The Choose Your Own Adventure Books Were The First Interactive Games

The Choose Your Own Adventure Books Were The First Interactive Games

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


  • I loved those books; I remember a school project was actually just a plain out, “Write your own Choose Your Own Adventure book”.

    • Same, I used to make my choice, turn to the page, but keep the page I was on, so if I didn’t like it I’d go back and choose the other option. Good times.

  • ‘You’re walking down a corridor and come to a junction. Turn left, turn to page 83. Turn right turn to page 394.’

    Page 83: ‘You fall down a trap and impale yourself on rusty spikes. Start again’

    Page 394: ‘Professor Snape catches you out of dorms after dark and gives you expels you from school. Start again.’


    • Did they say ‘start again’? I thought it was ‘the end’. LIke that’s how it was meant to be, not like you chose wrongly.

      • It’s been a decade or two since I picked one up 😀 hahaha I remember racking my head trying to figure out which ending was actually preferable. Get stuck in a fantasy world, objective is to get home but one ending has you staying there and being worshipped. Decisions 😀

        • True, I always saw it as a game to pick the ‘right’ choices. I can’t imagine too many kids chose a crap or ‘wrong’ ending and then just put the book down and left it at that.

  • God, I used to read so many of these things. Always with my fingers wedged in a bunch of the pages I’d branched from so I could go back and pick a different path once I hit an end.

  • oh gosh, so many memories! I remember the first one I ever read was Space and Beyond and I read it when I was about ten. (A loooong time ago!) I loved that they were kinda grisly. Pretty sure the Maya one had an ending where you were sacrificed to the Mayan gods and your blood ran down the temple steps, and I vaguely remember there being arsenic poisoning in the Harlow Thrombey one. Good times!

    • Ah, the Mayan one, where your fate depended on what colour straw you decided to draw.

      Want to become a god-king or be sacrificed? Better not choose yellow, sucker!

  • I’ve been talking about these books last week, along with the Final fantasy books. I really loved them as a kid, and was talking about trying to get some for my nephew.
    To read this is quite sad.

    • Oh yeah, Fighting Fantasy books. Loved those as a kid. I recently donated my decently-sized collection to the local charity bookstore.

      • An Aussie company has started converting them to games. It’s not the same as being able to hold your finger between the pages, but he’s liking it so far.

  • I don’t think the CYOA books were really the first interactive games. The first examples of Interactive Fiction most likely, but not video games/games as a whole.

    That aside, I used to read these a lot as a kid and then loved the RPG nature of the Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone books. It was always amusing finding the cheater pages you couldn’t get to unless you just flipped through the pages. Trying to discover how to get to a particular page by reversing through the choice tree was always interesting too.

  • My first set foot in my girlfriend’s house, her collection of choose your own adventure books were just one of the indicators I’d found my soul mate (the Louie Theroux DVDs were also a dead giveaway). We occasionally read them to each other before bed, putting on the characters voices and everything. We have a strict “no reloads” rule too. I’m not ashamed to be 35 and laying in bed, agonising over a difficult choice.

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