CYOA Novel as a game?

I chose the novel Journey Under The Sea, which is about a sea adventurer attempting to find the lost city of Atlantis, and the trials, tribulations, and struggles encountered thus. I chose the book simply because I will always choose anything that has something to do with the ocean, given a choice. It is the most compelling place on the planet for me, and the only place that I feel actually at home or comfortable in any sense of the word.

I played through the CYOA in two vastly different manners, curious to see how it changed the narrative. My first play through, I chose the simplest and safest route through the book, to see how the writers would deal with a player who didn’t seem to be very engaged. The story ended very quickly, with me returning to the surface without discovering anything of note, and I was left fairly unsatisfied. However, when playing through it a second time, I chose to be much more aggressive and risky. The story quickly grew to make little logical sense, but was nonetheless enjoyable enough to follow. However, I didn’t feel like my choices led to consequences in the same way that they do in some other CYOA-like experiences I have had, digital or physical. Each passage felt fairly arbitrary, like it could have been pasted onto any choice and made sense with minimal changes. At the end of my second playthrough, I tried to assimilate into a mind reading culture and failed, returning to a surface world entirely changed from what I had left it. Though interesting, this made absolutely no sense to me and took me out of the world that the book had created.

Returning to paper doesn’t actually seem that different to me from any other game form, besides one key factor. Paper, and physical books, do not allow the game developer to hide behind computers and code. In digital games, even ones as simple as Twine, most of the choices and consequences are hidden from view in a black box, and the player does not get to see them or freely peruse the world of the game as the developer could see it. However, in a book, it is inherent in the form that the player can flip back and forth to any choice and any page, seeing endings and choices flip past as they make decisions. This changes the way that the player interacts with the world of the game, allowing them to be much more experimental and willing to go back and forth between a few different choices. It also makes multiple playthroughs simple, as one can just jump back into the story from any given point by opening up the book.

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2 thoughts on “CYOA Novel as a game?

  1. I had a similar experience you describe of feeling that the endings I reached in both play throughs of my CYOA (Escape from Tenopia Island) were similar, and that my decisions didn’t make much of an impact. That was quite frustrating, since I hoped that the novel’s paper platform would encourage the author to create widely branching narratives I could explore.

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  2. I read Space and Beyond for my CYOA and had an extremely similar reaction to the decision making and chain of events in the novel. I was also left confused by the lack of meaningful connection between the action I chose to complete and where I ended up next. I’m not sure whether this seemingly random chain of events was purposeful or not, but I do think that despite the frustration it caused for me, it was an effective way to make me think of the novel as more game-like. If the causes and effects lined up in a more logical way, choosing one action would mean knowing what comes next, and then I truly would have been just choosing which story I wanted to read based on calculated predictions and my interests. Instead, the sense of unpredictability made the CYOA more game-like for me because there was an opportunity to explore/try new paths and learn what led to success or failure without knowing exactly where I would end up all along.

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