Since 1975 the Choose Your Own Adventure books have given millions of kids the chance to determine their own destinies (at least in a literary sense). Sadly, the author and publisher of those books, R.A. Montgomery, died this week. But he leaves behind an incredible legacy in both publishing and, perhaps surprisingly, gaming as well.
According to the Choose Your Own Adventure site, Montgomery began his career in education, devising experiential games to teach maths to students with learning disabilities. This evolved into larger gaming projects: In the 1970s he was hired by the Edison Electrical Company to design a role-playing game that would help educate high students about the impending energy crisis.
In 1975, after volunteering for the Peace Corps, Montgomery founded a publishing house with his wife. One of the first authors to approach him was Ed Packard, who had an idea for a new kind of book which would allow readers to determine the fate of their characters. Early in the book the story began offering two (or more) diverging plotlines so the reader could "choose" by flipping to different pages to continue the narrative. He eventually brought the series to Bantam Books where he wrote about half of the 230 titles, which were eventually available in 40 languages. The series has sold over 250 million copies worldwide.
For a few years of my childhood, these were by far my favourite books. Maybe it's because I really did feel like I was in control, that I could orchestrate the situation and have a completely different experience every time (although I remember one book where I always managed to die of dehydration no matter what). I also never wanted to leave a possible scenario behind. After I'd "play" a few times, I'd end up reading the book cover to cover, hoping to stumble upon any potential storylines I'd missed. These were examples of true interactive storytelling before video games became the cultural norm.
Here's what I didn't know when I was devouring piles of his books back when I was nine: Montgomery also was a pioneer in children's gaming tech. He adapted two Choose Your Own Adventure titles for Atari in 1984, and went on to create CD-ROM games for Apple in 1990 (he was an early and enthusiastic Apple fan). It makes perfect sense: In many ways, the books were like the role-playing games Montgomery had designed. This was a way to bring that idea full circle when the technology emerged to make it all possible.
Farewell to R.A. Montgomery, the man behind so many great adventures. Who knew that some of the best moments of my childhood would be the result of his simple instruction to "turn to page 86..." [Choose Your Own Adventure via AV Club]
Top image via InkyPath