamebooks were, during the 80ies and before the rise of PCs and the internet, a staple of interactive fiction. Back then, the next best thing to sitting together with some friends and playing a face-to-face roleplaying game was reading these branching, directed hypertexts in the form of books.
Each paragraph had a number on top, and at the end there was the number of the next paragraph to be read. Sometimes a decision had to be made, e.g. doing something or refraining from it, that would lead to two different parapgraphs.

Two medium-relevant motivations drove me, back then: I wanted to ’solve‘ the text, i.e. bringing the path to a satisfiying ending; and I wanted to know what would have happened if my decisions earlier on were different ones. The latter one would usually take over when the text had been solved – a classic example for the replayability of a simplified narrative possibility space („The Tree“).


Screenshot from the animation of the pathways of „The Mysterys of the Secret Room“.

For a beautifully visualised and animated depiction of a reader’s possible paths of ten gamebooks, a description of specific path-formations, and an evolutionary analysis of „Choose your own adventures“ narrative structures – or if you simply had been a fan yourself in the heydays of gamebooks – visit this site: CYOA.

There’s also a path, beautifully documented on the webpage, to second order gaming, to systemic theory or to radical constructivism to be found in one gamebook:

„This ending was not just an easter egg for the obsessive reader who didn’t mind skimming every page looking for telltale words. Instead it’s hard to miss in even a casual riffling. A two-page illustration showing what could only be paradise (or perhaps a theme park) leaps out as the only spread in the book without any text. Flipping to the page before brings you to 101, where you discover that your curiosity has been rewarded.
You have found the planet, not by following the constraints of the system, but by going outside of them – a fitting moral to the story and an encouraging reminder that any game should be a starting point for the imagination, not the end.“

Some things can’t be chosen from within the system of rules one adheres to, but has to be discovered or invented by breaking or transcending those boundaries.

The modest artist/writer doesn’t explicitely states his name, but from the story presented I take it to be Steve Meretzky.
This is an extraordinary, and extraordinary beautiful website.

Further readings: