Back in the days before video games became as ubiquitous as they are today, Choose Your Own Adventure books were the escape from reality of choice for young boys (and girls) the world over. About 250 million of them were sold in the ’80s and early ’90s, and as with any great idea, they spawned a slew of imitators. Some of these were pretty much direct copies, but others tried to put their own spin on the choose-from-two-options-and-turn-to-the-appropriate-page idea – and occasionally did so with hilarious results. Did you know, for instance, that there was a series called Do-It-Yourself Jewish Adventure, featuring exciting titles like “Escape from the Holocaust” and “Until the Messiah Comes”? Over at Gamebooks.org, there’s an exhaustive and frequently fascinating archive of the genre’s weirdest and most wonderful moments. We’ve chosen ten of our favorites after the jump.
Too Soon for Sex?
Even to someone whose age is still in single figures, the single lamest thing that a book/game/movie/cartoon/etc. can do is make an overt attempt to convey some sort of moral. Kids are smart enough to know when their emotions are being diddled with, and they generally don’t take kindly to it. Sadly, this fact largely evaded the authors of Too Soon for Sex? – one look at the cover and you know the answer’s unlikely to be “Nope – it’s time to start shagging like rabbits in spring! Get into it!” This series also included the titles “Taking Chances with Sex” and, hilariously, “Don’t Let It Get Around” (in which “Tom and Tracy face the realities of sexually transmitted disease”).
Friend or Freak
While we’re on insufferably lame, how’s about a series of Christian gamebooks? The gramatically questionable Friend or Freak was the first in a series of three books that “allow readers to make choices about everyday middle school situations” and “end with a few pages of ‘spiritual building blocks’, offering religious advice on various life issues.” The series was called God Allows U-Turns For Youth, which presumably means that if you make the “wrong” decision here, you’re not going to be instantly condemned to an eternity of hellfire and brimstone. Once you grow up, however…
The Hunting Safari
More Christianity – this time you’re following “missionary kids” on their way to Africa! To spread the word of God! Because, of course, Africa is a dark morass of savagery full of “rabid dogs,” “venom-spitting cobras,” “poisonous fish,” and natives who need nothing more than yet another proselytising white interloper to offer a bit of spiritual guidance.
The Classics Professor
The lunatic fringes of the genre weren’t occupied solely by Christian gamebooks, mind. Still, quite why a self-respecting 1980s adult (or adolescent, for that matter) would want to sit down and read a Create Your Own Erotic Fantasy book – as opposed to just heading down to the corner shop and stumping up for an under-the-counter copy of Penthouse like everyone else – is unclear. Also: your fantasy is… the classics professor? Really?
After Hours Girls
“These two divas stand tall until the unforgivable Motown streets catch up to them!” (We’re assuming they mean “unforgiving” here.)
This translates from Hungarian as Gypsy Labyrinth. Apparently the book was meant to “raise awareness about the plight of the gypsies in Hungary and to help fight prejudices.” A worthy cause, no doubt, but even so, we can’t imagine this one tearing up the Hungarian bestseller charts. A slightly more inviting cover might have helped…
You Can Be the Stainless Steel Rat!
Wow! Can I? Can I really?!
Steve Jackson’s F.I.S.T.
Gamebook devotees of a certain age will recognize Steve Jackson as one of the creators of Fighting Fantasy, the wildly successful gamebook/RPG hybrid that sold a bazillion copies around the world in the ’80s before grinding to a halt as video games moved in on its territory. Despite its rather uninviting name, Steve Jackon’s F.I.S.T. represented a strange but rather innovative attempt to incorporate new technology into the gamebook concept – it was an adventure that you played by calling up a toll-free number and pressing buttons on your phone to indicate your choices. (The “F.I.S.T. stood for “Fantasy Interactive Scenarios by Telephone.”) The drawback was that you paid by the minute, doubtless leading to countless awkward family situations where irate parents waved sky-high phone bills at cowering tweens.
Your Party Needs You: The Election Gamebook
Because nothing screams “fun” quite like politics, eh kids? Wait! Where are you going?
Escape from the Holocaust
It’s hard to know quite what to say about this, except that it surely constitutes the apogee of gamebook-related weirdness. A gamebook about trying to avoid being one of the six million people who died in the Nazi gas chambers? Sure, why not? That sounds like fun (not to mention totally respectful of those who perished)!